(Reuters) - The United States is drafting legal documents that seek to force nearly a dozen Swiss banks and international banks with Swiss branches to disclose the identities of American clients evading billions of dollars in taxes, sources briefed on the matter said. The drafting of the documents -- grand jury subpoenas and broad requests known as John Doe summonses -- is a fresh U.S. shot across the bow at Switzerland and its battered tradition of bank secrecy.
The Alpine country, a noted tax haven that is the global capital of offshore private banking, has been under attack from U.S. Justice Department and Internal Revenue Service officials conducting a broad criminal investigation into private banking services that U.S. authorities say enabled wealthy Americans to evade billions of dollars in taxes.
The documents could be served within a month or so on 10 banks, including some with headquarters outside Switzerland, these persons said.
The legal pressure signals a new front in Washington's fight against Swiss bank secrecy, a battle that in recent years has resulted in scores of Swiss bankers and advisers being charged, dozens of American clients indicted and several large banks investigated.
The Justice Department served a target letter in July on Credit Suisse AG (CSGN.VX), Switzerland's second-largest bank, notifying it that it was the focus of a criminal investigation. American authorities also are probing HSBC (HSBA.L) and smaller Swiss private banks and cantonal banks, including Basler Kantonalbank, Wegelin and Julius Baer (BAER.VX).
Talks between the Swiss and U.S. governments to resolve the broad investigation broke down in June. Switzerland wants its banks to pay a multi-billion dollar fine, but the U.S. side wants client names as well.
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