26 Feb 2014 10:32am

Credit Suisse helped hide $10bn in tax

The Swiss bank Credit Suisse systemically aided thousands of Americans to avoid paying billions in tax over a number of years, according to a report from US prosecutors

The report said that from at least 2001 to 2008, Credit Suisse sent bankers to the US to recruit American customers, open Swiss accounts for individuals that weren’t disclosed to US authorities and open accounts in the name of offshore shell entities to hide their US ownership.

The bank opened Swiss accounts for over 22,000 US customers with assets that, at their peak, totalled roughly $10bn, according to the findings of a two-year investigation by the US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations published today. The report admitted that the US justice system was slow to react.

“The battle against tax havens using secrecy laws to facilitate US tax evasion has bogged down, causing a huge loss to our treasury," said senator Carl Levin, the subcommittee chairman.

"The Credit Suisse case study shows how a Swiss bank aided and abetted US tax evasion, not only from behind a veil of secrecy in Switzerland, but also on US soil by sending Swiss bankers here to open hidden accounts. In response, the Department of Justice has failed to use the US legal tools that won the UBS case and has instead used treaty requests for US client names, relying on Swiss courts with predictably poor results. It’s time to ramp up the collection of taxes due from tax evaders on the billions of dollars hidden offshore."

The findings revealed the underhand and “cloak and dagger” methods used by the bankers to keep client transactions secret. These included, over breakfast at a five star hotel, one banker handing a US customer bank statements hidden in a Sports Illustrated magazine, and using events to mask the purpose of their trips, such as golf tournaments in Florida and the annual "Swiss Ball" in New York.

In one instance, Levin describes how a client was “guided into an elevator remotely controlled, with no buttons, no floors. The meeting took place not at a banker’s office, but in a separate bare, conference room”.

Some of the tactics used by Credit Suisse "belong in a spy novel," said John McCain, a member of the committee.

The bank last week paid $197m to US regulators and admitted it serviced thousands of American accounts without authorisation. It is the biggest of 14 Swiss banks under criminal investigation by US authorities.

At a hearing today in Washington, four bankers, including Credit Suisse chief executive Brady Dougan, will be grilled by senators.

Raymond Doherty


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