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Swiss government ready to sign tax deal with United States

A Swiss flag is pictured next to the Jet d'Eau (water fountain), and the Lake Leman from the St-Pierre Cathedrale in Geneva June 5, 2012. RE
A Swiss flag is pictured next to the Jet d'Eau (water fountain), and the Lake Leman from the St-Pierre Cathedrale in Geneva June 5, 2012. RE

ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland said it is ready to end a long-running dispute with U.S. prosecutors over Swiss banks that have sheltered tax evaders, without disclosing any terms of the deal.

The two governments have been at loggerheads over a tax evasion crackdown which has ensnared around a dozen Swiss banks, is threatening a raft of others, and earlier this year felled Wegelin, Switzerland's oldest bank, following an indictment.

The Swiss government said on Wednesday the signing of the joint statement with the U.S. should enable Swiss banks to resolve the dispute with the United States while complying with existing Swiss laws. It gave no further details, and the finance ministry was absent at a weekly government press conference.

A Swiss newspaper reported the host of banks not yet under formal investigation in the U.S. could face fines of as much as 50 percent of their American client assets. [ID:nL6N0GT0T3] Government spokesman Andre Simonazzi said the terms and conditions of the program would not be immediately released, but would be communicated "as soon as possible".

While Switzerland's banking lobby and a banking employees association welcomed the move, a spokeswoman for the U.S. justice department didn't immediately comment on the Swiss statement.

The agreement deals mainly with a settlement for the roughly 100 Swiss banks that had U.S. clients, but are not yet being investigated by U.S. justice authorities.

"The SBA welcomes the positive outcome of the Federal Council's decision, as this means that the final step towards a solution has been taken and the U.S. can now launch the program," the SBA said in a statement.

Around a dozen banks are under U.S. investigation, including Credit Suisse , Julius Baer , the Swiss arm of Britain's HSBC , privately held Pictet and state-backed regional banks Zuercher Kantonalbank and Basler Kantonalbank .

Several of those banks have said they are preparing information of client withdrawals demanded by U.S. investigators, after the Swiss government said it would allow them to circumvent secrecy and privacy laws to do so.

Last week, a Swiss government source told Reuters the U.S. government had ratcheted up the pressure on Switzerland to strike a deal after the Swiss parliament rejected an accord in June, tightening its negotiating terms after the rebuff.

(Reporting by Martin de Sa'Pinto; Editing by Katharina Bart and Mark Potter and Louise Heavens)

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