UBS could escape fine in US tax secrecy case

ZURICH: Swiss bank UBS could escape a hefty fine from US authorities over allegations that Americans opened offshore bank accounts with the lender to evade taxes, a Swiss newspaper said Sunday.

The bank may only be required to hand over several thousand names of account holders to the United States, newspaper NZZ am Sonntag reported.

That would be a much lighter penalty than expected, with previous reports in Switzerland suggesting a fine of between three and five million dollars (2.0 to 3.5 billion euros) was on the cards.

The NZZ am Sonntag quoted a source close to the case saying around 4,500 to 5,000 names of UBS account holders would be given to the United States following a tentative deal reached last week between US tax officials and UBS. A fine "is not part of the agreement," the source added.

US authorities had filed a lawsuit earlier this year seeking to force UBS to identify Americans suspected of opening offshore bank accounts to hide behind Swiss banking secrecy laws and evade US taxes.

They had initially demanded the details of 52,000 US customers and accused UBS of violating US laws by promoting offshore accounts.

The diplomatically sensitive case was due to go to trial on Monday but a US judge postponed it until August 10 after the two sides reached an agreement in principle.

After the case was delayed at a hearing on Friday, a UBS spokesman said that the parties "expect to resolve the remaining issues in the coming week."

UBS had argued that it could not comply with the US demand without violating Swiss banking secrecy law, which would make it liable for prosecution in Switzerland.

Under a settlement earlier this year with the US Justice Department, UBS admitted to tax fraud by inviting rich US clients to open accounts in Switzerland and thus avoid declaring their income to the US. It paid 780 million dollars (571 million euros) to settle that case.