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US tax probe leaves Swiss bankers afraid to travel

A sign of the Swiss banking giant UBS is seen behind traffic lights on June 7, 2013 in Lausanne
A sign of the Swiss banking giant UBS is seen behind traffic lights on June 7, 2013 in Lausanne

As a United States hunt for tax evaders and their accomplices gains momentum, many Swiss bankers are afraid to go abroad for fear of arrest, one business leader said in an interview published Sunday.

"In my opinion, some 1,000 Swiss bankers no longer dare to go to the United States, or even travel abroad," Martin Naville, the head of the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce, was quoted as saying by Le Matin Dimanche weekly.

Swiss banks and industry representatives are increasingly cautioning bankers who have worked with US clients to refrain from travelling outside Switzerland, the paper reported.

Swiss banks are believed to have accepted tens of billions of undeclared dollars from US citizens, though they now refuse such money, and a number of banks are under US investigation.

The US has not made public which individual bankers it is probing, but according to Le Matin Dimanche, about 30 names are on the list.

Recently however, "the United States has proven it can strike where and when it likes, and now with the help of European countries", the paper wrote, describing widespread paranoia throughout the banking industry.

The report comes just over a week after the arrest in Italy of a former high-ranking UBS executive alleged to have helped US customers conceal their assets.

Raoul Weil, the 54-year-old ex-chairman of UBS's global wealth management service, was indicted by a US federal grand jury in 2008 for his alleged role in overseeing the US cross-border business.

The indictment alleges that Weil and co-conspirators helped US customers hide around $20 billion (15 billion euros) in assets from tax authorities.

The Swiss national, who left UBS after the 2008 indictment, has always denied the charges and is reportedly fighting his extradition from Italy to the US.

The Swiss Bank Employees Association told Le Matin Dimanche it was advising all bankers who have regularly visited clients in the US "to abstain from travelling".

And some Geneva banks are urging employees living on the French side of the border to settle in Switzerland instead to avoid problems, one banker who wished to remain anonymous told the paper.

"I don't even dare leave Zurich anymore," said another unnamed banker, who recently found out his name had been handed to US authorities.

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