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Swiss bank PostFinance to join U.S. tax deal

ZURICH, Dec 13 (Reuters) - PostFinance, the banking arm of Switzerland's state-owned postal services company, on Friday became the latest Swiss bank to say it would work with U.S. officials in a crackdown on wealthy Americans evading taxes through offshore accounts.

A total of six banks have now come forward to say that they are participating in the scheme, brokered by the Swiss and U.S. governments in August to make amends for aiding tax evasion.

The number of banks participating is important for another group of Swiss banks already under investigation in the United States, including Credit Suisse and Julius Baer , whose cases have been frozen pending a solution for the wider Swiss banking sector.

If the United States deems its deal with Switzerland a failure because too few banks come forward, it is likely to hold up settlements for the other banks.

PostFinance said it had decided to join the scheme to minimise its risk of coming into conflict with foreign authorities.

Private bank and securities firm Vontobel has also said it is taking up the U.S. offer, but put itself in the category of institutions that have not committed any U.S. tax-related offences and are therefore exempt from penalty payments.

About 100 banks are expected to take part in the scheme by the end of the year. Banks that join will have to hand over some previously hidden information and face penalties of up to 50 percent of assets they managed on behalf of U.S. clients.