AMSTERDAM/ZURICH (REUTERS) - Swiss bank Credit Suisse has been dragged into yet more tax evasion and money laundering investigations, after a tip-off to Dutch prosecutors about tens of thousands of suspect accounts triggered raids in five countries.
Coordinated raids began on Thursday (March 30) in the Netherlands, Britain, Germany, France and Australia, the Dutch office for financial crimes prosecution (Fiod) said on Friday, with two arrests confirmed so far.
The Dutch are “investigating dozens of people who are suspected of tax fraud and money laundering”, the prosecutors said, adding that suspects had deposited money in a Swiss bank without disclosing that to authorities.
British tax authorities said they had also opened a criminal investigation into suspected tax evasion and money laundering by “a global financial institution” and would be focusing initially on “senior employees”, along with an unspecified number of customers.
“The international reach of this investigation sends a clear message that there is no hiding place for those seeking to evade tax,” Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs said in a statement.
Neither the Dutch nor the British disclosed the name of the bank involved. However, Credit Suisse, Switzerland’s second-biggest bank, said local authorities had visited its offices in Amsterdam, London and Paris “concerning client tax matters” and it was cooperating.
The Dutch Fiod seized administrative records as well as the contents of bank accounts, real estate, jewellery, a luxury car, expensive paintings and a gold bar from houses in four Dutch towns and cities. The Fiod tweeted a photo of some of the seized assets.
The people arrested, one in The Hague and one in the town of Hoofddorp, were not identified.
The actions angered Switzerland’s Office of the Attorney General, which said it was “disconcerted” by the way Dutch authorities had handled the matter and would demand an explanation.
Fiod spokeswoman Wietske Vissers referred questions about investigations in the other countries to their national police and to Eurojust, the European Union agency that coordinates cross-border prosecutions.
Eurojust issued a press release saying that the investigation had begun in 2016, and representatives from countries involved – Switzerland not among them – had held three preparatory meetings to share information before Thursday’s raids began.
Prosecutors “analysed a huge amount of data,” Eurojust said, looking for “individuals and groups suspected of tax fraud and money laundering.”
The investigation uncovered “undeclared assets hidden within offshore accounts and policies...(worth) millions of euros.”
Credit Suisse shares fell 1.3 per cent, while the wider European banking sector index was flat.
For Zurich-based Credit Suisse, the case reopens the thorny issue of tax evasion which has dogged Swiss banks for years after the world’s wealthy used the country’s strict bank secrecy laws to hide cash from the taxman.
Credit Suisse has paid more than 2 billion Swiss francs (S$2.7 billion) since 2011 in the United States, Germany and Italy to settle allegations it helped clients dodge taxes. It has pushed clients in Europe, Latin America and Asia to participate in government programmes facilitating the declaration of untaxed assets.
The bank said in December this process had been completed for Europe.
Switzerland is also among the countries signed up to a global tax sharing initiative spearheaded by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Under the OECD’s Automatic Exchange of Information (AEI), banks pass on information to local tax agencies, which in turn share it with foreign counterparts.
Switzerland began collecting data at the start of the year and will exchange information from 2018.
The Dutch Fiod said the coordinated raids were prompted by a tip-off about 55,000 suspect accounts of a Swiss bank, and it had passed information to the other countries about the accounts.
Spokeswoman Vissers said the investigation would “continue for days and weeks” across the various countries. The Netherlands is investing 3,800 Dutch leads.
French authorities said they had 25 agents working on the case.
Australia’s minister for revenue and financial services, Kelly O’Dwyer, said the country’s financial crime investigator was looking at 340 Australians linked to Swiss bank accounts, which she said were only identified by number.
“The fact that these accounts are unnamed,” O’Dwyer said,“means that by their very nature they are likely to have been established to hide the identity of the owner.”