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FBI ‘to probe Swiss bank UBS’ in tax dodging case (Shell CFO Peter Voser is a director of UBS)

FBI ‘to probe Swiss bank UBS’ in tax dodging case

Jun 22 12:11 PM US/Easter

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has made a formal request to travel to Switzerland to probe a multi-million-dollar tax evasion case involving top Swiss bank UBS, a news report said Sunday.

The move follows the confession of former UBS banker Bradley Birkenfeld to a Florida court last week that he conspired to help wealthy American clients dodge millions of dollars in taxes.

Swiss officials from the justice and finance ministries have already travelled to Washington for talks with their US counterparts amid fears the case could damage the overall reputation of Switzerland’s financial sector.

“In the context of legal cooperation, it is possible that foreign authorities can be present during investigations,” justice ministry spokesman Folco Galli told the Swiss weekly Sonntag.

“However, they are not allowed to conduct the investigations themselves, that is for the Swiss authorities,” he said.

Birkenfeld pleaded guilty to conspiring with co-defendant Mario Staggl to hide some 200 million dollars, liable to 7.2 million dollars in US taxes, through an elaborate system of fraud, the US Department of Justice said.

He admitted that between 2001 and 2006, while he was a director of UBS’ private banking division, he met frequently with wealthy Americans wanting to conceal their assets abroad.

Birkenfeld said he and Staggl as well as other managers, also advised clients to conceal their assets by buying jewels, art and luxury goods using the money in their Swiss accounts and then deposit them in Swiss safety boxes.

The New York Times reported that the case could involve some 20,000 US citizens.

Meanwhile the Swiss banking commission is also probing UBS to see whether the bank violated oversight regulations through its dealings with US clients.

“Banks have to stand by their agreements with the US authorities. We want to clear up whether there have been any more regulatory breaches,” spokesman Alain Bichsel told the paper.

The US probe is a further headache for UBS, once a byword for safe and reliable investments but which lost 37 billion dollars on the US subprime crisis and was forced to turn to Asian and Middle Eastern investors to bail it out.
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