UBS Belgium Chief Quizzed in Multibillion-Euro Tax Probe

Marcel Bruehwiler, chief executive of UBS AG’s Belgium unit, was charged in Brussels as part of a probe into a multibillion-euro tax fraud, accelerating the latest tax-evasion inquiry facing the Swiss bank.

Prosecutors said the investigation deals with activities begun a decade ago in which UBS employees allegedly targeted wealthy Belgian clients. The bankers encouraged them to open undeclared accounts in Switzerland, according to a report last month in the magazine M... Belgique, which didn’t say where it got the information. UBS Belgium helped organize the transfer of large amounts of client money to Switzerland, the magazine said.

Bruehwiler was charged with criminal organization, money laundering, illegal practice of the profession of financial intermediary and serious organized fiscal fraud, prosecutors in Brussels said today.

UBS avoided U.S. prosecution in 2009 by admitting it aided tax evasion, paying $780 million and handing over data on 250 accounts. It later disclosed information on about 4,450 more. Paris prosecutors are also investigating allegations UBS’s French unit helped clients hide their wealth in Swiss accounts.

Bruehwiler, who was released after several hours of questioning, denied the charges, prosecutors said. Police today searched his home and that of a client, as well as the bank’s offices, officials said.

‘Fiscal Fraud’

Information pointing to “serious organized fiscal fraud” was “obtained via very specific accusations of compliance officers who have either left the bank, or been laid off and could no longer stand the modus operandi of UBS,” prosecutors said earlier. The tax evasion is “estimated at several billion euros.”

“We conduct our business in full compliance with applicable law and regulations,” UBS spokesman Yves Kaufmann said in a phone interview earlier today. “UBS does not tolerate any activities intended to help its clients circumvent their tax obligations. We fully collaborate with the Belgian authorities.”

UBS Belgium’s office in Brussels couldn’t provide contact details for Bruehwiler’s representatives or lawyer. Karina Byrne, a spokeswoman for UBS in New York, declined to comment on the charges.

In the French probe, banking regulators fined Zurich-based UBS 10 million euros ($13.6 million) last year for deficient controls against tax fraud and illegal sales practices. Tax investigators searched its offices in Paris, Lyon and Strasbourg in 2012.

Switzerland’s Credit Suisse Group AG paid $2.6 billion in fines after its bank unit pleaded guilty to helping Americans cheat on their taxes. U.S. authorities are seeking more than $10 billion from France’s BNP Paribas SA for alleged breaches of sanctions on countries including Iran and Sudan, a person familiar with the matter has said.

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