Bank Admits to Helping U.S. Taxpayers Hide Accounts from IRS;
Agrees to Identify Customers & Pay $780 Million
UBS AG, Switzerland’s largest bank, has entered into a deferred prosecution agreement on charges of conspiring to defraud the United States by impeding the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Justice Department announced today.
As part of the deferred prosecution agreement and in an unprecedented move, UBS, based on an order by the Swiss Financial Markets Supervisory Authority (FINMA), has agreed to immediately provide the United States government with the identities of, and account information for, certain United States customers of UBS’s cross-border business. Under the deferred prosecution agreement, UBS has also agreed to expeditiously exit the business of providing banking services to United States clients with undeclared accounts. As part of the deferred prosecution agreement, UBS has further agreed to pay $780 million in fines, penalties, interest and restitution. Earlier today, the agreement was accepted in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. by U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn.
A criminal information was unsealed today that charges UBS with conspiring to defraud the United States by impeding the IRS. According to court documents, in 2000, after it purchased the brokerage firm Paine Webber, UBS voluntarily entered into an agreement with the IRS that required UBS to report to the IRS income and other identifying information for its United States clients who held United States securities in a UBS account. Court documents allege that the agreement also required UBS to withhold income taxes from United States clients who directed investment activities in foreign securities from the United States. The information further asserts that, in order to evade those new reporting requirements, employees and managers within the cross-border business, with the knowledge of certain UBS executives, helped United States taxpayers open new UBS accounts in the names of nominees and/or sham entities. According to court documents, the assets of the individual’s accounts were then transferred to the newly created accounts, as to which the U.S. taxpayer would not be identified as a beneficiary. The information asserts that this device was used by UBS to justify evading its reporting obligations and helped United States taxpayers to continue to conceal their identities and assets from the IRS.
The information also alleges that Swiss bankers routinely traveled to the United States to market Swiss bank secrecy to United States clients interested in attempting to evade United States income taxes. Court documents assert that, in 2004 alone, Swiss bankers allegedly traveled to the United States approximately 3,800 times to discuss their clients’ Swiss bank accounts. The information further alleges that UBS managers and employees used encrypted laptops and other counter-surveillance techniques to help prevent the detection of their marketing efforts and the identities and offshore assets of their U.S. clients. According to the information, clients of the cross-border business in turn filed false tax returns which omitted the income earned on their Swiss bank accounts and failed to disclose the existence of those accounts to the IRS.
In light of the bank’s willingness to acknowledge responsibility for its actions and omissions, its cooperation and remedial actions to date, and its promised continuing cooperation and remedial actions, the government will recommend dismissal of the charge, provided the bank fully carries out its obligations under the agreement.
In November 2008, UBS executive Raoul Weil was indicted by a federal grand jury in Fort Lauderdale and charged with conspiring to defraud the United States for his alleged role in overseeing the United States cross-border business. The district court recently declared him to be a fugitive.
In June 2008, former UBS private banker Bradley Birkenfeld pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiring to defraud the United States for similar conduct. Birkenfeld is scheduled to be sentenced on May 1, 2009. Also, in June 2008, the U.S. District Court in Miami authorized the Internal Revenue Service to serve upon UBS a so-called “John Doe” summons seeking records that would identify United States taxpayers with accounts at UBS in Switzerland who have elected to conceal the existence of their accounts from the IRS.
“UBS executives knew that UBS’s cross-border business violated the law,” said R. Alexander Acosta, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. “ They refused to stop this activity, however, and in fact instructed their bankers to grow the business. The reason was money — the business was too profitable to give up. This was not a mere compliance oversight, but rather a knowing crime motivated by greed and disrespect of the law.”
“Today’s agreement is but one milestone in an ongoing law enforcement effort to reassure hard-working and law-abiding taxpayers who pay their fair share of taxes that those who don’t will pay a heavy price,” said John A. DiCicco, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Tax Division. “The veil of secrecy has been pulled aside and we will continue to aggressively pursue those who shirk their federal tax obligations or assist others in doing so.”
Acting Assistant Attorney General DiCicco and U.S. Attorney Acosta commended Tax Division attorneys Kevin Downing and Michael Ben’Ary, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Neiman, along with special agents from the Internal Revenue Service who provided invaluable assistance in investigating this case.
More information about the Justice Department’s Tax Division and its enforcement efforts is available at http://www.usdoj.gov/tax/.
A copy of this press release may be found on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. Related court documents and information may be found on the website of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.