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UBS client admits to US tax charges

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A businessman has pleaded guilty to United States tax charges stemming from a wide-ranging investigation into secret accounts at Swiss bank UBS.

This content was published on July 29, 2009 - 08:09

The New York owner of a company that represents Chinese and Hong Kong toy manufacturers faces up to three years in prison after entering his plea at the federal court in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on Tuesday.

Sentencing has been set for October 30.

He is the third US client of UBS to plead guilty to criminal charges. A statement of facts he signed said he sought in 2008 to reveal his UBS account to the IRS, file amended tax returns and pay back taxes. But he was talked out of it by a lawyer named only as "Swiss Attorney" in the court documents.

This attorney told him that a high-ranking Swiss government official had provided assurances that his name was not scheduled to be turned over to US authorities investigating tax evasion by wealthy American clients.

The attorney later told him that this unidentified Swiss official had been paid $45,000 (SFr48,400) for the information, which he then had withdrawn from his account.

But it was to no avail. his name was disclosed earlier this year on a list of about 300 UBS clients as part of a deferred prosecution agreement in which the bank also agreed to pay a $780 million penalty.

US taxpayers who have secret offshore accounts face a September 23 deadline to voluntarily come forward to the IRS under an amnesty programme that promises reduced penalties, said John DiCicco, acting assistant attorney general for the US Justice Department's tax division.

"Failure to come forward and to disclose offshore assets exposes these Americans to increased penalties and possible criminal prosecution," DiCicco said.

"Dressed as tourists"

The latest plea comes amid intense negotiations between the Justice Department, UBS and the Swiss government over a broad US attempt to force the bank to disclose some 52,000 names of suspected American tax cheats with secret accounts.

On Wednesday a US judge agreed to hold another status conference on Friday – the same day Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey is scheduled to meet US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Federal court Judge Alan Gold in Miami set the new conference in a call with lawyers representing the two sides, in which the US government attorney said he still expects a trial against UBS to start as scheduled on August 3.

UBS and the Swiss say Switzerland's long-standing bank secrecy laws would make it a crime to turn over all the names. US prosecutors say that is not the case.

The client met frequently with UBS advisers and executives, who "would dress as tourists to avoid detection", according to the factual statement.

One unnamed UBS executive falsely claimed to customs agents that he was coming to the US to visit his brother, court documents show. UBS officials also physically cut the man's name and account number from bank statements so they could not be linked to him.

He reportedly used credit cards to access his secret accounts and set up a sham $700,000 loan designed to provide him with money to buy land next to his New York home.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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 Internal Revenue Service 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.

UBS agreed to pay $780 million and name some United States clients to resolve criminal fraud charges against it.

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