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The Swiss Banker and 'Toxic Waste'

POSTED: 06:30 PM ET, 11/12/2008 by Derek Kravitz

The indictment of a senior executive at the Swiss bank UBS is part of a larger clash between the U.S. government and the tradition of secrecy that has been central to Switzerland's lucrative banking industry, The Post's David S. Hilzenrath reports.

And some Swiss officials expect the pressure on their country to intensify under president-elect Barack Obama.

Raoul Weil, who turns 49 tomorrow, is accused of working with other senior bank managers to hide roughly $20 billion in assets of American clients from the Internal Revenue Service (statement). He dubbed the scheme "toxic waste," according to federal prosecutors, and the dealings netted the bank an estimated $200 million per year in revenue between 2002 and 2007.

The Financial Times said the indictment was UBS' "heaviest blow yet." The International Herald-Tribune said the Department of Justice's decision to charge Weil "significantly ramps up the pressure on UBS," which is already facing questions about its potential dealings with clients who wanted to hide their assets in offshore accounts.

The case comes several months after another former UBS banker, Bradley C. Birkenfeld, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to assist his American clients who avoided paying federal income and other taxes to the IRS.

UBS was alerted at least three years ago to possible violations of United States securities laws, according to internal letters reviewed by The New York Times. (BusinessWeek sent its own reporter to Zurich to meet with UBS executives to discuss how to invest $15 million. One of the executives, who is now under investigation, told the reporter: What the client wants, the client gets.)

Earlier this week, UBS announced that it had given the authorities details about U.S. bank accounts as part of the tax probe, though not about Swiss-based accounts, Reuters reported. U.S. officials have obtained the names of about 70 American clients of the banking giant.

"Swiss banking secrecy is always under pressure but banking secrecy is secured internationally," said Finance Minister Hans-Rudolf Merz, adding that the government was "well prepared" to protect the law, according to swissinfo.ch.

By Derek Kravitz |  November 12, 2008; 6:30 PM ET
Previous: Court Rules Against Bush on Missing E-Mails | Next: Bailout Lacks Oversight, Spam Host Shut Down, Rezko Denied New Trial

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Does the Washington Post give the client what the client wants?
While having sympathy with the idea of bringing light into possible illegal activities of the UBS, the way the Washington Post is quoting UBS executives in this article may be a bit deceptive and misleading. The quote "What the client wants, the client gets", was not referring to "possible violations of US securites laws", but rather to buying wineyards or other unusual "old-economy" assets private clients can imagine of.

Posted by: tadju | November 13, 2008 2:39 AM

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