U.S. News

Swiss adviser charged in tax fraud tied to UBS

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Swiss financial adviser has been charged with helping more than 60 U.S. taxpayers hide more than $184 million in Swiss bank accounts and move assets from UBS AG to other Swiss banks to avoid getting caught.

Beda Singenberger, owner of Zurich-based Sinco Treuhand AG, was indicted on a charge of conspiring to hide clients’ income from the Internal Revenue Service from 1998 to 2009, the office of U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in Manhattan said.

The indictment came nearly 2-1/2 years after UBS avoided U.S. criminal prosecution by agreeing to pay a $780 million penalty and admitting it helped Americans hide income from the IRS. Criminal charges were formally dropped last October.

If convicted, Singenberger, 57, could face five years in prison plus a fine. He is not in U.S. custody and could not immediately be located. An emailed request to Sinco for comment was not returned.

U.S. authorities separately charged several Credit Suisse Group AG bankers on Thursday -- including Markus Walder, a former head of North America offshore banking -- of helping wealthy Americans evade taxes. They have also targeted other banks in tax fraud cases, including HSBC Holdings Plc.

Singenberger is an accountant by training. Prosecutors said that to further his conspiracy, he began in 2001 creating sham corporations, “establishments” and “foundations” under the laws of Hong Kong, Liechtenstein and elsewhere to conceal accounts.

Several of the entities -- with such names as Lucky Overseas Ventures, Real Cool Investments and Stunt Facilities International Establishment -- have been named in earlier cases filed in New York and Boston federal courts against former UBS clients.

In 2008, upon learning that U.S. authorities were investigating UBS, Singenberger helped his U.S. clients move accounts to other Swiss banks, prosecutors said.

According to the latest indictment, Singenberger arranged for accounts to be opened in at least three Swiss banks and one Swiss-Liechtenstein bank that do not have or no longer have offices in the United States.

Singenberger also was said to provide various Swiss banks with bogus IRS forms that fraudulently stated that undeclared accounts at those banks were not U.S. clients.

Sinco’s name surfaced in connection with an August 2004 internal UBS memo that was among documents released in 2009 by the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

The memo, sent to Sinco and a law firm with offices in Zurich and Geneva, said: “We invite you to make a short presentation on the structures/vehicles that you recommend to U.S. and Canadian clients who do not appear to declare income/capital gains to their respective tax authorities.”

The case is U.S. v. Singenberger, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 11-cr-00620.

Reporting by Basil Katz and Jonathan Stempel; additional reporting by Lynnley Browning; editing by Maureen Bavdek, Richard Chang, John Wallace and Andre Grenon