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Swiss court allows Credit Suisse to hand client data to U.S.

A man uses his cell phone as he walks past a branch of Swiss bank Credit Suisse in Zurich, January 31, 2012. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
A man uses his cell phone as he walks past a branch of Swiss bank Credit Suisse in Zurich, January 31, 2012. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann

ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland's top court has ruled that the government can transfer the bank records of an American client of Credit Suisse to the U.S. tax authorities, giving a boost to the country's efforts to end U.S. investigations of Swiss banks.

The Swiss Federal Supreme Court said in a statement on Friday it had rejected an appeal against a lower court's decision, ruling that requests for such assistance were admissible in cases of suspected tax fraud.

The ruling comes as the Swiss government is trying to seal a deal to end U.S. investigations into the country's banks. The deal is expected to result in fines totaling up to $10 billion and the transfer of names of Americans suspected of evading tax.

The United States submitted a fresh request to Switzerland last year for information on former Credit Suisse clients suspected of cheating on their U.S. taxes, after an earlier attempt was blocked by a Swiss court.

Credit Suisse is among more than a dozen banks under formal U.S. investigation, including Julius Baer , the Swiss arm of Britain's HSBC , privately held Pictet and state-backed regional banks Zuercher and Basler .

The Swiss government agreed on Wednesday that banks could seek permission to help them to avoid U.S. criminal charges by handing over data including on bank staff, though they would not be allowed to hand over client names directly.

The government will consider U.S. requests for information on clients under existing double taxation treaties, as in the case the Supreme Court just ruled on.

But Swiss officials have warned that U.S. patience could start running out - potentially triggering the indictment of a bank - if the handover of information on clients and bank staff keeps getting held up in the courts.

Last month, a Swiss court ordered an injunction halting the transfer of a former Credit Suisse employee's data to U.S. tax authorities.

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Sophie Walker)