US fines Basel Cantonal Bank for tax evasion role

Basel Cantonal Bank is one of dozens of Swiss financial institutions that have been punished by the US for tax evasion offences. © KEYSTONE / GEORGIOS KEFALAS

Basel Cantonal Bank has become the latest Swiss financial institution to accept a fine for helping United States citizens to evade taxes. The bank was forced to pay a total of $60.4 million (CHF58.9 million) in penalties to settle the case without having to face a criminal trial.

Announcing the settlement on Tuesday, the Department of Justice (DoJ) said the bank had deliberately poached clients from other Swiss banks that were themselves facing criminal actions in the US.

Sensing the 2009 prosecution of UBS as a “business opportunity”, Basel Cantonal Bank engaged outside professionals to help them onboard US clients and their undeclared assets to its Zurich-based branch.

“At its peak in 2010, the bank held approximately 1,144 accounts for US customers, with an aggregate value of approximately $813.2 million,” much of it undeclared, the DoJ said in a statement.

It was one of the few remaining Swiss banks that had yet to be punished by the US for its activities. A handful have yet to reach settlement, including Pictet, one of Switzerland’s largest private banks. In recent weeks, other banks have agreed to fines, including Zurich Cantonal Bank that shelled out $98.5 million earlier this month.

The large scale prosecution of Swiss banks by the US authorities has brought about the demise of Swiss banking secrecy and witnessed the demise of three institutions, including Wegelin, which was Switzerland’s oldest bank when it closed down in 2013.

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