* U.S. to stop programme if Swiss courts block data -paper
* Swiss warn that U.S. justice dept patience running out
* Lawmakers rejected bill last month to speed data transfer
ZURICH, July 4 The U.S. Department of Justice
(DoJ) wants a Swiss government guarantee that banks will hand
over sensitive data in return for lifting the threat of criminal
charges for helping their customers avoid tax, a newspaper
reported on Thursday.
Citing unnamed sources, the Neue Zuercher Zeitung daily said
the United States was demanding that the Swiss government commit
to the guarantee in a bilateral declaration before the DoJ opens
a programme to allow banks to settle tax charges against them.
The newspaper said the United States also wanted to include
a "guillotine" clause in the agreement that would halt the
programme if a Swiss court prevents a bank from delivering data.
Banks are keen to give the information to the DoJ in order
to avoid indictment, which put Swiss private bank Wegelin out of
business this year, but have been prevented from doing so by
strict bank secrecy laws.
The newspaper said the Swiss government was resisting the
demands because it cannot dictate to the country's courts.
A government spokesman declined to comment on the report,
but confirmed there was pressure to reach a deal soon. U.S.
authorities have consistently declined comment on the matter.
The Swiss government has been negotiating for three years to
try to end the tax dispute with U.S. authorities who are
demanding banks pay fines potentially totalling $10 billion and
hand over the names of Americans they suspect of evading tax.
Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf told a news
conference on Wednesday that the U.S. programme to allow banks
to agree fines and lift the threat of criminal charges could be
launched during the summer if a deal is reached, but said the
two governments were in talks to work out a joint statement.
The Swiss government agreed on Wednesday that banks could
apply for individual permission to allow them to settle with the
DoJ by handing over details of their U.S. business, though they
would not be allowed to hand over client names.
Banks will be allowed to reveal information, including
details of accounts moved to other banks, names of bank staff,
lawyers and accountants, that would help U.S. authorities
identify wealthy clients who are evading taxes.
Yet government permission is likely to be tested in court by
bank employees seeking to hold up the transfer of their names
after the Swiss parliament last month rejected legislation that
would have made such legal challenges harder.
The Swiss government has warned parliament that the patience
of the U.S. authorities is running out.
More than a dozen banks are under formal U.S. investigation,
including Credit Suisse, Julius Baer, the
Swiss arm of Britain's HSBC, privately held Pictet and
state-backed regional banks Zuercher and Basler.