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Swiss bank Pictet gave data to U.S. in tax probe

ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss bank Pictet said on Sunday it handed over bank account details to U.S. authorities probing cases of tax evasion, as a newspaper reported it had accepted funds from two former UBS clients suspected of having cheated on taxes.

Pictet said in a statement the data handover took place in November 2010 via the Swiss tax office, which had received a request for assistance from its U.S. counterparts.

This is the latest episode in an ongoing dispute between the United States and Switzerland over wealthy Americans accused of avoiding taxes by hiding money in secret Swiss accounts.

Eleven Swiss banks - including Credit Suisse and Julius Baer but not Pictet - are under scrutiny by the United States for aiding U.S. citizens suspected of tax dodging.

Banking secrecy has helped the Swiss build up a $2 trillion offshore wealth management industry.

The investigation into the 11 Swiss banks was fed by data culled in a crackdown on UBS, which that bank settled in 2009 by handing over thousands of client data, paying a fine and admitting wrong-doing.

In a related interview with the SonntagsZeitung, Patrick Odier, president of the Swiss Bankers Association, said another case like that of Wegelin & Co. could not be ruled out.

Wegelin, Switzerland's oldest bank, buckled under the pressure of a long-running campaign by U.S. tax authorities and broke itself up in January. Wegelin had accepted money from UBS clients suspected of dodging tax.

"U.S. authorities could have enough material to weigh on banks other than those on the 11-bank list," Odier said.

Switzerland is trying to get investigations into 11 banks dropped in return for the payment of fines and the transfer of U.S. client names. It is also seeking a deal to shield the remainder of its 300 or so banks from U.S. prosecution.

Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf has said she hoped for a deal before the end of the year.

"We need to draw a line under it, so there are no more charges," Odier said.

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Read more at: Tax Times blog

 
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