DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) - Switzerland believes it can clinch a deal with U.S. authorities to end investigations into its banks over helping wealthy Americans evade taxes, the country’s finance minister said on Saturday.
“I think that we will find a deal and that we will have a solution,” Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said in an interview with Swiss television on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum.
Widmer-Schlumpf said she would meet U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in the next few weeks in her latest bid to end U.S. tax investigations into a number of Swiss banks, including Credit Suisse and Julius Baer.
“We are in very close discussions now,” she told a news conference at the Forum in Davos, but declined to give a timetable for the talks on the thorny issue which have dragged on for two years.
“We have our ideas. They have their ideas but we are both obliged to find a solution.”
Dozens of Swiss bankers and their clients have been indicted in recent years, following a 2009 agreement by UBS AG, the largest Swiss bank, to enter into a deferred-prosecution agreement, turn over 4,450 client names and pay a $780 million fine after admitting to criminal wrongdoing in selling tax-evasion services to wealthy Americans.
The negotiations were seen gaining new impetus after Swiss private bank Wegelin & Co said earlier this month it would close permanently after pleading guilty to helping Americans dodge taxes through secret accounts.
Switzerland wants the investigations dropped, in exchange for the payment of fines and the transfer to U.S. authorities of the names of thousands of U.S. clients.
Widmer-Schlumpf declined to rule out the possibility that other banks could be indicted after Wegelin, but said she had a verbal promise from the United States to refrain from “unfriendly actions” during the negotiations.
“We really expect that until we have finished negotiating, we won’t have to expect large onslaughts,” she said.
Reporting by Caroline Copley in Zurich and Emma Thomasson in Davos; Editing by Mark Trevelyan