Switzerland must solve a dispute with the United States over wealthy citizens using secret Swiss accounts to dodge taxes under existing laws and should continue to protect bank secrecy, the Swiss Bankers Association head said on Monday.
The association's president, Patrick Odier, made the comments after newspapers reported on Sunday that the United States has given an ultimatum to Switzerland, saying that unless detailed information on tax evaders using Swiss accounts is handed over this week Credit Suisse and nine other banks will face charges.
The cross-border problems with the United States can and will be solved. But the United States must understand that Swiss laws must be respected, Odier told a news conference.
Bank client secrecy protects wealth and does not hide it. This protection remains important.
Odier said Switzerland must avoid a repeat of the deal it made to settle a U.S. investigation against UBS, allowing it to bend the country's banking secrecy laws and reveal the details of around 4,450 clients to avoid criminal charges.
He said an accord should be possible under the terms of the existing UBS deal and a new double taxation agreement with the United States that Switzerland approved in 2009 but is still awaiting ratification by the U.S. Senate.
The United States should take note of the example of the tax agreements with Germany and Britain. Bilateral problems between friendly states should be able to be solved in an amicable way, Odier said.
Last month Switzerland struck deals with Germany and Britain to tax money kept by their residents in secret Swiss accounts and also introduce a withholding tax on future interest earned, a proposal rejected by Washington.
A long tradition of bank secrecy has helped Switzerland build up a $2 trillion offshore financial industry, but the country has agreed in recent years to do more to help hunt tax cheats amid a global crackdown on tax havens.
The government is keen to find a solution that would avoid needing the approval of parliament which only reluctantly agreed to the UBS treaty under emergency law last year.
But the United States seems to be pushing for more than current Swiss law would allow, seeking details of all U.S. clients with accounts worth at least $50,000 between 2002 and 2010 at banks including Credit Suisse, private banks Julius Baer and Wegelin as well as the Zurich and Basel cantonal banks.
Two Swiss Sunday papers said a letter sent by U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole on August 31 demands detailed figures on tax evasion at Credit Suisse by Tuesday.
Mario Tuor, a spokesman for the Swiss department for international financial affairs, would only say that talks are underway and that Bern wants a solution based on the existing laws.
($1=0.783 Swiss francs)
(Editing by Greg Mahlich)