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UBS tells unit staff to avoid US visits: Shell CFO Peter Voser is a director of the scandal hit Swiss bank

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UBS tells unit staff to avoid US visits

By Haig Simonian in Zurich

Published: May 27 2008 23:30 | Last updated: May 27 2008 23:30

UBS has told members of its former private banking team responsible for rich US clients not to travel to America.

The Swiss bank has also made lawyers available to the more than 50 bankers involved, many of whom have left UBS since it decided last November to wind down its cross-border private banking business for US customers.

The move follows the recent indictment of one of the unit’s former senior executives, Bradley Birkenfeld, who US authorities have accused of helping a billionaire client evade taxes. Mr Birkenfeld has pleaded not guilty and his lawyers have made no public statement on the matter.

Lawyers for Mr Birkenfeld and the US government are due to appear before a judge next Monday “to resolve pre-trial motions and discovery problems”, according to court documents.

Many members of UBS’s former US team have left the bank amid concerns about the investigations and fears that the bank might not support them if arrested. “Many of us have the feeling we’d be expendable,” said one former team member.

People familiar with the situation said these anxieties were exacerbated by UBS’s decision last December to send most of its Swiss-based US team to Art Basel Miami, a Florida arts event the bank sponsors, even though US authorities were increasing their scrutiny of the bank’s activities.

UBS’s travel restrictions suggest it is concerned that the investigations by the US Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission may widen.

Martin Liechti, UBS’s Swiss-based head of international private banking for North and South America, was detained by the US authorities last month and remains in the US as a “material witness.”

The Financial Times has learnt Mr Birkenfeld has been able to provide only two names to the US authorities, which may be fewer than investigators hoped for. One, Igor Olenicoff, a US real estate tycoon, reached a legal settlement with the US DoJ last December and is co-operating with the authorities, eople with knowledge of the situation said. Bankers suggested Mr Birkenfeld’s client list may have been significantly smaller than the 20 big clients senior members of the UBS team typically handled.

Mr Birkenfeld’s relationship with the bank soured after UBS claimed he had not performed to expectations. Mr Birkenfeld took legal action against UBS over his termination and then co-operated with the US authorities.

UBS declined to comment.

Additional reporting by Joanna Chung in New York


In depth: UBS – Apr-01

Private banks face tax evasion crackdown – May-08

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