Swiss call in Italian envoy to explain bank raids

October 28, 2009

ZURICH, Oct 28 (Reuters) – Switzerland has summoned the Italian ambassador to demand an explanation of raids by police and tax inspectors on dozens of Swiss banks in Italy, the Swiss Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.

The Italian tax agency said on Tuesday checks were made at 76 branches of mainly Swiss banks as part of Italy’s fight against tax evasion.

Berne asked for clarification of the raids from the Italian ambassador, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

“Switzerland expressed its surprise about these actions and in particular on the subject of the wave of fiscal checks yesterday in Italy,” it said. “In effect these checks appear to have been aimed mainly at Swiss organisations.”

Relations between the two countries have deteriorated since Italy launched a generous tax amnesty aimed at recovering billions of euros hidden by Italians in Switzerland and other offshore centres.

Swiss bank UBS confirmed its offices in Italy were visited by Italy’s tax police. Credit Suisse declined to comment.

On Tuesday, James Nason, spokesman for the Swiss banking association, said he found it strange that only Swiss banks were raided.

“My own personal hunch is that the Italian authorities are straining to make some sort of symbolic political statement,” he said.

The Association of Foreign Banks in Italy said its members were “actively collaborating with the tax authorities”.

The raids were carried out on the day Switzerland’s president and finance minister, Hans Rudolf Merz, said his country was ready to cooperate with Italy on tax matters, in an interview published in the financial daily Il Sole 24 Ore.

Switzerland came to an agreement with U.S. authorities earlier this year in a dispute over taxation which pierced its banking secrecy. The Swiss also agreed to process requests by the United States seeking information from banks about account holders suspected of evading U.S. taxes.

The global financial crisis has prompted governments worldwide to crack down or declare amnesties in their efforts to bring in extra funds to state budgets.

(Reporting by Sven Egenter and Lisa Jucca; editing by Andrew Dobbie) ((; +41 (0)58 306 7354))

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