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French investigation


UBS tax evasion probe ‘has been politicised’


By Renat Kuenzi



The Swiss press have reacted with scorn to France’s criminal probe into UBS for alleged tax evasion offences. Newspapers have branded the decision politically and hypocritically motivated following the $9 billion (CHF8 billion) fine imposed on French bank BNP Paribas by the United States last month.

UBS was placed under formal investigation in Paris on Wednesday accused of helping wealthy French clients evade taxes,

Last year, UBS head office and its subsidiary in France were placed under formal investigation in France on related charges of illegal sales practices and complicity in illegal sales practices.

In the latest development, UBS was ordered to stump up €1.1 billion (CHF1.3 billion) as bail at a judicial hearing in Paris on Wednesday. The Swiss bank has heavily criticised the formal investigation and the bail demand (see infobox).

Crowing rooster

The Swiss media across the country has chipped in with its own condemnation of France’s tactics, especially given the objections of the French government to BNP Paribas’s massive fine.

The Neue Luzerner Zeitung accuses France of setting double standards in a story ironically headlined “Paris sets an example”.

“After the United States recently made the French bank BNP Paribas pay billions in fines and admit criminal guilt, Paris is now going after UBS with the same arbitrariness,” the newspaper says. “The motive is clear: a hefty fine is a welcome windfall for cash-strapped state coffers.”

“The Gallic rooster crows,” crows the business-friendly Neue Zürcher Zeitung. "The billions in bail demanded from UBS indicates a larger political malaise in France,” the newspaper declares.

“American-style justice is rarely seen as a role model for France. After the debacle of BNP Paribas in the United States, the investigation against UBS comes in very handy for Paris."

UBS punch bag

The Geneva-based Le Temps quotes an unnamed ‘insider’ as saying: “The judges have banged their fists on the table. They see no reason why UBS should pay fines in the US and not in France.”

The Südostschweiz can understand UBS’s frustration with the latest twist in a long-running legal process. “UBS blows its top in France,” the newspaper declares. “For months UBS has behaved well, cooperating with the Parisian judiciary and preventing their French clients from resolving their tax affairs.”

The Tages-Anzeiger is concerned that UBS has become a symbolic sacrificial lamb for any country that wants to make a political point about tax evasion. “UBS must not be a punch bag,” it demands.

And Swiss newspapers are not alone in presuming that the UBS case has been influenced by French politicians. The well-known French business journal Les Echos believes that the decision to formally investigate UBS shows that the bank has “become collateral damage” in the fall-out from the BNP Paribas affair.

UBS Statement into French probe

"We were notified today at a convocation hearing in Paris of an unprecedented and unwarranted amount of bail amounting to €1.1 billion in the ongoing investigation of UBS AG's French cross-border case. We consider both the legal basis for the bail amount and the method of calculation to be deeply flawed and will appeal.

We were also informed that UBS AG was placed under 'mise-en-examen' (formal commencement of an investigation) for laundering the proceeds of tax evasion. We will continue to defend our case strongly. In the course of the last few years, we have done everything we can to bring this matter to a close.

We have also taken significant and broad steps to ensure tax compliance of our clients and will continue to do so. It is not acceptable to us that this has become a highly politicised process."

By Renat Kuenzi, swissinfo.ch
Adapted from German by Matthew Allen