Julius Baer Bankers Said to Be Charged in Tax Probe by U.S.

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Julius Baer Bankers Said to Be Charged in Tax Probe by U.S.
A pedestrian passes a Julius Baer branch in Zurich, Switzerland. Photographer: Adrian Moser/Bloomberg

Two Julius Baer Group Ltd. client advisers were charged with helping U.S. customers of the Zurich-based bank evade taxes, according to an indictment and a person with knowledge of the matter.

Daniela Casadei and Fabio Frazzetto conspired with more than 180 U.S. clients and others at the bank to hide at least $600 million in assets from the Internal Revenue Service, according to the indictment in federal court in New York and the person, who wasn’t authorized to speak about the matter. The indictment refers to the bank as Swiss Bank No. 1.

“The bank is one of a number of Swiss financial institutions supporting the ongoing tax negotiations between the U.S. and Switzerland and is cooperating with the U.S. government investigation,” Baer said in an e-mailed statement today.

Baer, the Alpine country’s fifth-biggest wealth manager, said it can’t comment on the indictments or the U.S. government investigation. Casadei and Frazzetto weren’t available for comment through a call to the bank, and Martin Somogyi, a Baer spokesman, declined to put Bloomberg in touch with either.

“This has generally been expected,” said Dirk Becker, an analyst at Kepler Capital Markets in Frankfurt with a “hold” rating on the stock. “Julius Baer needs to find a way out of this.”

U.S. Crackdown

The charges come amid a U.S. crackdown that includes grand jury investigations of eight foreign banks. Prosecutors have filed tax charges against three dozen former U.S. clients of UBS AG and Credit Suisse Group AG, Switzerland’s two biggest banks, and London-based HSBC Holdings Plc, Europe’s biggest bank. At least 21 bankers, advisers and attorneys also have been charged.

“First we saw UBS, then we saw Credit Suisse, then we saw HSBC, now we have Julius Baer,” said Jeffrey Neiman, a former federal prosecutor who practices law in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The new indictment cites 15 clients, without identifying them, who allegedly used Casadei or Frazzetto to hide their accounts. About 30,000 U.S. taxpayers have avoided prosecution since 2009 by voluntarily disclosing offshore accounts to the IRS. The Justice Department has interviewed many of them in building new criminal cases.

‘Breadth of Information’

“This is another example of the breadth of information obtained by the IRS and the Department of Justice through the voluntary disclosure program,” Neiman said.

Switzerland hopes to submit the results of talks with the U.S. to lawmakers in the “foreseeable future,” Swiss Finance Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said in an interview in the Swiss capital Bern last week.

That would follow accords with Germany and the U.K. signed this month that will impose new levies beginning in 2013 on Germans and Britons with Swiss offshore bank accounts.

Baer agreed with German authorities in April to a one-time payment of 50 million euros ($68 million) to end investigations against the bank and its employees over undeclared client assets. That was “cheap to settle” compared with the possible outcomes of “harsher” U.S. investigations, Becker said.

Baer’s Casadei worked at the bank from the early 1990s through last year, and Frazzetto worked there from 2005 until last year, according to the new indictment. Both men, who live in Switzerland, are charged with conspiracy and face as long as five years in prison.

‘Red Rubin’

They opened undeclared accounts for taxpayers under fictional names such as “Hydrangea” and “Red Rubin,” according to a statement by U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara.

Casadei, Frazzetto and others told U.S. clients that their accounts “would not be disclosed to the IRS because Swiss Bank No. 1 had a long tradition of bank secrecy and no longer had offices in the United States, making Swiss Bank No. 1 less vulnerable to pressure from U.S. law enforcement authorities than other Swiss banks with a presence in the U.S.,” Bharara said.

Tax attorney Lawrence Horn said the Justice Department is increasing its pressure on Julius Baer. Horn, of Sills Cummis & Gross PC in Newark, New Jersey, said he expects the U.S. government to hold the bank liable for the actions referred to in the indictment.

Julius Baer and other banks, he said, “are being boxed in right now. They really have nowhere to go.”

The case is U.S. v. Casadei, 11-cr-866, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

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