Swiss Bank to Divulge 4,450 Account Names in U.S. Tax Evasion Probe

August 19, 2009 - 10:40 AM
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Washington (AP) - Swiss banking giant UBS AG agreed Wednesday to turn over to the IRS the details of 4,450 accounts suspected of holding undeclared assets by American customers, ending an intense trans-Atlantic legal fight.
 
IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said the accounts held $18 billion in assets at one time. Many have since been closed, he said.
 
The deal will give the Internal Revenue Service thousands of long-sought account names, and is expected to provide even more UBS clients who voluntarily disclose their financial details to the agency, Shulman said.
 
UBS has an estimated 52,000 accounts of U.S. customers. The IRS chief said the 4,450 accounts being relinquished to the agency were the ones most suspected of containing undeclared assets.
 
"I believe this agreement gives us what we wanted -- access to information about those UBS accountholders most likely to have been involved in offshore tax evasion," Shulman said.
 
He said that other account holders appear to be in compliance with U.S. tax laws.
 
The two sides told a federal judge last week they had reached a tentative agreement, but the details were not released until Wednesday.
 
The Swiss Bankers Association issued a statement in support of the agreement.
 
"The out-of-court agreement avoids a prolonged legal battle that would have had an uncertain outcome and UBS can now continue with its consolidation process in an atmosphere free of this legal uncertainty," the association said.
 
Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf told a news conference in the capital of Bern that the deal lifts the threat of criminal prosecution against UBS, which could have endangered the bank's very existence and dealt a severe blow to the Alpine nation's economy.
 
"There was no alternative to this solution," she said.
 
Affected UBS customers will be able to challenge the hand-over of their names before Switzerland's Federal Administrative Court, Widmer-Schlumpf said, noting that this ensured that existing Swiss law "remains untouched."
 
Shulman said the IRS reserves the right to resume its legal fight if any of the names are withheld.