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Switzerland close to tax deal with US

Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf was tapped to work out the deal.

Ruben Sprich/Reuters/File 2013

Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf was tapped to work out the deal.

NEW YORK — Switzerland and the United States are close to announcing an agreement to end their long dispute over how to punish banks that helped Americans evade taxes, banking and government officials said Wednesday.

“There is a deal,” said Anne Césard, a spokeswoman in Bern for the Swiss Federal Finance Department.

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“I’d say it would be a matter of days” before the two governments issue a joint statement, she added.

In a conference call with journalists Wednesday, a senior Justice Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said banks that had helped Americans evade taxes would be required to admit wrongdoing and pay penalties in exchange for deferred prosecution agreements, in addition to handing over information on account holders.

The final agreement will include penalty provisions “starting at 20 percent of the value of accounts starting in 2008,” she said. The penalties would increase for accounts opened after the Swiss bank UBS reached a deferred prosecution agreement in 2009, she added.

Another person briefed on the matter said the penalties could rise to as much as 50 percent of the value of the banks’ undeclared US accounts.

The total penalties, the Justice Department official added, would probably be “in the hundreds of millions, exceeding a billion dollars.”

Swiss architect

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US officials will also gain access to information about transfers out of Swiss accounts by Americans who were alarmed by the UBS deal, she said.

The official said that 14 Swiss banks under investigation by the United States would not be eligible to participate in the new deal but that they would benefit by having a framework for turning over information.

A previous attempt by the Swiss government to arrange a deal failed in June of this year, when Parliament balked, reflecting concerns about privacy and complaints that the agreement was being negotiated in secret. Legislators then called on Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, the Swiss finance minister and president of the Federal Council, the panel that serves as the Swiss collective head of state, to work out an executive-level agreement with Washington.

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