Raoul Weil, a former high-ranking executive with the Swiss bank UBS, has entered a not guilty plea to tax fraud conspiracy in a court in the United States.
Weil, a 54-year-old Swiss citizen and former head of global wealth management at UBS, was charged five years ago with helping about 17,000 Americans conceal $20 billion (CHF18.1 billion) in secret accounts at the bank.
He was a fugitive until his arrest last October in Italy and was later extradited to the US. He is free on $10.5 million bail and has consistently denied any wrongdoing.
Weil’s attorney said his client would fight the charges.
“We look forward to coming back to Florida and defending him when we have a trial date,” the attorney said during a brief hearing on Tuesday.
According to court documents, the trial should begin on February 18.
Weil's appearance in the Fort Lauderdale courtroom was his second since his extradition last month.
If convicted, he faces a maximum five-year prison sentence and up to $250,000 in fines for conspiracy to commit tax fraud.
Lawyers for UBS whistleblower Bradley Birkenfeld, the bank employee who revealed the tax fraud conspiracy to US authorities in 2007, say that Weil may be negotiating a "sweetheart" deal that would spare him from a trial and ultimately shield secret account holders and other bankers from prosecution.
"Weil can clearly bargain inside information he has that could be embarrassing to American officials or institutions for leniency," said Stephen Kohn, a Birkenfeld lawyer who also heads the Washington-based National Whistleblowers Center.
"Weil knows where all the skeletons are buried," he added.
Weil, who left UBS in 2008, is the most senior Swiss bank manager to face court proceedings in the US over suspected fiscal fraud.
In a case that shook Swiss banking to the core, UBS in 2009 paid a record $780 million fine and turned over names of customers suspected of evading US taxes. Many have been prosecuted since and others paid penalties and back taxes.
swissinfo.ch and agencies