(Recasts, adds details of investigation, Credit Suisse comments)
By Elzio Barreto
SAO PAULO, April 23 (Reuters) - Police in Brazil arrested a Credit Suisse CSGN.VX banker on Wednesday as part of a two-year-old money laundering and tax evasion probe of the Swiss firm.
Christian Peter Weiss was arrested in Rio de Janeiro for helping operate an illegal money transfer scheme, the federal prosecutor’s office in Sao Paulo said in a statement. Weiss will be charged with money laundering, tax evasion, fraudulent banking and operating without a banking license, among other things, the statement said.
In the latest clampdown on illegal money transfers, federal police officials followed Weiss for nearly 10 days in Sao Paulo, where he held meetings with clients and prospective clients before the arrest.
The prosecutor’s office said Weiss would be charged along with 13 other Credit Suisse employees and former employees, as part of its “Operation Switzerland,” which started in 2006 when federal police officials raided Credit Suisse’s offices in Sao Paulo and the homes of four of its executives.
Brazil’s federal police have cracked down on illegal money transfers over the past years, probing international banks to see if they helped Brazilians evade taxes.
In 2007, police also arrested 20 people, including bankers at UBS UBSN.VX, Credit Suisse unit Clariden and AIG Private Bank. At the time, police claimed the scheme helped wealthy Brazilians evade nearly 1 billion reais ($603 million) of taxes with illegal overseas money transfers.
Weiss and other Credit Suisse bankers “employ procedures that literally ignore in its entirety Brazil’s banking laws,” the prosecutor’s office said.
Police said Weiss and other executives from the Swiss bank periodically flew to Brazil to have direct contact with clients and to sign up new customers.
Credit Suisse continued to offer private banking services in Brazil even after closing a representative office there, police said.
“Credit Suisse adheres to the highest legal and ethical standards and has strict compliance guidelines and will defend itself and its employees vigorously against these allegations,” said Cristina von Bargen, a Credit Suisse spokeswoman in New York.
Several Brazilians with numbered accounts at Credit Suisse have been identified and will be investigated, the federal police said. ($1 = 1.659 Brazilian reais) (Additional reporting by Dane Hamilton in New York; Editing by Braden Reddall)