U.S. asks Liechtenstein for data in Swiss banking probe

Wed Mar 27, 2013 3:39am EDT

* U.S. seeks data in investigation vs tax evasion

* Newspapers say Liechtenstein set a Friday deadline

* Liechtenstein confirms request for data, no details

ZURICH, March 27 (Reuters) - U.S. prosecutors are asking Liechtenstein to hand over data on foundations and other financial vehicles as part of their investigation into tax evasion by wealthy Americans, the principality's international tax office said on Wednesday.

Swiss newspapers Tages-Anzeiger and Neue Zuercher Zeitung earlier reported the tiny alpine principality had been given until Friday to hand over "statistical" data on American clients of Swiss banks with links in Liechtenstein.

Katja Gey, head of Liechtenstein's office for international tax matters, didn't elaborate on the reported deadline, and also did not say whether the principality would provide the data.

From Americans coming clean in a tax amnesty, the United States has come by information about how Swiss banks and Liechtenstein collaborated to hide undeclared funds held by wealthy Americans, the two Swiss newspapers said.

Swiss banks have long worked closely with Liechtenstein, traditionally known as a provider of foundations and other vehicles which have been used to hide undeclared funds.

The U.S. move represents a new line of attack in a long-running investigation into more than a dozen Swiss banks, including Credit Suisse and Julius Baer, alleged to have aided U.S. tax dodgers with hidden Swiss bank accounts.

Earlier this month, Switzerland's oldest bank, Wegelin & Co, was fined nearly $58 million after it admitted to helping wealthy Americans evade taxes.

Wegelin said it would shut its doors permanently after pleading guilty to charges of helping wealthy Americans evade taxes through secret accounts.

The latest tax crackdown comes several years after U.S. authorities extracted an admission of wrong-doing from UBS that was accompanied by the release of thousands of sets of client data plus a $780 million payment by UBS to avert criminal prosecution.

Through information gleaned from UBS as well as thousands of so-called voluntary disclosures by one-time Swiss banking clients in the United States, officials there were able to mount the second wave of investigation into Swiss banks.

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