Swiss bank Julius Baer expects fine in US tax case

February 6, 2012 - 1:35 PM
Switzerland US Tax Evasion

Boris Collardi, CEO of Swiss bank Julius Baer Group, smiles during a news conference in Zurich, Switzerland, Monday, Feb. 6, 2012. The Julius Baer Group has cautioned investors that the outcome of a U.S. probe into whether it helped American clients cheat on their taxes is uncertain. (AP Photo/Keystone, Steffen Schmidt)

GENEVA (AP) — Swiss bank Julius Baer Group said Monday that it might have to pay a fine to settle allegations it helped American clients cheat on their taxes, but cautioned investors that the final outcome of the case was still uncertain.

Zurich-based Julius Baer is one of at least 11 Swiss banks under pressure from the U.S. to give up tax-evading American customers and the bankers who aided them. Last month, Switzerland's oldest bank, Wegelin & Co, announced it was selling most of its business after it was indicted in the U.S. with conspiring to help American clients hide more than $1.2 billion from the Internal Revenue Service.

"We're in ongoing full cooperation and dialogue with the U.S. authorities and we're confident and committed that we will find a solution," Julius Baer's Chief Executive Boris Collardi said during the presentation of the bank's full-year results Monday.

Collardi said he was unable to predict the size of any fine his bank might face in the United States, and whether Julius Baer too might face legal action.

"We have not made any provision with regard to the U.S. because we can't reliably assess how much a related payment would be at this stage," he said.

"There is no indication of an indictment nor do we expect this to change in the wake of the Wegelin situation," he added.

The U.S. investigation against Julius Baer and other Swiss banks follows the successful case against UBS AG, which culminated in Switzerland's biggest bank having to pay a $780 million fine and hand over 4,450 clients' files to Washington in 2010. Since then, an amnesty program and the arrest of several Swiss bankers have given U.S. authorities ample ammunition to pursue some of the country's other banks.

As part of their case against the Swiss banks, U.S. authorities have demanded detailed information about their past business operations in the U.S.

"We have so far delivered data that was general information about the bank, the business practices," said Collardi. "We have not delivered any client information nor detailed employee information."

The Swiss Finance Ministry said last week that it too was in the process of transmitting files on Swiss banks' U.S. operations to Washington. Dismissing reports that the data could run to millions of pages, the Finance Ministry nevertheless said accounts of a single bank's operations could run to 20,000 pages.

Other banks named in the U.S. probe include Switzerland's second biggest lender, Credit Suisse, and state-owned Zuercher Kantonalbank. They are due to present their latest business results on Thursday and Friday, respectively.

Julius Baer whose shares closed 3.8 percent lower at 36.40 ($39.62) on the Zurich exchange Monday — has experience of settling tax disputes. Last year, it paid euro50 million ($66 million) to resolve a tax evasion case in Germany.