UBS defies US demands on secret accounts – Banking giant UBS Wednesday defied pressure to name about 50,000 Americans holding secret bank accounts in Switzerland as the nation’s financial culture came under a withering fire.

US senators accused bankers at crisis-wracked UBS of helping wealthy Americans to flout US tax law through a variety of underhand methods down to encrypted laptops and lies to US customs officers.

But while acknowledging wrongdoing under a deal last month between UBS and US prosecutors, a top executive with Switzerland’s biggest bank said it could provide no more than 250-300 names of US account holders already handed over.

Mark Branson, the Zurich-based chief financial officer of UBS Global Wealth Management and Swiss Bank, said the group was already shutting down US-owned securities accounts and paying a 780-million-dollar fine to the US government.

"We believe that UBS has now complied with the summons to the fullest extent possible without submitting its employees to criminal prosecution in Switzerland," he told a hearing of the Senate investigations subcommittee.

Grilled by the panel’s Democratic chairman, Carl Levin, Branson said up to 48,000 accounts were held in Switzerland by US clients but that Swiss law precluded UBS from divulging any more names.

But Levin, accusing the British-born banker of being "needlessly evasive," said UBS had made a "declaration of war… against honest, hard-working taxpayers" through its illegal practices in the United States.

Broadening the fight to take in the Swiss government’s jealous protection of its banking secrecy law, the senator said: "We’re determined to fight back and end the abuses inflicted on us by those tax havens."

Under its settlement with the US Justice Department, UBS last month admitted to tax fraud by inviting rich US clients to open accounts in Switzerland and so evade declaring their income to the Internal Revenue Service.

Under its interpretation of the two nations’ tax treaty, UBS said it could only cough up the identities of 250 to 300 US account holders.

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