U.S. eases pressure on Switzerland over taxes for now

ZURICH Tue Mar 6, 2012 4:48pm EST

ZURICH (Reuters) - The United States welcomes the Swiss parliament's backing of a proposal to help U.S. authorities crack down on wealthy Americans who evade taxes and will not put any further pressure on Switzerland at present, the U.S. ambassador to that country said on Tuesday.

Swiss lawmakers passed a proposal on Monday allowing Switzerland to hand over data on suspected tax evaders, even if U.S. tax authorities cannot identify alleged offenders by name or bank account.

"This is a very positive and useful step forward for the United States and Switzerland together," Donald Beyer told Swiss German-language news program Tagesschau.

Parliament's support for the proposal was seen as vital in helping to secure an expected deal over U.S. probes into 11 banks including Credit Suisse (CSGN.VX) and Julius Baer (BAER.VX), likely to comprise a data handover and fine payment.

The United States had ratcheted up the pressure on the Alpine nation, indicting Switzerland's oldest bank, Wegelin, last month on charges that it helped wealthy Americans to evade taxes on at least $1.2 billion hidden in offshore bank accounts.

Switzerland and the United States have been locked in a tax dispute for years. In 2009, UBS (UBSN.VX) paid $780 million to settle criminal charges and turned over the names of 4,500 clients.

Beyer said many issues still remained to be sorted out before a global agreement could be reached, but he said he was hopeful of finding a solution.

Asked whether the United States would also demand an automatic exchange of information, like some European countries, Beyer said the United States would focus on applying the new double taxation agreement.

"I think the consensus in the United States right now is this existing agreement gives us the tools we need to do our job."

Beyer said "at this time" there would be no further pressure from the United States on Switzerland.

(Reporting by Caroline Copley; Editing by Richard Chang)

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