Oldest private Swiss bank Wegelin to close after guilty plea
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William Sharp, a tax lawyer in Tampa, Florida, with many U.S. clients of Swiss banks, said Wegelin's plea "should serve as a wake-up call" to the world banking community servicing U.S. clients to takes steps to ensure compliance with U.S. law.
Sharp called Wegelin's change of heart "shocking." Banks under U.S. criminal investigation in the wider probe include Credit Suisse, which disclosed last July it had received a target letter saying it was under a grand jury investigation.
Zurich-based Julius Baer and some cantonal, or regional, banks are also under scrutiny, sources familiar with the probes previously told Reuters. So are UK-based HSBC Holdings and three Israeli banks, Hapoalim, Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank Ltd and
Bank Leumi, sources also said previously.
Those banks have not commented on the inquiries. In a statement after the plea, Assistant U.S. Attorney General Kathryn Keneally said it was a top Justice Department priority "to find those who continue to shirk their tax obligations," as well as those who help them and profit from it.
"The best deal now for these folks is to come in and 'get right' with the IRS, before either the IRS or the Justice Department finds them," she said.
Under its plea, Wegelin agreed to pay the $20 million in restitution to the IRS as well a civil forfeiture of $15.8 million, the Justice Department said.
Wegelin also agreed to pay an additional $22.05 million fine, the Justice Department said. U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff, who must approve the monetary penalties, set a hearing in the case for March 4 for sentencing.
Last year, the U.S. government separately seized more than $16 million of Wegelin funds in a UBS AG account in Stamford, Connecticut, via a civil forfeiture complaint.