(Updates with background explaining relevance to Credit Suisse
By Mark Hosenball and Julia Edwards
WASHINGTON May 9 A Swiss asset management firm,
Swisspartners Group, agreed to pay $4.4 million to the United
States to settle a probe into whether it helped U.S. taxpayers
evade their federal income taxes, the U.S. Department of Justice
announced on Friday.
From about 2001 to about 2011, according to a Justice
Department statement, Swisspartners helped its U.S. clients open
and maintain undeclared foreign bank accounts, which allowed
them to avoid paying taxes in full.
The announcement of the settlement comes as the Justice
Department and Credit Suisse, Switzerland's second
largest bank, are in intense negotiations to resolve a
long-running investigation into that bank's alleged involvement
in helping Americans evade U.S. taxes.
A source familiar with that investigation said the Justice
Department's deal with Swisspartners could influence the course
of the Credit Suisse case.
The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York,
Preet Bharara, whose office negotiated the settlement, said
Swisspartners avoided criminal charges "as a direct result of
its decision to self-report misconduct."
The source familiar with the Credit Suisse probe said it was
notable that Swisspartners had turned over what the Justice
Department said were 110 account files "relating to U.S.
taxpayer-clients who maintained undeclared assets overseas."
Unlike banks such as Credit Suisse, investment advisers and
asset managers like Swisspartners are not subject to stringent
Swiss bank secrecy laws that forbid disclosure of information
about the identity of customers, the source said.
U.S. authorities have insisted Credit Suisse plead guilty to
some kind of criminal charge. The bank, however, believes it
might be able to negotiate a more favorable deal, but it has
been advised by Swiss authorities that it would violate Swiss
law to turn over all the information the United States is
seeking about its U.S. customers.
Earlier, Swiss authorities allowed Switzerland's largest
bank, UBS, to turn over information identifying American clients
to U.S. authorities, resulting in a "deferred prosecution,"
rather than guilty plea, deal between U.S. authorities and UBS.
The source familiar with the Credit Suisse investigation
said Credit Suisse is hoping the deal struck by Swisspartners,
which does not involve a guilty plea, might help convince Swiss
authorities to grant the bank some kind of waiver of Swiss bank
secrecy rules so it too could negotiate a more lenient deal.
Court papers and a Justice Department news release say that
insurance company subsidiaries of Swisspartners based in the
Cayman Islands and Liechtenstein were also parties to the
non-prosecution agreement with U.S. authorities, suggesting U.S.
investigators may also be looking at the role of foreign
insurance companies in helping Americans to evade taxes.
(Reporting By Julia Edwards and Mark Hosenball; Editing by
Sandra Maler and Chris Reese)