Former UBS Banker Trial Begins in Florida

Opening statements were heard on Tuesday and the first government witness testified yesterday in the trial of ex-UBS AG banking executive Raoul Weil. Prosecutors have sought to show him as the driving force behind the bank’s tax fraud scheme, and defense counsel has claimed that subordinates were at fault and he had no knowledge of the wrongdoing.

According to reporting from Law360, prosecutors explained to the jury in their opening statements that Mr. Weil was the driving force behind UBS’s tax evasion scheme, had many chances to close the cross-border business division but didn’t because it was profitable, and caused UBS bankers who came to the U.S. to meet with clients to engage in precautions “including storing client statements on a second hard drive that could be deleted instantly or meeting clients away from UBS offices – to avoid detection by federal authorities.” Defense counsel minimized Mr. Weil’s role and knowledge, blaming the tax evasion schemes on “subordinates who never told Weil about it and are now cooperating with the government to avoid prison time.” Carolina Bolado, Ex-UBS Exec Says He Didn’t Know About Tax Evasion Scheme (Law360, 10/14/2014, here).

Government witness Hansruedi Schmacher, who is also under indictment, testified yesterday of the details of how UBS managed its secret banking business for U.S. customers, according to a number of media reports. Meetings with customers were held in hotels, which location changed each trip; bankers carried no documents or business cards with the UBS logo or name; hard drives were encrypted; customers were identified on statements by code name, if statements were made available at all, and bankers utilized their own memory techniques to recall the code name used for each customer; customers were telephoned using U.S.-based phone rather than using a Swiss phone; and codes were used for accounts that were secret (“black” or “simple”) as opposed to ones that were declared to the IRS (“white” or “complex”).  Nathan Hale, Ex-UBS Exec Opens Up About Swiss Tax Shelters in Weil Case (Law360, 10/15/2014, here).

Two other key Swiss witnesses are expected. Martin Leichti, the former head of the cross-border banking at UBS, who may be able to establish Mr. Weil’s knowledge of the business division and tax evasion schemes.  The other is an unnamed former top executive at Neue Zürcher Bank who reportedly has recently turned himself over to the Justice Department in order to testify at Mr. Weil’s trial. Ex-banker heads to Florida to testify in Weil case (swissinfo.ch 10/08/2014, here).

The court is permitting three of Mr. Weil’s defense witnesses to testify through video link from London, because the witnesses will not travel to the U.S. to testify in person for the risk of being arrested. These witnesses have not yet been publicly named.  Matthew Allen, Ex-UBS executive Weil finally faces US court (swissinfo.ch 10/13/2014, here).

Mr. Weil was indicated in 2008 for hiding the tax evasion schemes at UBS for more than 20,000 U.S. citizens and over $20 billion in assets. He had been a fugitive and was arrested in 2013 in Italy and extradited to the U.S.  Mr. Weil pleaded not guilty earlier this year and, if found guilty, faces up to five years’ in prison.

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