The Swiss parliament has effectively killed off a bill designed to sidestep secrecy laws to allow banks to release some clients’ details to investigators.
The lower house voted two-to-one against a debate, even though the upper house had backed it.
Right-wing lawmakers opposed the bill on the grounds that it could set a precedent that might prompt other countries to seek concessions from Switzerland. The centre-left also rejected it for different reasons, believing Swiss banks should be forced to face the music for aiding tax evasion.
The Swiss government warned that without the law, banks may be sued by US authorities chasing wealthy American tax dodgers.
Switzerland’s banking lobby expressed regret about the vote and urged the government to do everything possible to help banks reach settlements under a US Department of Justice programme.
“Switzerland must not take the risk of a further indictment of a bank lightly,” the Swiss Bankers Association said in a statement.
Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said the government would do everything in its power but its options were limited without the bill.
The protection of client information has helped to make Switzerland the world’s biggest offshore financial centre, with an estimated two trillion dollars in assets kept there.
But the haven has come under fire as other countries have tried to plug budget deficits by clamping down on tax evasion. German, French and US authorities have been investigating Swiss banks.