Swiss bank helped US taxpayers hide billions

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Banque Pictet used “a variety of means” to help customers evade taxes, prosecutors say

A major Swiss bank has admitted to helping American taxpayers and others to hide billions of dollars from the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Monday.

According to US prosecutors, Banque Pictet held approximately $5.6 billion in 1,637 accounts for American citizens, helping them avoid paying the IRS about $50.6 million in taxes between 2008 and 2014.

The Geneva-based bank, the private banking division of the 218-year-old Pictet Group, has entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the DOJ and agreed to pay about $122.9 million in restitution and penalties as part of the deal with prosecutors.

“This case should provide a clear message to others who try to hide their assets and income offshore. Our special agents are experts in following the money, and they are the best at uncovering schemes that try to defraud the US tax system,” said IRS Criminal Investigation Chief Jim Lee.

Banque Pictet, which oversees more than $720 billion in clients’ assets, specializes in managing the funds of high-net-worth customers. It also has offices in Luxembourg, Singapore and the Bahamas.

According to investigators, Banque Pictet and its parent company, the Pictet Group, used “a variety of means” to help American customers evade taxes, including allowing offshore entities to open undeclared accounts and allowing clients to open life-insurance accounts in names other than their own.

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The lender held customers’ account-related mail at the bank, rather than sending it to clients in the US, in order to “help ensure that documents reflecting the existence of the accounts remained outside the United States and beyond the reach of US tax authorities.”

The Swiss bank also established and managed offshore entities that had “no business purpose but existed solely to help the Pictet Group's US taxpayer-clients hide their offshore accounts and assets from US tax authorities,” investigators said.

As part of the deal with the DOJ, the bank has agreed to cooperate with the investigation.

“Pictet is pleased to have resolved this matter and will continue to take steps to ensure its clients meet their tax obligations,” the bank said in a statement.

Washington has long accused Swiss banks of helping wealthy Americans evade taxes. In 2014, Credit Suisse agreed to pay $2.5 billion in penalties for helping taxpayers hide money from the IRS in a conspiracy that spanned decades.

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