By Douwe Miedema
WASHINGTON Feb 26 U.S. senators will grill both
sides in a five-year-old conflict over Swiss bankers helping
Americans dodge taxes, questioning U.S. law enforcers and Swiss
bankers in a hearing on Wednesday.
In what may set the tone for the session, the Senate
Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations on Tuesday alleged new
misdeeds by Switzerland's Credit Suisse and accused
the U.S. Justice Department of dragging its feet.
The Justice Department is probing 14 Swiss banks five years
after UBS, the Alpine nation's largest bank, admitted
to helping U.S. taxpayers hide money from the tax man, and
agreed to provide client information.
Chaired by Democrat Carl Levin, one of Capitol Hill's
toughest questioners, the panel said in a report on Tuesday that
Credit Suisse opened Swiss accounts for more than 22,000 U.S.
customers, with combined assets of as much as $12 billion.
Bankers secretly traveled to the United States, sometimes on
tourist visas, to recruit clients, the report said. One former
customer said he once met a Credit Suisse banker at a hotel over
breakfast, and was handed bank statements tucked into the pages
of an issue of Sports Illustrated magazine.
Four top Credit Suisse executives, including Chief Executive
Brady Dougan, are scheduled to testify, along with two top
Justice Department officials.
The bank's officials are expected to stress that only a
small group of Swiss-based private bankers had helped clients
evade taxes and that it was not a widespread practice, according
to a person familiar with the bank's thinking.
Credit Suisse last week settled charges levied by the U.S.
Securities and Exchange Commission, admitting to wrongdoing and
paying $196 million in fines. But a settlement with the Justice
Department is not imminent, a person familiar with the matter
has told Reuters.
Switzerland has amassed assets worth trillions of dollars
from foreigners over the past decades, aided by its tight bank
secrecy laws. However, two small banks, Frey & Co and Bank
Wegelin, have folded after U.S. authorities started targeting
the country's banks over tax evasion.