* Switzerland in talks for months over probe into banks
* Swiss banks expected to have to pay fines, hand over client names
* Swiss finance minister sees deal by year end
By Katharina Bart
ZURICH, Nov 4 (Reuters) - Switzerland has not offered a financial settlement to end a U.S. tax investigation into a number of Swiss banks but remains willing to hand over bank client names as part of any deal, a government spokesman said on Friday.
Basler Kantonalbank , Credit Suisse and Julius Baer are among 11 Swiss banks under investigation in connection with allegations they helped Americans dodge taxes.
The government has been in talks with U.S. authorities for months to seek a deal to get investigations dropped in return for payment of fines and the transfer of names of clients suspected of tax evasion.
Switzerland reached a deal with the U.S. authorities in 2009 for UBS to pay a fine of $780 million and reveal details of around 4,450 clients, averting criminal charges.
Mario Tuor, a spokesman for the Swiss department responsible for international financial affairs, reiterated Switzerland’s stance that client names could be transferred under existing double-taxation treaties.
While Switzerland has expressed an interest in sealing a deal for the whole banking sector, Tuor would not comment on a Reuters report that the government had offered a deal for the country’s more than 300 banks.
A U.S. source briefed on the matter said Swiss authorities had proposed a multibillion-dollar settlement to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service to cover all its banks.
“We have not made a financial offer as part of the ongoing talks,” Tuor said.
Michael Ambuehl, Switzerland’s state secretary for the finance ministry and the country’s chief negotiator on international tax matters, in Washington this week for talks with IRS officials.
Finance minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said talks with the United States had intensified and she expected a deal soon on the basis of existing double-taxation agreements.
“I assume that we will find a solution by the end of the year,” she told the weekly Bilanz, adding Switzerland would continue to refuse any so-called ‘fishing expeditions’, or broad requests for bank client data with little evidence.
But parliament should deal with a government proposal to allow U.S. authorities to request help finding names of suspected tax dodgers based on defined behavioural patterns in its December session, she told Bilanz.
Credit Suisse said earlier this week it had taken a provision of 295 million Swiss francs $334 million) for settling the U.S. investigation, suggesting a deal might be near. It said the final settlement might exceed the current provision.
Asked whether Credit Suisse would have to hand over more client details than the 4,450 UBS had to provide, Widmer-Schlumpf said Switzerland would only deliver more bank data when its courts had denied any client appeals.
Swiss bank secrecy, which helped the country become the world’s biggest offshore banking centre with $2 trillion in assets, has come under fire in recent years from cash-strapped governments clamping down on tax evasion.
Switzerland has agreed to do more to help other countries hunt tax cheats, recently securing deals with Britain and Germany to regularise untaxed accounts.