August 31, 2018 / 7:47 PM / 2 months ago

Asset manager who helped U.S. find tax cheats beats Swiss spy charges

ZURICH (Reuters) - A Swiss asset manager who in 2013 provided U.S. prosecutors with more than 100 files from clients suspected of dodging taxes has been cleared of spying-related charges in his home country, recently published Swiss court documents showed.

Martin Egli, who had hired one of the country’s best-known defense attorneys to help clear his name, was awarded 33,300 Swiss francs ($34,031) in the case, mostly for legal fees.

Contacted by Reuters on Friday, Egli confirmed the verdict and said he bore no grudge. The case is closed, he said, declining to provide any further comment.

In a 17-page ruling, a Swiss judge concluded there was insufficient evidence to convict him. It was delivered in May, but published only later by the Swiss Federal Criminal Court. Details have not been widely reported, even in Switzerland.

“It can be presumed in favor of the accused that he believed in the legality of his approach and didn’t consider the possibility that he acted unlawfully for a foreign state,” the ruling said.

In November 2013, Egli's Swisspartners Group provided records on 109 clients to the U.S. Department of Justice, court documents show, helping his company secure a relatively mild $4.4 million settlement deal with American prosecutors aggressively pursuing tax cheats with wealth stashed abroad. [reut.rs/2NzxLWs]

The move landed him in trouble in Switzerland, however, where authorities accused Egli of “forbidden actions in the service of a foreign country.” The Swiss attorney general’s office (OAG) sought fines of $275,000.

While U.S. DOJ officials lauded his “extraordinary cooperation” at the time, Egli was criticized at home by some Swiss media for turning over client data as he secured a non-prosecution agreement for Swisspartners.

Egli remains the chairman of Swisspartners. His lawyer was Lorenz Erni, who represented ex-FIFA chief Sepp Blatter when he fought ethics charges in 2015 before being banned from football.

Egli’s case is an easy-to-miss footnote among the billions of dollars of U.S. settlements in recent years reached by dozens of Swiss banks over harboring untaxed assets.

Banking secrecy once made Switzerland a haven for offshore money, though recent changes have made it difficult to hide assets here from tax authorities.

In 2014, Credit Suisse paid $2.6 billion after pleading guilty to conspiring to help U.S. citizens dodge taxes. This month, Zuercher Kantonalbank agreed to pay nearly $100 million, while Basler Kantonalbank paid over $60 million to U.S. authorities.

Editing by Andrei Khalip

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