* Frey's head of private banking faces U.S. tax charges
* Bank's move could be template for others
By Martin de Sa'Pinto
ZURICH, May 6 Switzerland's Bank Frey may seek
to open in the United States and bring American customers
onshore in an attempt to fend off possible investigation into
suspicions that it helped U.S. clients to evade taxes,
Swiss-based sources said.
The bank is considering applying for a licence to serve U.S.
clients from the United States, two industry lawyers with
knowledge of the matter told Reuters. A source close to Swiss
regulator FINMA said the bank told the body that it was looking
into opening a U.S. branch.
If successful, the strategy could become a template for
other banks in the U.S. taxman's sights, the legal sources said.
"They are saying, in effect, that they will work together
with the regulators to resolve any overhanging problems, and
broadening their way into the U.S. market at the same time,"
said a Zurich-based investment consultant who works closely with
Bank Frey's head of private banking, Stefan Buck, and lawyer
Edward Paltzer, a partner at law firm Niederer Kraft & Frey,
were charged in April with helping American clients to hide
millions of dollars in offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes.
Frey, one of the smaller Swiss private banks, with less than
2 billion Swiss francs ($2.14 billion) under management, said
last month that it was the "Swiss Bank No.1" named in the
indictment against Buck and Paltzer.
Several Swiss banks, including Credit Suisse and
Julius Baer, are under investigation for helping
wealthy Americans to evade tax. Switzerland's oldest bank
Wegelin said in January that it would close after pleading
guilty to helping rich Americans to avoid taxes.
Bank Frey's acting chief executive Flavio Battaini declined
to comment on whether the bank plans to apply for a U.S.
Like Wegelin, Bank Frey drew the attention of U.S. tax
authorities when its client assets jumped after 2009, the year
Switzerland's largest bank UBS paid a $780 million
fine for helping Americans to evade taxes.