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Swiss finance chief meeting US attorney general

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ERIC TUCKER | May 2, 2014 02:40 PM EST | AP

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Eric Holder was meeting in Washington Friday with Switzerland's finance minister amid an ongoing investigation into international banking giant Credit Suisse Group.

A U.S. law enforcement official said the meeting with Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf came as the Justice Department weighs criminal charges against Zurich-based Credit Suisse. U.S. authorities are investigating whether the bank helped wealthy American clients evade taxes by keeping money in secret accounts. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.

Credit Suisse said in 2011 that it had been informed of the investigation and would cooperate with U.S. authorities within the limits set by Swiss banking secrecy laws.

Credit Suisse spokesman Calvin Mitchell in New York declined to comment Friday.

An investigation by a Senate subcommittee in February found that the bank, Switzerland's second-largest, provided accounts in that country for more than 22,000 U.S. clients totaling $10 billion to $12 billion. The U.S. government has received only 238 names of U.S. citizens with secret accounts at Credit Suisse, or just 1 percent of the estimated total, according to a report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

Credit Suisse recruited U.S. clients to open Swiss accounts from 2001 through 2008, helped them conceal the accounts from the Internal Revenue Service and enabled misconduct by bank employees, the subcommittee said. The panel has for five years been examining Swiss banks' use of secrecy laws to enable tax evasion by Americans.

The bank stopped providing private banking services outside the U.S. to Americans in 2008.

The Justice Department said in February it is investigating as many as 14 Swiss financial institutions, "and we won't hesitate to indict if and when circumstances merit." It didn't name the banks.

Charges from U.S. prosecutors could accuse the Swiss banks of failing to properly report deposits they hold belonging to U.S. citizens.

In a related case, the Justice Department threatened UBS, Switzerland's largest bank, with criminal prosecution. UBS entered a deferred prosecution agreement with the department in 2009. It agreed to pay $780 million in fines and turn over 4,400 names of customers suspected of evading U.S. taxes.

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Associated Press writer Marcy Gordon contributed to this report.