Tags: Swiss | banks | tax | evasion

Swiss Banks May Leave Others Holding the Bag in Tax-Evasion Case

Friday, 07 Jun 2013 07:57 AM

By John Morgan

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Swiss financial managers and lawyers are girding for a legal battle with the United States if their names are released as part of a deal with U.S. tax evasion investigators, according to the Swiss Broadcasting Corp. (SBC).

Swiss banks are in favor of the potential deal now before Parliament because it would allow them to skirt both Swiss banking secrecy laws and U.S. criminal prosecution, the SBC reported.

However, Swiss financial lawyers, tax advisors and asset managers might not receive the same immunity, thus many of them oppose the settlement.

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"Lawyers in tax -haven jurisdictions have for years marketed their services to financial institutions to help clients set up trusts or other structures to provide additional layers of confidentiality. Banks send clients to these lawyers for help," said U.S. tax lawyer Scott Michel.

"Lawyers in Switzerland and other countries who have engaged in this conduct are now vulnerable," Michel told the SBC.

Parliament is expected to vote during its current session whether to accept a proposal to allow banks to hand over confidential data about their U.S. clients. The banks could still be subjected to "huge fines," according to the SBC, but no criminal liability.

The Chamber of Swiss Tax Advisors condemned the potential deal, as did the Swiss Association of Asset Managers.

Alexandre von Heeren, chairman of the Swiss Association of Trust Companies, said, "The upper echelons of bank managers who made all the decisions will not be liable because they are unlikely to have dealt with clients personally. It is others who will pay the price."

Michel predicted it is likely more U.S. indictments will be lodged in the case.

"Lawyers' reputations are their stock and trade," he told SBC "Even if a law firm has no presence in the U.S., or there is no prospect of them standing in a U.S. courtroom, the Justice Department can inflict enormous damage just by charging them with a criminal offense."

According to The New York Times, Swiss bank UBS has been placed under formal investigation in France for allegedly designing investments to help its clients evade taxes.

The development follows an inquiry for more than a year over the bank's operations in France, a UBS executive told The Times.

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