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Swiss Expect Julius Baer, Basler, ZKB to Strike U.S. Deals Soon

Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf expects other banks to reach agreements soon to settle U.S. investigations into tax evasion after Credit Suisse Group AG announced a deal late yesterday.

“We assume that a solution for the other banks can be found within the next few months,” Widmer-Schlumpf told reporters in Bern today. The Credit Suisse deal “will give us some breathing space to work with other banks to find a solution,” she said.

Julius Baer Group Ltd., Basler Kantonalbank and Zuercher Kantonalbank are among so-called group 1 Swiss financial firms, investigated by the Department of Justice since 2011 for allegedly helping Americans hide money from the Internal Revenue Service, that are seeking to strike individual agreements to avoid or defer prosecution by the U.S.

Credit Suisse, Switzerland’s second-biggest bank, yesterday agreed to pay $2.6 billion in penalties and pleaded guilty to helping Americans cheat on their taxes. In 2009, UBS, the country’s biggest, avoided prosecution by paying $780 million, admitting it fostered tax evasion and disclosing to the U.S. the names of U.S. clients. Credit Suisse avoided identifying thousands of customers who cheated the IRS, instead promising to point investigators in the right direction.

Size of Fine

Widmer-Schlumpf said one couldn’t use the size of the Credit Suisse fine to determine potential penalty payments of other Swiss banks. Fines depend on the level of an individual bank’s guilt and its willingness to cooperate with U.S. authorities, she said.

“There is no reliable basis for making provisions” on a potential fine, Jan Vonder Muehll, a spokesman for Julius Baer, said by phone from Zurich today. Spokesmen for Basler Kantonalbank, which has made a 100 million-franc provision ($112 million), and for ZKB declined to comment.

Other group 1 banks include Bank Hapoalim BM, Bank Leumi Le-Israel BM, HSBC Holdings Plc’s Swiss unit, Liechtensteinische Landesbank AG’s Swiss unit, Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank Ltd., Pictet & Cie. and Rahn & Bodmer Co.

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