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US files new lawsuit in UBS bank secrets case

February 20, 2009|Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A government lawsuit filed Thursday seeks the identities of tens of thousands of possible U.S. tax cheats who hid billions of dollars in assets at the Swiss-based bank UBS. A defiant Swiss president pledged to maintain his country's bank secrecy laws.

In the suit filed in Miami, the Obama administration wants UBS to turn over information on as many as 52,000 U.S. customers who concealed their accounts from the government in violation of tax laws.

"At a time when millions of Americans are losing their jobs, their homes and their healthcare, it is appalling that more than 50,000 of the wealthiest among us have actively sought to evade their civil and legal duty to pay taxes," acting Assistant Atty. Gen. John DiCicco said in a statement.

A deal announced Wednesday provides access to about 250 to 300 UBS customers who used Swiss bank secrecy laws to hide assets. To avoid prosecution, UBS agreed to pay $780 million. Chairman Peter Kurer said UBS accepted "full responsibility" for helping its U.S. clients conceal assets from the Internal Revenue Service.

But that does not mean the bank is about to fork over information on thousands of accounts. UBS said that except for the 250 to 300 U.S. customers, it would fight to keep all other names private, saying Swiss secrecy laws shield them.

Hours before the new suit was filed, Switzerland's president, Hans-Rudolf Merz, said his country would not relent in defending its tradition of confidential bank accounts.

"Banking secrecy, ladies and gentlemen, remains intact," Merz told reporters.

Merz said Swiss authorities handed over the files on the 250 to 300 U.S. clients of UBS who were suspected of tax fraud.

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