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Former UBS banker pronounced a fugitive

(Keystone)

A United States judge has declared Raoul Weil, a former senior banker at Switzerland's largest financial institution, UBS, a fugitive.

The judge in Fort Lauderdale made the move after Weil, aged 49, failed to surrender to US authorities on charges of conspiring to help wealthy American citizens hide assets from US tax authorities.

Prosecutors released details of the order putting Weil, a former head of the bank's global wealth business, on the fugitive list on Tuesday but had no further comment.

The clerk of the court will remove the defendant from the court's pending list and place him on the clerk's fugitive list, US district judge James Cohn wrote in the order.

A charge brought last November alleged that Weil and other unidentified bankers conspired to help 17,000 Americans hide $20 billion (SFr22.36 billion) of assets in Swiss bank accounts to try to avoid paying US taxes.

At the time, a lawyer for Weil said he was innocent and called the charge against him "totally unjustified".

Private banking business

Weil, who lives in Switzerland and was based here at the time, oversaw the bank's cross-border private banking business until stepping down when the charges were made public.

"Mr Weil denies any suggestion that he was aware of, engaged in or tolerated any illegal conduct in the operation of UBS's US cross-border business," his lawyer Aaron Marcu said in a statement.

"Mr Weil is a highly respected banking executive in Switzerland with an unblemished record for integrity."

Weil faces up to five years in prison as well as a fine of $250,000 if convicted.

UBS, which has not commented on the Weil case, has said it is cooperating fully with US authorities.

The Justice Department has been investigating whether the bank helped Americans evade taxes, and the US Securities and Exchange Commission is looking into whether UBS failed to register as a broker-dealer or investment adviser.

Offshore accounts closed

Last week, UBS said it was closing all the offshore accounts of its US clients as pressure mounted from US tax authorities.

Switzerland's Sonntag newspaper reported on Sunday that UBS expected a fine of SFr2 billion related to the tax investigation, but a UBS spokeswoman described this as "pure speculation".

Weil was promoted to CEO of the global wealth management in July 2007, taking over the position from Marcel Rohner, who became chief executive of the UBS group.

Prosecutors alleged in the November charge that Weil gave UBS subordinates incentives to increase their business with US clients, knowing that they were violating a 2001 agreement to identify customers' names.

The charge alleged that he and other executives hid the results of an internal audit from the Internal Revenue Service that showed UBS was not meeting the terms of the accord.

Last May, former UBS private banker Bradley Birkenfeld pleaded guilty to helping Californian billionaire Igor Olenicoff dodge taxes and agreed to cooperate with investigators.

swissinfo with agencies

Birkenfeld, UBS and the US

On May 14, 2008, former UBS employee Bradley Birkenfeld and a Liechtenstein businessman were charged by the US authorities with helping an American billionaire avoid paying taxes on $200 million of assets deposited in Swiss and Liechtenstein bank accounts.

Birkenfeld turned whistleblower, giving details of UBS private banking practices to US prosecutors.

In July, a Miami court authorised the IRS to issue a summons on UBS demanding the release of confidential information on clients the agency suspected of tax evasion.

In the same month, UBS told a congressional hearing that it would stop offshore banking activities for US clients.

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