Switzerland and the U.S. are close to announcing an agreement to end their long dispute over how to punish banks that helped Americans evade taxes, Swiss banking and government officials said Wednesday.
“There is a deal,” said Anne Césard, a spokeswoman in Bern for the Swiss Federal Finance Department, although the precise terms are to remain secret until a joint statement is issued by the two governments.
“I’d say it would be a matter of days,” she added.
A person briefed on the matter said that the U.S. and Swiss sides had been trading working papers for many months and that a final settlement would likely require individual banks to pay a fine to the U.S. equivalent to 20 percent to 50 percent of the value of their undeclared U.S. accounts.
One Swiss bank, Zurich Cantonal Bank, said Wednesday that the impending settlement covered only those Swiss banks not currently under formal investigation by the U.S. authorities.
The dozen or so Swiss banks, including Zurich Cantonal, that are already under investigation are cooperating directly with the Justice Department, Igor Moser, a bank spokesman, said in a statement by email. He added that his bank welcomed the agreement, “because it is a precondition for Zurich Cantonal Bank to enter into negotiations” for a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. The U.S. authorities have said that banks under criminal scrutiny must negotiate their own resolutions independent of any global settlement for the Swiss banking industry.
Switzerland has been locked in thorny negotiations with Washington since 2009, when UBS, the largest Swiss bank, agreed to pay a $780 million fine and to hand over information on 4,450 accounts to resolve accusations that it helped wealthy U.S. clients avoid taxes.