Three More Swiss Banks Have Secured Non-Prosecution Agreements with the DOJ

Since our last update, three more Swiss banks have reached resolutions with the Justice Department under its Swiss Bank Program –Valiant Bank AG, Schroder & Co. Bank AG, and Hypothekarbank Lenzburg AG. To resolve their respective tax-related criminal offenses, Valiant Bank agreed to pay a penalty of $3.3 million, Schroder Bank agreed to pay a penalty of $10.3 million, and HBL agreed to pay a penalty of $560,000.

In press releases, the DOJ described the relevant conduct of each of the banks in relation to their U.S. accountholders as follows:

Valiant Bank (announced yesterday)

Valiant traces its origins to 1824 and is headquartered in Bern, the capital of Switzerland.  Today, Valiant is the successor of 40 banks.

Valiant offered hold mail services and numbered accounts to its U.S. clients, including some U.S. clients who had not provided Valiant with an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form W-9.  Valiant also accepted funds from 19 UBS accountholders who exited UBS.  Eleven of these 19 U.S. persons provided a signed Form W-9.  The remaining eight U.S. persons who did not were later forced to close their Valiant accounts.

For 26 accountholders who refused to sign a Form W-9, Valiant cashed out or converted into gold hundreds of thousands (and even millions) of dollars in account balances.  In late November 2011, one accountholder withdrew more than one million Swiss francs in various currencies and 114,000 Swiss francs in gold coins, gold bars and precious metal.  Another accountholder withdrew $2 million in cash and wired 400,000 Swiss francs to a U.S. bank.  In both instances, the accountholders refused to sign a Form W-9.  Other accountholders withdrew only amounts under $10,000 either by U.S. dollar cash withdrawals or by check or wire transfer to the United States, or transferred large sums to non-U.S. institutions.  For example, one accountholder transferred over 435,000 euros to France and $350,000 to Luxembourg.  Two other accountholders each transferred 75,000 Swiss francs to Dubai and closed their accounts with cash withdrawals of over 300,000 Swiss francs.

In 2009, an accountholder refused to sign a Form W-9 and requested that Valiant ignore the accountholder’s U.S. status.  The accountholder’s non-U.S. spouse later opened a separate account at Valiant, and the accountholder transferred more than $1 million into that account.  According to an “Agreement of Donation” between the accountholder and the accountholder’s non-U.S. spouse, the purpose of the transfer was “to make a donation” and “without any consideration.”  The agreement provided that the donation was “irrevocable.”  The non-U.S. spouse then transferred the funds to UBS and instructed Valiant to close the account.

Some U.S.-related accounts at Valiant were held in the name of non-U.S. entities with one or more U.S. beneficial owners.  In one case, a British Virgin Islands entity opened an account at Valiant through a third-party Swiss entity assigned to manage the account.  The entity holding the account designated four U.S. persons as beneficial owners, but signed a Valiant form declaring that the account was for the benefit of non-U.S. persons.

Since Aug. 1, 2008, Valiant had 330 U.S.-related accounts, out of a total of 600,000 accounts.  The maximum aggregate dollar value of the U.S.-related accounts was $147.4 million.  Valiant will pay a penalty of $3.304 million.

Schroder Bank (announced 9/3/2015)

Schroder Bank was founded in 1967 and received its Swiss banking license in 1970.  Since 1984, Schroder Bank has had a branch in Geneva.  The bank has two wholly owned subsidiaries, Schroder Trust AG (domiciled in Geneva) and Schroder Cayman Bank & Trust Company Ltd. (domiciled in George Town, Grand Cayman).  Schroder Cayman Bank & Trust Company Ltd. provides services to clients such as the creation and support of trusts, foundations and other corporate bodies.  Both subsidiaries also acted in some cases as an account signatory for entities holding an account with the bank.  Schroder Bank is in the process of closing the operations of Schroder Trust AG and Schroder Cayman Bank & Trust Company Ltd.

Schroder Bank opened accounts for trusts and companies owned by trusts, foundations and other corporate bodies established and incorporated under the laws of the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Panama, Liechtenstein and other non-U.S. jurisdictions, where the beneficiary or beneficial owner named on the Form A was a U.S. citizen or resident.  In addition, a small number of accounts were opened for U.S. limited liability companies (LLCs) with U.S. citizens or residents as members, as well as for U.S. LLCs with non-U.S. persons as members.  Schroder Bank communicated directly with the beneficial owners of some accounts of trusts, foundations or corporate bodies, and it arranged for the issuance of credit cards to the beneficial owners of some such accounts that appear in some cases to have been used for personal expenses.

