(Reuters) - Lawyers representing 73 Swiss banks seeking to avoid a tax-evasion probe by U.S. authorities wrote a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice raising questions over a dozen demands, including the banks’ cooperation with other nations.
In the letter dated Oct. 21, the lawyers questioned the terms of a proposed non-prosecution agreement over how banks can achieve amnesty through the disclosure program announced last year.
The disclosure program that allows some Swiss banks to pay fines to avoid or defer prosecution over tax evasion by their U.S. customers was signed by more than 100 Swiss banks in December, Bloomberg reported earlier.
In the 11-page letter seen by Reuters, lawyers from 18 law firms have requested the U.S. DOJ to discuss issues which present substantial obstacles to their clients’ to “cooperate fully with . . . any other domestic or foreign law enforcement agency designated by the Department,” among a wide range of other changes.
“This requirement is not found in the Program and, indeed, turns a Program specifically focused on U.S. tax issues into a global cooperation agreement without any safeguards or guarantees of appropriate consideration of the banks’ cooperation,” the document argued.
The United States in recent years has stepped up its pursuit of Swiss banks for aiding tax evasion and has increasingly pressured individual bankers.
The letter comes as UBS AG UBSN.VX and other Swiss banks struggle to put behind them their pasts as willing accomplices to tax evasion and outright tax fraud.
“The Department of Justice has been in contact with representatives of the Swiss government as well as the legal representatives of the specific banks that entered Category 2 of the Department’s Swiss Bank Program,” U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Nicole Navas said.
“We are working through a number of issues in order to implement the requirements of the program and conclude agreements with the individual banks in Category 2,” Navas added.
Reporting By Aurindom Mukherjee in Bangalore, Karen Freifeld in New York & Aruna Viswanatha in Washington; Editing by Bernard Orr