Former UBS AG banker Raoul Weil, accused of helping Americans evade taxes, may be allowed to call fellow bankers as witnesses to testify from overseas by video because they fear arrest if they travel to the U.S.
To do so, he will probably have to identify them to the government sooner than his lawyers would like.
Lawyers for Weil argued today in a hearing in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, that at least a dozen defense witnesses fear entering the U.S. without a guarantee that they won’t be arrested as part of the government’s crackdown on tax evasion using hidden Swiss bank accounts.
“I have heard reports that if they went after Raoul Weil, who was regarded as the straight arrow and most focused on compliance in the business, then no one was safe,” defense lawyer Aaron Marcu said. “There is a lot of anxiety among the bankers.”
U.S. District Judge James Cohn said he was leaning heavily toward requiring advance disclosure of the names of the banker witnesses who would testify at Weil’s conspiracy trial in October. He deferred a ruling.
“I understand the defendant doesn’t want to tip his hand, but the government does need to know who these witnesses are,” prosecutor Mark Daly told the judge.
Weil, the former head of UBS’s global wealth-management business, is the highest-ranking banker charged in a U.S. crackdown on offshore tax evasion. Prosecutors say he oversaw 60 private bankers who helped UBS make $200 million a year by managing $20 billion in assets not declared to the Internal Revenue Service.
“Virtually all of the potential witnesses, even those with only a peripheral connection to the events in question, have informed us that they are afraid to travel to the United States to testify, and do not even want their names to be revealed to the government, because they fear retaliation if they appear to support Mr. Weil,” defense lawyers said in court papers.
Prosecutors said they wouldn’t agree to the video testimony request unless the defense names the witnesses before the trial and describes their potential testimony. Cohn should deny Weil “carte blanche to utilize such an extraordinary and unprecedented measure,” the government said July 29 in court papers.
Weil’s lawyers “set forth no exceptional basis for video testimony other than the reluctance of witnesses to enter the United States,” according to the filing. Weil has said “he cannot and will not” provide the names of witnesses or their testimony in advance, an omission that is “fatal to his request,” according to prosecutors.
Weil, a Swiss citizen, first appeared in a Florida court on Dec. 16, five years after he was indicted and declared a fugitive. He was arrested Oct. 2 after checking into a hotel in Bologna, Italy. He waived extradition to the U.S. He is free on $10.5 million bail and staying under house arrest in New Jersey.
He must prepare for an Oct. 14 trial that may include testimony for the prosecution from Martin Liechti, a former manager of the UBS Americas International division.
Liechti, arrested on a material witness warrant in Miami in April 2008, received a non-prosecution agreement and spent four months at a Four Seasons Hotel during debriefings, according to a court filing. He agreed to testify at future trials.
The case is U.S. v. Weil, 08-cr-60322, U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida (Fort Lauderdale).