Julius Baer to pay US$547m for helping US clients avoid taxes

A woman walking past a Julius Baer branch in Zurich, Switzerland, on Feb 1.
A woman walking past a Julius Baer branch in Zurich, Switzerland, on Feb 1. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANHATTAN (BLOOMBERG) - Julius Baer Group agreed to pay US$547 million (S$764.4 million) to avoid prosecution in the US after admitting it helped American clients hide billions of dollars in assets from the Internal Revenue Service.

Switzerland's third-largest lender made detailed admissions of wrongdoing and prosecutors agreed to drop a conspiracy charge in three years if the bank abides by the terms of the deal.

The Julius Baer deal followed guilty pleas in Manhattan federal court on Thursday (Feb 4) from two of its client advisers.

Daniela Casadei and Fabio Frazzetto admitted helping their US clients avoid taxes.

"While I was convinced I was acting in accordance with Swiss law, I agreed to assist these US clients," Frazzetto said.

Casadei and Frazzetto were indicted in October 2011. They were accused of helping more than 180 US clients hide at least US$600 million in assets from the IRS.

A dozen or so Swiss banks, such as Pictet & Cie Group SCA and the Swiss unit of HSBC, are still waiting to end criminal tax investigations by the U.S.

Julius Baer follows larger Swiss rivals UBS and Credit Suisse in resolving US tax probes. UBS did so by agreeing in 2009 to pay US$780 million, while Credit Suisse agree in 2014 to pay US$2.6 billion.  Christophe Hiestand, general counsel for Julius Baer, declined to comment after Thursday's hearing.

Another 80 Swiss banks avoided prosecution in the past year by agreeing to pay US$1.37 billion in penalties and voluntarily disclosing their wrongdoing as part of a Justice Department programme. BSI agreed to pay US$211 million while Union Bancaire Privee settled for US$188 million.