Swiss banker in U.S. tax case says he was told, 'Don't get caught'

WASHINGTON, March 12 Wed Mar 12, 2014 3:32pm EDT

WASHINGTON, March 12 (Reuters) - A former Credit Suisse AG banker pleaded guilty on Wednesday to conspiring to help U.S. customers evade taxes by using Swiss accounts, and said he did so with the encouragement of his superiors, according to documents filed in court.

Swiss citizen Andreas Bachmann, 56, entered the plea in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, the documents show. U.S. District Judge Gerald Lee accepted the plea and scheduled a sentencing hearing for August.

The plea is part of a long-running probe by U.S. authorities against Americans who hid assets in Swiss bank accounts in order to avoid taxes, and against the bankers who aided them.

Bachmann, a former relationship manager in Switzerland for a Credit Suisse unit, described his role in one of the documents that was filed as part of an agreement with prosecutors.

He said he regularly traveled to the United States from 1994 to 2006 to advise U.S. customers, meeting them in hotels, restaurants or their homes to show them their latest account statements.

The visits were often the customers' only opportunity to see documentation of their accounts because many of them had arranged not to receive statements that could be seized by U.S. law enforcement, the documents show.

Bachmann said one of his superiors advised him in effect: "You know what we expect of you - don't get caught." The court document does not say if the advice was in writing, and it described the superior only as "Swiss Bank Executive 2."

A spokesman for Credit Suisse declined to comment. Two lawyers for Bachmann did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

MORE 'DEVELOPMENTS' EXPECTED

Deputy Attorney General James Cole, the No. 2 official at the U.S. Justice Department, said the guilty plea demonstrates the department's commitment to prosecuting tax evasion.

"We fully expect additional developments over the course of the coming months," Cole said in a statement.

Last month, a U.S. Senate subcommittee accused the Justice Department of dragging its feet on prosecuting tax evasion cases involving Swiss banks, in particular Credit Suisse, Switzerland's second-largest bank.

Credit Suisse opened Swiss accounts for more than 22,000 U.S. customers with combined assets of as much as $12 billion, according to a report from the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

The report said the accounts cost the U.S. government potential tax revenue.

In a statement in response to the report, the bank referred to Swiss legal restrictions on how much it could help: "Credit Suisse is ready to provide the additional information requested by the U.S. authorities on U.S. account holders, but we have been unable to do so."

The Justice Department is probing 14 Swiss banks over taxes after UBS AG five years ago became the first major bank to settle over the charges. Two smaller Swiss banks have had to close shop as a result of the investigation.

Credit Suisse has agreed to pay $196 million and admit to wrongdoing to settle related charges leveled by the market-regulating U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

The case is U.S. v. Bachmann, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, No. 1:11-cr-95.

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