By Joshua Franklin
ZURICH (Reuters) – UBS
Since the financial crisis, cash-strapped governments around the world have clamped down on tax evasion, with authorities probing Swiss banks in Germany, France and the United States.
“The request concerns a number of UBS account numbers pertaining to current and former French domiciled clients and is based on data from 2006 and 2008,” UBS, Switzerland’s biggest bank, said in a statement.
The French request was made based on a double taxation agreement with Switzerland.
UBS said it had expressed concerns to Switzerland’s Federal Tax Administration (FTA) that the legal basis for the request was “ambiguous at best,” and that the data and the justification received as part of the request “lack the required specificity”.
The bank added that it plans to ask the Swiss Federal Administrative Court to look at the request.
Switzerland was barred from helping the Netherlands in a tax case that centers on a Dutch client of UBS after a Swiss court ruled that requested details were too broad to be covered by the information-sharing agreement between the countries.
The French request is based on data received from German authorities, who have gathered information from various tax investigations and, according to UBS, has apparently shared this with other European countries.
As a result, UBS said it expects other countries to file similar requests.
Switzerland’s tradition of bank secrecy has helped make it the world’s biggest offshore financial center, with more than $2 trillion in foreign wealth kept with the country’s banks.
In 2014, French authorities had placed UBS under formal examination over whether it helped clients avoid tax and investigating judges ordered the bank to provide bail of 1.1 billion euros ($1.22 billion).
UBS was forced in 2009 to pay a fine of $780 million and deliver the names of more than 4,000 clients to avoid indictment, giving the U.S. authorities information that allowed them to pursue other Swiss banks.
(Reporting by Joshua Franklin; editing by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi and Louise Heavens)