Bank Leumi Says Talks to Settle U.S. Tax Probe in Advanced Stage

Bank Leumi Le-Israel Ltd. said it’s in advanced talks to settle a U.S. investigation into whether it helped Americans evade taxes and has set aside 950 million shekels ($275 million) to resolve the matter.

The bank, Israel’s second-largest, won’t plead guilty under an accord still being negotiated, according to two people familiar with the matter who weren’t authorized to discuss it publicly. Leumi will resolve matters related to its Swiss unit as well as those outlined in criminal charges against several taxpayers in federal court in Los Angeles, one person said.

Leumi would be the first Israeli bank to settle a tax probe with the U.S. Justice Department, which secured a guilty plea last month from Credit Suisse Group AG’s main bank subsidiary and a $2.6 billion penalty. The settlement would resolve Leumi’s activities on behalf of U.S. taxpayers between 2002 and 2010, the Tel Aviv-based bank said today in a statement.

Leumi is “working towards a resolution with the DOJ, in accordance with the outline and the sum proposed by the DOJ,” according to the bank’s statement. The bank said it increased second-quarter provisions by 460 million shekels, which will “significantly affect” its quarterly results.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the accord would involve a deferred-prosecution or non-prosecution agreement.

The Leumi case comes amid a U.S. crackdown on offshore tax evasion that picked up in 2009 after UBS AG, the largest Swiss bank, avoided prosecution by paying $780 million and handing over the names of 4,700 U.S. account holders.

Data Compiled

More than 70 U.S. taxpayers and three dozen offshore enablers were charged, while 106 Swiss banks and 43,000 U.S. taxpayers applied to the Justice Department to avoid prosecution by disclosing in detail how the evasion worked. The data, compiled by the Internal Revenue Service, strengthened the U.S. hand against banks.

Dozens of U.S. citizens who used offshore accounts to avoid taxes have helped the U.S. investigate Leumi and another Israeli bank, Mizrahi Tefahot Bank Ltd., people familiar with the matter said last year. Several people with accounts at Leumi and Mizrahi have been prosecuted in Los Angeles.

Prosecutors said they accessed their money through loans from Los Angeles branches using offshore funds as collateral.

When a Mizrahi banker was indicted in Los Angeles last month, Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole said it resulted from “an ongoing and extensive investigation into the use of undeclared bank accounts in Israel.”

Dena Iverson, a Justice Department spokeswoman, didn’t return a telephone call seeking comment.