Switzerland’s private banks have until Monday to
decide whether to bow to US pressure and ditch the centuries-old culture
of secrecy that has made the Alpine state a global vault for the
Many are leaving it to the last
minute to tell the Swiss financial regulator whether they will
participate in a US programme to settle tax evasion suspicions that
could trigger large fines and force them to identify US customers
suspected of using their Swiss accounts to dodge taxes.
banks which participate in the programme could start telling investors
from next week whether or not they have to take provisions against
If they do not settle, individual banks and
their senior staff risk criminal prosecution and, if a large number
refuse to cooperate, it could hold up a future settlement for around a
dozen of Switzerland’s largest banks, including Credit Suisse, Julius Baer, Pictet, and local government-backed Zuercher Kantonalbank (ZKB).
of the 300 or so smaller banks are expected to participate but they are
anxious to find out what others are doing and wrestling with the risk
of giving up client confidentiality, which could put off customers.
"Probably a few dozen will risk being pursued by the US later and stay
out of the current programme altogether,” said a lawyer involved in bank
Despite knowing the terms of the August
deal for months, many banks are going down to the wire with their
decision, according to several sources involved in the talks. US tax
lawyers worked the Thanksgiving holiday for their Swiss bank clients and
flew into the country this week as hundreds of boards gather to make
their call. "It’s really an elaborate game theory going on right now,”
said one US lawyer working for Swiss banks. "It’s a herd mentality.”
The US department of justice and Switzerland’s financial regulator Finma declined to comment on how many banks had so far agreed to settle.
This article first appeared in irishtimes.com.