* Swiss chief negotiator Ambuehl obtained verbal agreement
* Disclosing client data violates Swiss banking secrecy
* Wegelin settlement seen paving the way for more deals
ZURICH, Jan 6 Swiss chief finance diplomat
Michael Ambuehl was given a verbal pledge from the U.S.
Department of Justice to respect Swiss law when asking for bank
client data of potential tax dodgers, a newspaper reported on
Switzerland is in negotiations with U.S. authorities to find
a deal that would end tax probes into at least ten Swiss banks
suspected of helping clients dodge taxes, including Credit
Suisse and Julius Baer.
The Alpine country is trying to preserve what is left of its
cherished banking secrecy that suffered a severe blow in 2009
when UBS, the first Swiss bank that came under
scrutiny in the U.S., was required to disclose client data.
"(Ambuehl) obtained a verbal pledge from his negotiating
partners at the DOJ to respect Swiss law when asking for client
data," Swiss newspaper NZZ am Sonntag said, citing sources close
"The agreement has not been put in writing yet and could be
withdrawn at any moment but sources say the U.S. government's
negotiators have made it clear they want to find a pragmatic
solution to the long-lasting conflict," the newspaper said.
Finance ministry spokesman Roland Meier refused to comment
on the report which did not give any details on when the verbal
agreement was made.
Swiss banking secrecy laws prevent banks from disclosing any
information on the financial affairs of clients to third
parties, unless there are sufficient grounds to suspect a crime
has been committed.
Unlike in other countries, tax evasion, as opposed to tax
fraud, is not considered a crime in Switzerland, but to get off
the OECD's list of uncooperative tax havens, the country agreed
to disclose client data also in well-founded cases of suspected
Swiss private bank Wegelin & Co, the only Swiss bank
indicted in the U.S. so far, said on Thursday it would shut its
doors permanently after pleading guilty to the charge of helping
Americans dodge taxes through secret accounts.
The Wegelin settlement that involved a $74 million fine
could smoothe the way to cheaper and faster settlements for
other Swiss banks in the probe and give fresh impetus to talks
between Swiss and U.S. officials.
(Reporting by Silke Koltrowitz; Editing by Mike Nesbit)