Schroder Bank also processed cash withdrawals in amounts exceeding $100,000 or the Swiss franc equivalent.  For at least three U.S.-related accounts, a series of withdrawals that in aggregate exceeded $1 million were made.  In addition, at least 26 U.S.-related accountholders received cash or checks in amounts exceeding $100,000 on closure of their accounts, including in at least three cases cash or checks in excess of $1 million.

Between 2004 and 2008, four Schroder Bank employees traveled to the U.S. in connection with the bank’s business with respect to U.S.-related accounts.  In 2008, Swiss bank UBS AG publicly announced that it was the target of a criminal investigation by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the department, and that it would be exiting and no longer accepting certain U.S. clients.  In a later deferred prosecution agreement, UBS admitted that its cross-border banking business used Swiss privacy law to aid and assist U.S. clients in opening accounts and maintaining undeclared assets and income from the IRS.  Between Aug. 1, 2008, and June 30, 2009, Schroder Bank opened eight U.S.-related accounts with funds received from UBS, which was then under investigation by the U.S. government.

Since Aug. 1, 2008, Schroder Bank had 243 U.S.-related accounts with approximately $506 million in assets under management.  Schroder Bank will pay a $10.354 million penalty.

Hypothekarbank Lenzburg AG (announced 8/27/2015)

HBL offered a variety of traditional Swiss banking services that it knew could assist, and that did assist, U.S. clients in the concealment of assets and income from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  For example, HBL, upon client request, did not send mail associated with some U.S.-related accounts to the United States.  In addition, HBL offered numbered accounts to its clients, a service by which access to information about an account, including the identity of the accountholder, was limited to only certain employees of HBL.  In a handful of instances, the accountholders of U.S.-related accounts who refused to provide a Form W-9 or who admitted that they were not tax compliant withdrew significant amounts of cash or physical assets when HBL forced these accounts to be closed.

In or about 2008, Swiss bank UBS AG publicly announced that it was the target of a criminal investigation by the IRS and the department, and that it would be exiting and no longer accepting certain U.S. clients.  In a later deferred prosecution agreement, UBS admitted that its cross-border banking business used Swiss privacy law to aid and assist U.S. clients in opening accounts and maintaining undeclared assets and income from the IRS.  HBL opened one account for a U.S. person who exited UBS.  For another long-standing holder of a U.S.-related account, HBL received a transfer of funds from an account held at UBS into a pre-existing account at HBL.

Another accountholder who resided in the United States for many years had two accounts, one of which was a numbered account.  In 2012, the accountholder’s relationship manager requested a Form W-9 for the numbered account and the accountholder refused to provide one.  As a result, the relationship manager directed the accountholder to close the numbered account.  Thereafter, the accountholder came to Lenzburg to close the numbered account.  The accountholder withdrew 240,000 Swiss francs and 12,000 euros and purchased precious metals in the amount of 318,000 Swiss francs.

Since Aug. 1, 2008, HBL had 96 U.S.-related accounts with an aggregate value of $69.8 million.  HBL’s average annual revenue attributable to U.S.-related accounts in the form of fees, commissions and earnings on client funds that were loaned out by HBL was $198,000, or a total of $1.2 million since Aug. 1, 2008.  HBL will pay a penalty of $560,000.

Under the Swiss Bank Program, eligible Swiss banks that had notified the DOJ by December 31, 2013 of an intent to participate in the Program were eligible to resolve any potential criminal liabilities in the U.S. by completing the following:

  • Make a complete disclosure of their cross-border activities;
  • Provide detailed information on an account-by-account basis for accounts in which U.S. taxpayers have a direct or indirect interest;
  • Cooperate in treaty requests for account information;
  • Provide detailed information as to other banks that transferred funds into secret accounts or that accepted funds when secret accounts were closed;
  • Agree to close accounts of accountholders who fail to come into compliance with U.S. reporting obligations; and
  • Pay appropriate penalties

Swiss banks meeting all of the above requirements are eligible for a non-prosecution agreement.

According to the terms of these non-prosecution agreements, each bank agrees to cooperate in any related criminal or civil proceedings, demonstrate its implementation of controls to stop misconduct involving undeclared U.S. accounts and pay penalties in return for the DOJ’s agreement not to prosecute these banks for tax-related criminal offenses.

The Justice Department released the following documents with each of these announcements:

  • The Valiant Bank non-prosecution agreement and statement of facts (available here).
  • The Schroder Bank non-prosecution agreement and statement of facts (available here).
  • The HBL non-prosecution agreement and statement of facts (available here).

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