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Oldest Swiss private bank to close after guilty plea in US tax evasion probe

Published on Jan 4, 2013 8:29 AM
 
Wegelin & Co., Switzerland's oldest bank, stands in St Gallen, Switzerland, in this undated handout photograph released to the media on Jan 19, 2010. Wegelin & Cosaid on Thursday it would shut its doors permanently after more than two and a half centuries following its guilty plea to charges of helping wealthy Americans evade taxes through secret accounts. -- PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Wegelin & Co, the oldest Swiss private bank, said on Thursday it would shut its doors permanently after more than two and a half centuries following its guilty plea to charges of helping wealthy Americans evade taxes through secret accounts.

The plea, in United States (US) District Court in Manhattan, marks the death knell for one of Switzerland's most storied banks, whose original European clients pre-date the American Revolution. It is also a potentially major turning point in a battle by US authorities against Swiss bank secrecy.

A major question was left hanging by the plea: has the bank turned over, or does it plan to disclose, names of American clients to US authorities? This is a key demand in a broad US investigation of tax evasion through Swiss banks.

"It is unclear whether the bank was required to turn over American client names who held secret Swiss bank accounts," said Mr Jeffrey Neiman, a former federal prosecutor involved in other Swiss bank investigations who is now in private law practice in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

 
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