U.S. Attorneys filed an indictment against Wegelin & Co., Switzerland’s oldest bank, accusing it of aiding U.S. citizens in tax evasion. According to the indictment, the bank helped American tax payers hide over $1.2 billion in deposits, and the taxable income associated with these accounts. This marks the first time the United States has indicted a foreign bank for facilitating tax evasion, according to the DOJ press release.
Three Wegelin employees, Michael Berlinka, Urs Frei and Roger Keller are accused of helping American clients open undeclared accounts with the bank through an account it had with UBS AG, the American branch of the United Bank of Switzerland.
In fact, the three advisers are accused of siphoning former clients off of UBS after “widespread news reports that the IRS was investigating UBS for helping U.S. taxpayers evade taxes and hide assets in Swiss bank accounts,” says the press release, adding the bank ceased servicing undeclared accounts for U.S. clients in mid-2008.
The indictment alleges that Wegelin would open accounts for its clients using phony corporations in Hong Kong, Panama or Lichtenstein, and using its UBS AG account to help clients illegally repatriate funds, circumventing the IRS.
The bank has been summoned to appear before Judge Jed Rakoff, who made headlines recently for his criticism of the SEC’s handling of Citi’s fraud settlement, though Bloomberg reports that this is largely symbolic. For the indictment to mean anything, the Swiss must punish the bank.
Swiss bank accounts have been back in the public eye lately, following presidential hopeful Mitt Romney’s disclosure of his 2011 tax returns. The documents, which the multimillionaire was apparently reluctant to disclose, revealed that the Romney’s have $3 million in a Swiss money market account in his wife Ann’s name, according to the New York Times.
Though there is nothing suspicious about the account — it was declared and taxes were paid on it — but it has provided political cannon fodder for his opponents. The account is with UBS, and Romney held it from 2003 until 2010, coinciding with some of the time period when the bank was suspected of aiding tax evasion. Though, the New York Times reports that Romney always declared the account, and reported the its interest gains from 2010. This has not prevented Newt Gingrich from using the disclosure to attack Romney in debates, alleging that his wealth detaches him from reality.
Coming into the Nevada primaries, will Gingrich make reference to the indictments?