Swiss banks ban foreign travel on tax crackdown: report

ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss private banks are banning their top executives from traveling abroad, even to France and Germany, because of fears they will be detained as part of a global crackdown on bank secrecy, the Financial Times reported.

The newspaper quoted an unnamed head of a leading private bank in Geneva as saying steps by countries like the United States and Germany to fight tax evasion meant banks felt they had to limit travel to protect employees.

It cited four unnamed sources in the Geneva private banking industry as saying some banks were introducing total travel bans for staff, even for neighboring European countries.

“Private bankers aren’t even traveling to France. The partners are not leaving Geneva at all,” the FT quoted one senior industry figure as saying.

The paper said the travel bans come ahead of next week’s meeting of leaders from the G20 group of the world’s biggest economies which will discuss the fight against tax evasion in offshore centers among other issues.

Fearing that the G20 might blacklist them, Switzerland and other offshore financial centers agreed earlier this month to sign up to tax cooperation standards set up by the Organization for the Economic Cooperation and Development.

Last year, U.S. authorities briefly detained a senior UBS UBS.NUBSN.VX employee as part of a probe into whether the bank helped U.S. clients evade tax through Swiss bank accounts.

After the probe was launched, UBS said it would discontinue offshore banking and securities services to U.S. residents and stopped client advisers based in Switzerland from traveling to the United States to meet clients.

In January, the former head of UBS’s wealth management business, Raoul Weil, was formally declared a fugitive after failing to surrender to U.S. authorities on charges of conspiring to help wealthy Americans hide assets.

Since then, the world’s largest wealth manager agreed to a $780 million fine to avert U.S. criminal charges, but it is still fighting a U.S. civil case that is seeking to force it to reveal the names of 52,000 clients suspected of dodging taxes.

Reporting by Emma Thomasson; editing by Simon Jessop