United States prosecutors have charged three
Swiss bankers for conspiring with US taxpayers to hide more than
$1.2bn in taxable assets from the Internal Revenue Service

The indictment filed in the United States
District Court in New York has identified the bankers as Michael
Berlinka, Urs Frei and Roger Keller.

All three are currently employed by Wegelin,
one of Switzerland’s oldest private banks.

Berlinka is understood to be a director
and Keller a wealth manager/financial analyst.


Capitalizing on UBS

The US Attorney’s Office indictment accused
the trio of trying to capture business lost by UBS and another
unnamed Swiss bank, likely to be Credit Suisse.

The indictment alleges that Berlinka, Frei and
Keller opened and serviced dozens of undeclared accounts for US
taxpayers in 2008 and 2009 after it was widely reported that the
IRS was investigating UBS for helping US taxpayers evade taxes and
hide assets in Swiss accounts.

Berlinka, Frei and Keller are alleged to have told clients that
their undeclared accounts would be safe at their bank because it
had a long tradition of secrecy and had no offices outside

If the defendants are found guilty they could face up to five
years in prison and a fine of $250,000.


Wegelin drops US clients

When PBI contacted Wegelin the bank said that
its lawyers have prepared their own legal assessment of the
situation in anticipation of the expected proceedings.

They added that they will assist with clarifying matters
regarding former US clients to the extent possible under Swiss

In the meantime Wegelin has ceased all
dealings with US clients.


IRS crackdown

The indictment of the three Wegelin
bankers is part of a long running campaign by the IRS aimed at
preventing US residents using foreign wealth managers to hide
taxable assets.

The IRS has ongoing investigations into the
cross border private banking services provided by Credit Suisse and
HSBC Private Bank to US clients.

US regulators have also prosecuted more than
30 individual bankers as part of the probe.

In 2009, the IRS and US Department of Justice
successfully prosecuted UBS for tax evasion.