U.S. Charges Two Swiss Financial Executives
The Justice Department has charged a Swiss banker and a lawyer with conspiring to defraud the U.S. by helping rich Americans hide assets in sham offshore entities to dodge taxes.
The news comes one day after the U.S. strong-armed Swiss banking giant UBS into turning over the names on 4,450 secret Swiss bank accounts suspected of belonging to American tax cheats.
One of the charged Swiss worked at a small private bank in Zurich called Neue Zuercher Bank and the other worked with him as a lawyer. The pair "regularly traveled to the United States to conduct banking and investment activities with their U.S. clients and ... when they traveled they concealed their business activities in the United States by falsely representing to American authorities that they were traveling to the U.S. for personal reasons," Justice said in a release. "While in the United States, the defendants would sometimes bring cash for their clients," Justice said.
The banker is Hansruedi Schumacher and the lawyer is Matthias Rickenbach.
"According to court documents, Schumacher and Rickenbach aided their wealthy American clients repatriate money back to the United States using several deceptive means," Justice said. "Schumacher and Rickenbach helped their clients obtain offshore credit cards and created sham loan documents. Additionally, Schumacher and Rickenbach falsified bank documents to generate the appearance that assets of their U.S. clients belonged to Swiss citizens, and they falsified documents to disguise their United States clients’ repatriation of offshore funds as inheritances from foreign citizens."
If you're wondering why Justice and the IRS would go after a small private bank, instead of another big one like UBS, here's your answer from the Justice release: "According to court documents, Schumacher and Rickenbach discouraged their U.S. clients from voluntarily coming into compliance in the United States. Instead, the defendants encouraged their clients to transfer their assets from UBS, a large Swiss bank, to NZB, a smaller bank in Switzerland. The defendants told their clients that their assets and identification would be safer at NZB because they had no presence in the United States and was therefore less likely to be pressured by the American authorities to disclose the identities of their United States clients."
Translation: The IRS and DOJ are sending a clear message to American tax cheats -- we will find you, no matter where you hide.
It is unclear from the release whether the men are in the U.S. or can be extradited to the U.S., or whether Justice and the IRS indeed have any expectation of prosecution. Instead, this appears to be a message charging.
Many of the leads that result in chargings like this are generated when American holders of secret Swiss bank accounts have turned themselves in under the leniency program that began in the spring and expires on Sept. 23. Those who turn themselves in are debriefed and forced to fill out a lengthy questionnaire, detailing who they dealt with in Switzerland.
August 20, 2009; 1:38 PM ET
Categories: The Ticker | Tags: Swiss banks, UBS
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