Swiss banks urged to come forward or risk U.S. prosecution


ZURICH, Nov 17 (Reuters) - The head of the U.S. JusticeDepartment's tax division has warned that Swiss banks which donot come forward under a government-brokered programme riskprosecution over tax evasion by their U.S. customers.

The programme closes in about six weeks.

"We want to assure the banks that we are here to speak withthem and implement the programme," Kathryn Keneally said in ainterview with Swiss newspaper Sonntagszeitung on Sunday.

At the same time, Keneally said the Justice Departmentcontinues to investigate banks which aided tax evasion withinformation from banks already cooperating with U.S. officialsand will seek criminal charges for those which don't comeforward.

"Our program enables banks and individuals to bring this toan end. Should they choose not to make use of it, we will keepinvestigating and press charges," Keneally said.

It applies to about 100 second-tier Swiss banks, which couldhave to disclose some previously hidden information and facepenalties of up to 50 percent of the value of assets theymanaged on behalf of wealthy Americans.

It does not cover banks already under U.S. criminalinvestigation, which include some of Switzerland's biggest bankssuch as Credit Suisse and Julius Baer.

Keneally said Justice Department officials have receivedvarious requests from Swiss banks to interpret the program'sguidelines, but was hesitant to enter talks unless they centeredon a specific institute's problems.

She didn't comment on the investigation into Credit Suisseand other banks being targeted, or on potential fines.

Swiss bankers which cooperate individually with U.S. JusticeDepartment officials run the risk of being pursued by Swissprosecutors for violating the country's strict banking secrecylaws.

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