Swiss fears grow for UBS

SWISS bank UBS could collapse if talks over a tax probe fail and the US government bans it from trading in the US, the Swiss justice minister warned yesterday.

The bank’s wider activities could be hit if UBS fails to honour a deal with Washington to hand over the details of suspected tax-dodgers, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said.

Switzerland and the US have reached an agreement under which UBS would hand over information on some 4,500 account holders to US tax authorities.

But a ruling by a Swiss federal tribunal earlier this month, which backed a bid by some of the account holders to prevent their details being revealed, raised concerns that the deal could fall through.

Widmer-Schlumpf told Swiss Sunday newspaper Le Matin Dimanche: “The actions of UBS in the United States are very problematic. Not only because they are punishable, but also because they threaten all the other activities of this bank.”

She added: “We know the Swiss economy and jobs would suffer on a major scale if UBS fails as a result of its licence being revoked in the US.”

Widmer-Schlumpf said the Swiss government had already made contact with the Obama administration about the issue and Washington had reacted in a very measured manner.

The minister said Bern, which has faced accusations in Switzerland that it is failing to protect UBS, was planning new negotiations with the US, although she declined to give details.

A UBS spokesman in London declined to say anything on the matter. “We’re not going to comment on that.

Meanwhile, the chief executive of UBS said he would not accept a bonus because the Swiss bank is not making a profit, it emerged yesterday.

Oswald Gruebel, appointed at the end of February 2009 to turn around the beleaguered bank, said he would decline a bonus this year, although other staff would receive awards to prevent talented staff quitting.

“Otherwise all the good people will leave UBS. Why should they stay,” Gruebel told Swiss Sunday newspaper SonntagsZeitung.