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Judge delays US tax evasion hearings

A FEDERAL judge has agreed to postpone tax evasion hearings against Swiss bank UBS AG to allow time for a possible settlement.

United States District Judge Alan Gold granted the motion yesterday.

The US and Swiss governments and the banking giant had earlier asked the judge to delay hearings on the Internal Revenue Service's effort to identify thousands of suspected American tax evaders.

A one-page motion, filed in Miami less than 24 hours before yesterday's hearings were due to begin, said postponement was needed "to allow the two governments to continue their discussions seeking a resolution of this matter."

Unless a deal is reached, the filing asks that the hearing be rescheduled for August 3.

In a statement, the US Justice Department said any agreement would have to require that UBS provide "information on a significant number of individuals with UBS accounts." It added: "If an alternative resolution is not reached, the Department of Justice will continue to vigorously pursue enforcement of the summons."

The case seeking the identities of some 52,000 wealthy American clients suspected of hiding US$15 billion at UBS has already sent shock waves through the international banking system.

Bankers fear a ruling against UBS would disrupt cross-border commerce, force people to withdraw huge sums from financial entities with offshore offices and play havoc with international tax treaties. Experts say other foreign banks are asking American clients to close accounts for fear they may be targeted.

The UBS case has persuaded hundreds of taxpayers with offshore accounts to come clean with the IRS under a voluntary disclosure program and avoid criminal prosecution.

UBS, which previously admitted wrongdoing in a more limited US tax case, is resisting turning over the names that have been protected by Swiss bank secrecy laws.


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