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Tax evasion US programme nets $1 billion from Swiss bank fines

J Safra Sarasin helped bump the total Swiss fines to the US above $1 billion


Swiss banks have paid more than $1 billion (CHF999 million) in fines to the United States under the terms of a non-prosecution agreement designed to purge Switzerland of aiding and abetting the past tax offences of US citizens.

The US Department of Justice revealed on Wednesday that it had reached the landmark figure after securing resolutions with five more banks.

“The department has reached agreements with 75 Swiss banks, imposed penalties in excess of $1 billion, and secured voluminous and detailed information regarding the illegal conduct of financial institutions, professionals and accountholders around the world,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D Ciraolo of the DoJ’s Tax Division said in a statement.

“Building on the success of the Swiss Bank Program, the civil and criminal offshore enforcement efforts of the department and its partners in the IRS will be a top priority in 2016.”

Bank J Safra Sarasin was hit with the biggest fine ($85.8 million) of the latest five banks to be named by the DoJ. It admitted poaching clients off larger Swiss banks and setting up so-called insurance wrapper accounts for US clients who bought financial products from insurance companies.

The Geneva-based branch of British private bank Coutts was hit with a $78.5 million fine for maintaining 1,337 US accounts (not all tax cheats) since the start of 2008 which held a peak $1.2 billion in assets.

Earlier this year Coutts announced that it would close its Swiss business, passing on those clients to the Geneva-based Union Bancaire Privée.

Vaud Cantonal Bank has agreed a penalty of $41 million after poaching 265 UBS bank clients in 2008 and 2009 when the larger bank was under investigation for helping US tax cheats.

Gonet private bank will pay $11.45 million while the Valais Cantonal Bank has handed over $2.11 million, the DoJ announced on Wednesday.

All banks agreed the penalties under the terms of a 2013 agreement between Switzerland and the US to clear up past tax offences.

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