GENEVA, June 6 The United States hopes to settle its dispute with Switzerland over unpaid taxes on money held in Swiss bank accounts by the U.S. presidential election in November, U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland Donald S. Beyer said on Wednesday.
"Our hope, but not necessarily our expectation, is that all this is resolved before the election, but it may not be," he told a news conference in Geneva.
Eleven Swiss banks - including Credit Suisse and Julius Baer - are under investigation by the United States for aiding U.S. citizens suspected of dodging taxes.
Switzerland wants the investigations dropped, in exchange for payment of fines and the transfer of names of thousands of U.S. bank clients. It also wants a deal to shield the remainder of its 300 or so banks from U.S. prosecution.
The talks appear to have stalled in recent months. A visit by Swiss President and Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf to Washington in April brought no breakthrough, although she said she hoped to resolve the dispute before the end of the year.
Although Beyer mentioned the presidential election in the timeline for a deal, he denied the election was slowing things down since U.S. negotiators were independent, career government attorneys and there was no link to the electoral calendar.
"In the U.S. political system the Attorney General of the United States is independent from the president (and is) confirmed by the Senate, but jealously guards his or her freedom to act, to investigate, to bring charges, to prosecute."
He also said that it was not a major issue for the White House in the election year.
"I think we spend a lot more attention looking at this at the U.S. Embassy in Berne and the Department of Finance in Berne than the White House does. They (the Swiss) would love to have it settled and over, but it's going to go at a pace that (Swiss negotiator) Michael Ambuehl and President Widmer-Schlumpf and the Department of Justice attorneys find works for both sides."
The U.S. prosecutor most responsible for piercing the veil of Swiss bank secrecy, Kevin Downing, quit to join a law firm effective June 4.
Asked if his departure would have any impact on the timeline, Beyer said Downing was only one of the team and the Internal Revenue Service's Michael Danilack was leading the U.S. negotiations.