Expatica news

Swiss justice minister meets US officials

WASHINGTON – Switzerland’s justice minister expressed frustration Monday after meeting with US officials about allegations that Switzerland’s biggest bank helped Americans evade taxes. Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said senior officials in the US Justice Department did not understand Swiss banking secrecy laws.

Widmer-Schlumpf discussed the US complaints against UBS AG on Monday with Acting Deputy Attorney General David Margolis. She also met with Attorney General Eric Holder, but the top US Justice official mostly avoided the banking issue because of a conflict of interest; Holder once represented UBS in private practice as a lawyer.

Widmer-Schlumpf said Holder told her that he did not want to escalate current disagreements that disturbed US-Swiss relations.

UBS already agreed in a deal with the Justice Department to pay USD 780 million (CHF 914 million) and disclose up to 300 UBS account holders suspected of tax fraud.

The Internal Revenue Service, the US tax-collecting agency, is seeking to force UBS to surrender records for an estimated 52,000 US customers who allegedly violated American tax laws by using concealed Swiss accounts worth at least USD 14.8 billion.

Despite her frustration, Widmer-Schlumpf said the meetings were productive and honest.

Widmer-Schlumpf said she did not link the discussion of UBS to Switzerland’s willingness to accept detainees from the US prison in Guantanamo Bay, and the two issues should remain separate. She said she would not object, however, if someone should interpret the Swiss help as an act of goodwill.

US Justice Department spokesman Matt Miller said Holder expressed gratitude that Switzerland is considering taking some detainees. He said Holder and Widmer-Schlumpf also discussed their close cooperation in fighting terror, terror financing and organised crime, and they pledged to continue cooperation in those areas.

AP / Expatica