Swiss parliament approves bank data deal with US

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The Swiss parliament on Thursday approved a tax evasion deal with the United States that clears the way for banking giant UBS to transfer data on thousands of its clients to US authorities.

Switzerland, the United States and UBS agreed in August 2009 that the bank would identify 4,450 American clients who are suspected of dodging taxes, in a bid to settle lawsuits by the US government.

But the deal needed parliamentary approval after Switzerland's supreme court vetoed it in January for breaching Swiss banking secrecy rules. It has since been held up by weeks of procedural wrangling.

The Swiss government welcomed the parliament green-light, saying "there is no longer anything to stop the delivery of UBS client data."

"Parliament's approval allows Switzerland to uphold the commitments it has made and by which... it remains bound under international law," the justice ministry said in a statement.

UBS chairman Oswald Gruebel hailed the "approval by the Federal Councils (parliament) of the accord between the United States and Switzerland," in a statement.

He said Switzerland's biggest bank "will continue to concentrate on the full range of its obligations stemming from this agreement," and said he was "confident" the matter could be settled by August.

Swiss authorities supplied Washington with data on 500 clients who gave their consent before the supreme court blocked the process. They have another 1,200 client files ready to transfer now the deal has parliament's approval.

In total so far, Bern says it has processed 3,000 of the 4,450 cases raised by Washington, and considers it is "well on the way to fulfilling the request for administrative cooperation" from Washington, the ministry said.

The United States warned last week that it would revive potentially damaging litigation against UBS if Switzerland reneged on the agreement.

Officials feared a breakdown in the deal could stoke political and economic tensions and jeopardise UBS's banking licence in the United States.

Both parliament chambers had accepted the tax evasion accord in principle on Tuesday, but the lower house made its backing conditional on the deal being put to voters in referendum, which the upper house rejected.

The two houses overcame their differences Thursday, dropping plans for a referendum.

© 2010 AFP

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