The US Justice Department is suing UBS, asking a federal court in the states to order the Swiss bank to disclose the identities of as many as 52,000 US customers with secret Swiss accounts.That comes after UBS headed off criminal charges in a landmark settlement by paying 613 million euros and identifying about 300 of its US clients who may have committed fraud. Earlier the Swiss Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz had said the principles of secrecy remain in place. UBS Chairman Peter Kurer admitted: “As an organisation, we made serious errors. Our control systems particularly completely failed. And what is worse, in certain areas of the bank, we tolerated a culture which did not respect at all a number of foreign countries’ laws.” The UBS settlement was welcomed by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a long time supporter of international action against tax avoidance. Brown said: “I have been pressing for an international system of regulation for 10 years and I’ve been trying to tell other countries that it is absolutely essential in the world of global flows where everybody can see banks are working with different countries. That you can’t just supervise them nationally, you’ve got to supervise them globally, you’ve got to regulate them for their activities around the world.” Switzerland does not consider tax evasion a crime, and, by law, client data can only be disclosed if the authorities believe money laundering or tax fraud is involved. The UBS case has implications for banking secrecy in several European countries which have been accused – particularly by the German government – of encouraging tax evasion.
US wants 50,000 UBS 'tax evader' names