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U.S. justice department probes Swiss bank Pictet

A sign bearing the logo of family owned private bank Pictet is pictured at the company headquarters in Geneva May 7, 2012. REUTERS/Denis Bal
A sign bearing the logo of family owned private bank Pictet is pictured at the company headquarters in Geneva May 7, 2012. REUTERS/Denis Bal

ZURICH (Reuters) - Swiss private bank Pictet is under investigation by the U.S. authorities, the bank said on Sunday, making it the latest Swiss bank to come under scrutiny in a U.S. probe into the use of foreign banks by wealthy Americans seeking to avoid paying tax.

Pictet said in a statement the U.S. Department of Justice had made a "general inquiry" into its wealth management business with U.S. clients, adding it would cooperate fully.

The U.S. investigation is part of a global offensive on the tradition of strict banking secrecy that has helped Switzerland build up a $2 trillion offshore wealth management industry.

Pictet issued the statement after Der Sonntag newspaper reported that the U.S. authorities were investigating Switzerland's largest unlisted private bank.

"Pictet has made it a priority to ensure that its business with U.S. clients complies with all the relevant laws and regulations governing its conduct," the bank said.

Pictet denied earlier this year it was being investigated by U.S. officials even though it had handed over some details of specific accounts to the U.S. authorities in November 2010.

UBS was the first Swiss bank to come under scrutiny by the U.S. authorities in a tax evasion crackdown, an investigation it settled in 2009 by handing over client data, admitting wrongdoing, and paying a $780 million fine to avert prosecution.

U.S. officials have subsequently mined the UBS data as well as a flood of voluntary disclosures by U.S. citizens and have widened their investigation to other Swiss banks, including Credit Suisse and Julius Baer.

Switzerland is trying to get those investigations dropped in return for the payment of fines and the transfer of names of U.S. clients. It is also seeking a deal to shield the remainder of its 300 or so banks from U.S. prosecution.

(Reporting by Emma Thomasson; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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