* Justice Dept: Settlement deal expected within "days"
* Deal would exclude the 14 Swiss banks already under probe
* Long-running probe has targeted tax-dodging by Americans
By Patrick Temple-West and Martin de Sa'Pinto
WASHINGTON/ZURICH, Aug 28 The U.S. government
expects to announce within days a program that would allow some
Swiss banks to avoid or defer prosecution under a probe of
offshore tax dodging by Americans, a senior Justice Department
official said on Wednesday.
The program would exclude the 14 Swiss banks that are
already under investigation, the Justice official told reporters
on a conference call, which followed reports out of Switzerland
that the government there was ready to end the long-running
Switzerland, which has a tradition of bank secrecy, and the
United States have been at odds since 2010 over a U.S. tax
evasion crackdown. The campaign has ensnared more than a dozen
Swiss banks, threatened dozens of others, and earlier this year
felled Wegelin, Switzerland's oldest bank, following an
"We expect in the next several days to announce a program
that would allow certain Swiss banks that want to obtain a
resolution with the Department of Justice to come forward and do
that," said the Justice Department senior official, who
requested anonymity because the deal has yet to be finalized.
The Swiss government said on Wednesday that the signing of a
joint statement with the United States should enable Swiss banks
to resolve the dispute while complying with existing Swiss laws.
It gave no further details, and the Finance Ministry was absent
at a weekly government press conference.
14 BANKS INELIGIBLE
The Justice Department official would not name the 14 banks
that will be ineligible for the settlement program. Excluding
them, there are still roughly 100 Swiss banks that had U.S.
clients but are not being investigated by U.S. authorities.
The deal being developed would offer several settlement
categories for banks based on their culpability in sheltering
Americans' assets. Penalties would be applied based on past
wrongdoing and could exceed a combined $1 billion, the official
Banks that meet settlement terms may be eligible for
non-prosecution agreements. Other "particularly egregious" banks
may require deferred prosecution settlements, the official said.
Others may be able to seek "non-target" letters if they can
show no culpability in sheltering Americans customers' assets
from U.S. taxation. Still others may be "deemed compliant" based
on earlier determinations in U.S.-Swiss tax deals pre-dating
"We expect a fair amount of motivation for the banks to come
forward," the official said.
STEEP FINES SEEN POSSIBLE
A Swiss newspaper reported that many banks not yet under
formal U.S. investigation could face fines of as much as 50
percent of their American client assets.
Before the Justice official spoke to reporters, a Swiss bank
lobbying group and a banking employees association applauded the
step to resolve the dispute.
Though the Justice Department declined to identify the Swiss
banks it is investigating, a number are known to be facing U.S.
probes. These include Credit Suisse, Julius Baer
, the Swiss arm of Britain's HSBC, privately
held Pictet, and state-backed regional banks Zuercher
Kantonalbank and Basler Kantonalbank.
Several of these have said they are preparing information on
client withdrawals as demanded by U.S. investigators, after the
Swiss government said it would allow them to circumvent secrecy
and privacy laws to do so.