* CEO to testify before head of Senate investigative panel
* Bank is among those facing tax-dodging probe by U.S.
* Settlement for Credit Suisse may be near, say lawyers
By Patrick Temple-West
WASHINGTON, Feb 24 The chief of Swiss bank
Credit Suisse Group AG will square off on
Wednesday against U.S. Senator Carl Levin as the veteran
congressional investigator releases his latest findings on
offshore tax evasion.
For more than six years, Levin's staff and U.S. officials
have been probing how Americans dodged taxes by hiding assets in
secret Swiss bank accounts, with cash-strapped governments
worldwide tightening international tax law enforcement.
Levin is expected to release a report on Credit Suisse to
coincide with the hearing at which bank CEO Brady Dougan and
three other senior bank officers are slated to appear. The
session will be co-chaired by Levin, a Democrat from Michigan,
and Arizona Senator John McCain, the panel's top Republican.
"The hearing will continue the subcommittee's examination of
tax haven bank facilitation of U.S. tax evasion, focusing on the
status of efforts to hold Swiss banks and their U.S. clients
accountable for unpaid taxes on billions of dollars in hidden
assets," said Levin's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations
in a statement.
Separately from Levin's panel, U.S. prosecutors are
investigating Credit Suisse and 13 other large Swiss banks for
allegedly helping U.S. clients hide money from tax authorities.
U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole and Assistant
Attorney General Kathryn Keneally, who heads the Justice
Department's tax division, will also testify to the panel, amid
expectations that the department is close to a settlement with
Credit Suisse, the second-largest bank in Switzerland.
A Justice Department spokeswoman had no immediate comment.
Sanford Boxerman, a lawyer with Capes Sokol Goodman &
Sarachan who represents individuals facing allegations of tax
evasion, questioned whether it was advisable for Credit Suisse
officers to testify before the congressional panel.
He said it may be that Credit Suisse is "close to a
settlement or confident that it's going to be settled, so they
don't feel it's too much harm to be suffered by testifying."
Boxerman is not involved in the Credit Suisse case.
Scott Michel, a tax lawyer with Caplin & Drysdale, said
members of the subcommittee are likely to "hammer" both Credit
Suisse and the Justice Department over the pace of the
department's investigation "moving too slowly."
Dougan will be joined at the hearing by the bank's general
counsel, Romeo Cerutti, and the co-heads of its private banking
and wealth management divisions, Hans-Ulrich Meister and Robert
Shafir. A Credit Suisse spokesman in New York confirmed the four
officials will testify, but declined to comment on Monday.
DEAL WITH SEC
Credit Suisse on Friday said it agreed to pay $196.5 million
and admit wrongdoing to settle U.S. Securities and Exchange
Commission charges that it provided cross-border brokerage and
investment advisory services to U.S. clients without first
registering with the regulator.
The settlement agreement said Credit Suisse had up to 8,500
accounts tied to U.S. clients from 2002 to 2008 and realized
about $82 million in pretax income through the unlawful aspects
of its U.S. cross-border securities business.
Earlier this month, Credit Suisse said it had set aside 175
million Swiss francs for a U.S. probe into hidden offshore
accounts in Switzerland.
UBS AG , the largest bank in Switzerland,
in 2009 agreed to pay $780 million to avoid prosecution for
helping Americans evade taxes and agreed to hand over to the
United States the names of more than 4,000 American clients.
A senior UBS officer testified before Levin and apologized
for the bank's conduct in March 2009. Five months later, UBS
reached its deal with the Justice Department. That was after a
former UBS banker who once smuggled a client's diamonds into the
United States in a toothpaste tube pleaded guilty to helping a
billionaire hide $200 million from U.S. tax authorities.
The Wall Street Journal reported in January that Credit
Suisse and U.S. authorities were in settlement talks and that an
agreement of more than $800 million could be struck in the first
six months of this year, citing unnamed sources.