Swiss Asset Manager Charged With Tax Fraud in U.S.

A Swiss asset manager was charged in the U.S. with helping Americans hide millions of dollars in offshore accounts from the Internal Revenue Service.

Peter Amrein, 52, conspired with Americans from 1998 to 2012 to help them evade taxes, according to an indictment unsealed yesterday in federal court in Manhattan. Amrein conspired with a Swiss lawyer, Edgar Paltzer, who pleaded guilty in New York in August, according to the indictment.

Paltzer has been cooperating in a U.S. crackdown on offshore tax evasion that has led to criminal charges against more than 100 people, including about 70 American taxpayers and more than 30 bankers, lawyers and advisers. Fourteen banks are under criminal investigation, including Credit Suisse Group AG, Switzerland’s second-largest bank, U.S. authorities have said.

“From his post in Switzerland, Peter Amrein aided and abetted U.S. taxpayers in their efforts to skirt the tax code and conceal their assets in offshore accounts,” U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.

Amrein, a Swiss citizen, hasn’t been arrested. He faces as many as five years in prison on the conspiracy charge. He couldn’t immediately be located for comment.

He worked at a Zurich-based bank from 1998 to 2006, and from 2006 to 2012 at a Zurich-based asset management firm, according to the indictment, which didn’t identify his employers. He provided wealth management services and advice on how to hide assets from the IRS, according to the indictment.

‘Undeclared Accounts’

Amrein “opened, maintained, and managed undeclared accounts at Swiss banks for various U.S. taxpayers holding millions of dollars in undeclared assets,” often working with Paltzer, according to the indictment.

The men conspired to set up undeclared Swiss accounts at Wegelin & Co., which pleaded guilty in New York to tax charges, and four other Swiss banks, according to the indictment. None of those banks are referred to by name.

In one case, Paltzer spoke in August 2010 with two high-ranking executives at Swiss Bank No. 1 about accounts not declared to the IRS. Those accounts had been moved to the bank in 2009, according to the indictment.

“Despite the fact that the Swiss Bank No. 1 executives understood these accounts were undeclared, Swiss Bank No. 1 continued to maintain these undeclared accounts until 2011 and 2012,” according to the indictment.

More than 43,000 U.S. taxpayers have avoided prosecution since 2009 by voluntarily disclosing their offshore accounts to the IRS and paying back taxes, fines and penalties. Several indictments refer to those taxpayers by generic names, such as Client 1 or Client 2.

Client 9

The Amrein indictment refers to nine clients who hid assets in a variety of ways. Most used sham foundations to hide the true ownership of the accounts.

One Las Vegas resident, referred to as Client 9, ran a website that reported celebrity-related news, according to the indictment.

“In light of the potential exposure to litigation from celebrities who were displeased with Client 9’s website,” Client 9 contacted Amrein. He opened an undeclared account in 2007 in the name of a sham Panamanian foundation called WebMedia Publishing SA, according to the indictment.

Amrein opened the account with $250,000 at Swiss Bank No. 4, where it grew to $500,000 in value, according to the indictment. Amrein later transferred it to Wegelin, and then to Swiss Bank No. 2, according to the indictment.

The case is U.S. v. Amrein, 13-cr-972, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).