Photographer: Gianluca Colla/Bloomberg

UBS French Unit Faces Witness-Tampering Probe After Tax Case

  • Lender says tampering allegations made by former employee
  • UBS says a claim of harassment was rejected by judges

UBS Group AG’s French unit is being investigated for possible witness tampering following a complaint from a former employee, less than a month after another related probe into allegations it helped clients evade taxes was turned over to prosecutors.

The new probe is looking at whether Nicolas Forissier, a former UBS audit manager, was pressured by the bank before he was scheduled to testify in a employment tribunal lawsuit involving another staff member, Paris prosecutors said.

Forissier said in an interview that he was one of two whistle-blowers who helped trigger the tax probes nearly a decade ago and was later fired by the bank. He said he was satisfied that prosecutors are now formally probing the witness-tampering allegations.

The Zurich-based “strongly contests the charges of the former employee,” according to an e-mailed statement Wednesday night. The bank said another claim of harassment had been rejected.

French judges on Feb. 19 wrapped up the probe into whether the bank’s French unit helped clients evade taxes. Once they receive comments from prosecutors, the judges will decide whether to send the Swiss lender to a trial.

Switzerland has been trying to shake off its reputation as the world’s largest tax haven by cooperating with other governments trying to recoup undeclared assets and watering down banking secrecy laws. Settlement talks between UBS and the French authorities broke down in July 2014 because the lender balked at pleading guilty, people familiar with the events said at the time.

The French authorities have worked with their counterparts across the border, in Belgium, where a judge last week accused UBS of money laundering and fiscal fraud over in a similar tax probe. The investigating judge also accused UBS of illegally approaching Belgian clients directly rather than through its Belgian unit, according to an e-mailed statement on Feb. 26. UBS called the allegations unfounded.

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