The Swiss government will probably have to turn to parliament to resolve a legal impasse threatening a deal struck with the U.S. to hand over data from UBS
The Swiss government had raised the option of parliament retroactively approving the deal, involving UBS clients suspected of dodging taxes, after a Swiss court ruled in favor of a UBS client seeking to prevent her account data from being given to the U.S. tax agency.
But the government's preferred solution has so far been to negotiate a way out, hoping that the U.S. would drop the issue if more than 10,000 UBS clients had turned themselves in voluntarily.
I assume today that parliament has to get involved, Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf told Swiss daily Blick in an interview, published on Thursday.
The United States insist that we stick to the fundamentals of the agreement. This means they want the 4,450 sets of client data, which refer to cases of severe tax evasion and tax fraud, she said.
Only some of a total 14,000 clients who have turned themselves in voluntarily to U.S. authorities are UBS clients, Widmer-Schlumpf said when asked if not enough UBS clients have turned themselves in, without giving a detailed number.
A spokesman for the justice ministry said talks with U.S. authorities were still ongoing, also declining to provide further details.
Switzerland struck a deal with the United States last August, promising to deliver 4,450 sets of UBS client data. In return the U.S. suspended a civil case against UBS.
But the Swiss court ruling could prompt U.S. officials to go back to the federal court in Miami to enforce the summons request, a so-called John Doe summons that seeks unidentified defendants that meet certain criteria without naming them.
Swiss bank secrecy gives account holders protection against outside scrutiny. The deal struck to drop the U.S. case against UBS in exchange for revealing client names was a major departure from that tradition, which has been under global attack.
The pressure has increased further in recent weeks after Germany announced it was prepared to pay for data on clients of a Swiss bank touted by a whistleblower has sent shivers across Swiss banking.
Widmer-Schlumpf said the Swiss had launched a criminal investigation into the potential data theft and the country would ask Germany for legal assistance in this case.
According to the agreement on legal assistance, Germany is obliged to help us with a criminal investigation, if culprits or accomplices are on German territory, she said.
Germany would eventually have to hand over the data to the Swiss in any case, Widmer-Schlumpf said. In our own interest: We will not provide legal assistance in case of stolen data.
The Swiss government had to find a strategy to deal with banking secrecy in the future quickly, Widmer-Schlumpf said.
The exchange of information in certain areas could be a part of its strategy in negotiations with the European Union as well as a withholding tax, the Swiss banking association is lobbying for, she said.
But a package should also include a solution for existing accounts in Switzerland, she said.
Many banks adopted strict rules on tax compliance in case of new clients but the issue of the legacy accounts is unresolved.
(Reporting by Sven Egenter)