By Zachary Fagenson
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. Jan 7 A former
high-ranking UBS banker charged with helping Americans dodge
taxes through secret Swiss bank accounts pleaded not guilty on
Tuesday to fraud conspiracy charges linked to a U.S. tax evasion
investigation that shook Swiss banking to the core.
Raoul Weil, a 54-year-old Swiss citizen and former head of
global wealth management at UBS, was charged five
years ago with conspiring to help thousands of Americans conceal
$20 billion in numbered accounts at the bank.
He disputed the charges initially and was listed as a
fugitive from U.S. justice until his arrest in mid-October in
Weil's appearance in federal court in Fort Lauderdale on
Tuesday was his second since he was extradited last month. He
was granted a $10.5 million bond, pending his arraignment at his
first court hearing on Dec. 16.
Wearing a blue suit, blue tie and glasses with thick, black
frames, Weil said little in court other than confirm his name
and age before the not guilty plea was entered on his behalf.
"We look forward to coming back to Florida, and defend him,"
his lawyer, Aaron Marcu, told reporters after the brief court
session. A Feb. 18 trial date was later set for the case.
Lawyers for UBS whistleblower Bradley Birkenfeld, the bank
employee who revealed the tax fraud conspiracy to U.S.
authorities in 2007, fear that Weil may be negotiating a
"sweetheart deal" that would spare him a trial and ultimately
shield secret account holders and other bankers from
The lawyers, who note that Birkenfeld worked directly under
Weil when he headed UBS's former cross-border banking business,
have been highly critical of what they see as the U.S.
government's failure to prosecute UBS and some of its former top
executives to the full extent of the law.
"Weil can clearly bargain inside information he has that
could be embarrassing to American officials or institutions for
leniency," said Stephen Kohn, a Birkenfeld lawyer who also heads
the Washington, D.C.-based National Whistleblowers Center.
"Weil knows where all the skeletons are buried," Kohn added.
"The Justice Department must work closely with the IRS and
Department of State to make sure that every person guilty of tax
evasion in the UBS America's program are identified and
prosecuted," he said.
Marcu maintains that his client has consistently denied
wrongdoing in the case. In Tuesday's order setting the jury
trial, Weil was given until Feb. 12 to change his plea to
guilty. That would signal a likely deal with U.S. justice and
Internal Revenue Service officials.
If convicted at trial, Weil faces up to five years in prison
for conspiracy to commit tax fraud.
In a case that resonated throughout the tightly knit Swiss
banking community, UBS paid a record $780 million fine in 2009
and agreed to provide U.S. tax authorities with the names of
about 4,450 American clients with accounts at the bank. In doing
so, UBS effectively agreed to break Switzerland's jealously
guarded tradition of banking secrecy to avoid feared criminal
charges against the bank and some of its senior executives.
Birkenfeld, who knew the inner workings of UBS and spilled
secrets about his former employer's dealings with U.S. clients,
won a record-setting $104 million reward from the U.S. Internal
Revenue Service for exposing the UBS tax fraud conspiracy. But
he was jailed for 30 months after the government found he had
withheld information about a billionaire U.S. client.
The reward for Birkenfeld came as U.S. authorities were
investigating a wide range of tax evasion cases involving
foreign banks in several countries, including the United
Kingdom, Liechtenstein, Israel, and India as well as
The banks included HSBC, a global banking and financial
services firm with significant business operations in Hong Kong