NEW YORK (Reuters) - A federal judge has authorized the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to seek records from UBS AG of U.S. taxpayers suspected of hiding their income in accounts with Swiss bank Wegelin.
Wegelin, the oldest Swiss private bank, pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court on January 3 to charges of helping wealthy Americans evade taxes through secret accounts, then said it would close down as a result.
U.S. District Judge William Pauley in Manhattan granted the IRS’s request to issue a “John Doe” summons - which seeks information about possible tax fraud committed by individuals whose identities are not known - on UBS for the names of taxpayers who may have hidden income at Wegelin and other Swiss banks.
A spokesman for UBS in Zurich said the bank would follow the court’s ruling, which demands U.S. records, and not Swiss ones. No UBS client data is affected, he said.
UBS ended its own U.S. probe in 2009 by admitting it provided tax-evasion services to rich Americans, entering into a deferred-prosecution agreement, turning over 4,450 client names and paying a $780 million fine.
However, UBS was subsequently ensnared as a so-called correspondent bank for Wegelin when the government indicted that bank nearly a year ago. The government alleged Wegelin used a U.S. correspondent account at UBS to handle funds for American clients, a standard industry practice for foreign banks.
By covertly transferring money from undeclared Swiss accounts, Wegelin allowed clients to avoid paying income taxes in the United States, the government alleged.
Wegelin last February became the first foreign bank in recent memory to be indicted by U.S. authorities, opening a new chapter in a broad probe into Swiss bank secrecy.
As part of its guilty plea, the bank agreed to pay $57.8 million in fines after admitting to helping U.S. clients evade taxes on at least $1.2 billion for more than a decade.
It announced on the same day that it would shut its doors permanently after more than 270 years in operation.
Since UBS’s probe, dozens of Swiss bankers and their clients have been indicted in a crackdown on tax evasion.
Additional reporting by Katharina Bart in Zurich; Editing by Tim Dobbyn and David Holmes