Swiss Tax Pact With U.S. May Come Soon, Widmer-Schlumpf Says

Switzerland may reach an agreement with the U.S. about undeclared bank accounts within months, Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said.

“We’re hoping that we’ll reach an agreement with the U.S. within the next couple of months,” Widmer-Schlumpf said in an interview in Davos, Switzerland, where she had a meeting with the U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. The fact that Wegelin & Co., a 270-year-old Swiss private bank, was forced to sell itself to Raiffeisen Group because of the U.S. tax investigation highlights the need to find a solution, she said.

Switzerland and the U.S. have been holding talks for a year to resolve a U.S. probe into offshore tax evasion that includes 11 Swiss banks. The investigation includes Wegelin, which yesterday agreed to a sale after three of its bankers were charged this month with conspiring to help American clients hide more than $1.2 billion from U.S. tax authorities.

Widmer-Schlumpf declined to comment on a report in Tages-Anzeiger today which said Wegelin received a letter from the U.S. Justice Department about 10 days ago asking the bank to disclose data on its American clients or face charges. The newspaper didn’t say where it got the information. Joerg Denzler, a spokesman for Wegelin, declined to comment on the article.

‘Threats of Punishment’

“I cannot say that other banks are in a similar situation,” Widmer-Schlumpf said when asked whether more Swiss banks may follow Wegelin’s path. “What I know is that various banks have been confronted with threats of punishment from the U.S. We need to continue to try everything to reach a solution.”

Geithner promised to personally monitor the talks with Switzerland, Widmer-Schlumpf said in an interview with Swiss television SF, posted on the station’s website today.

Widmer-Schlumpf told SF she had a “very good, open” discussion with Geithner and thinks he got the message that Switzerland wants to find a solution as quickly as possible.

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