November 21, 2017 / 7:48 PM / in 23 days

U.S. jury clears ex-Swiss banker of aiding tax dodgers

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former Swiss banker was found not guilty on Tuesday of U.S. charges that he conspired to help Americans hide millions of dollars in offshore accounts to evade taxes.

Stefan Buck, who was head of private banking at the now-shuttered Zurich-based Bank Frey & Co, was acquitted by a federal court jury of conspiring to defraud the United States, according to James Margolin, a spokesman for the office of acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim in Manhattan.

Margolin declined to offer further comment.

“We are thrilled with the jury’s verdict,” said Marc Agnifilo, a lawyer for Buck. “The evidence showed that Stefan was at all times a responsible Swiss banker who followed his bank’s policies, the directions of his Swiss regulator and Swiss law. He looks forward to returning to Switzerland an innocent man to resume his personal and professional life.”

The case brought against Buck, 37, by federal prosecutors in New York was one of a number of cases spilling out of a broad crackdown by the United States on offshore tax evasion by Americans.

Buck was charged in April 2013 along with Edgar Paltzer, a former partner of Swiss law firm Niederer Kraft & Frey, who later pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

An indictment accused them of conspiring with U.S. taxpayers to help them hide their Swiss accounts from the Internal Revenue Service.

Buck agreed to come to the United States voluntarily from Switzerland in November 2016 to face trial.

Bank Frey & Co announced in October 2013 it would close due to the U.S. investigation, which followed probes of other Swiss banks.

In March 2009, Swiss bank UBS AG agreed to pay $780 million to settle charges brought by the Justice Department.

The oldest Swiss bank, Wegelin & Co, pleaded guilty in January 2013 to helping wealthy Americans evade taxes and was sentenced to pay nearly $58 million in penalties.

Prosecutors said that Bank Frey saw an increase of 300 percent in U.S. taxpayers as clients between the time of UBS’s settlement and Wegelin’s indictment in February 2012.

When they announced the charges against Buck in 2013, prosecutors said that around $938 million, or 44 percent of the Bank Frey’s $2.1 billion in managed assets as of September 2012, was held by U.S. taxpayers.

(Corrects to say Buck agreed to come to the United States voluntarily, not that he agreed to be extradited, in 8th paragraph.)

Reporting by Brendan Pierson in New York; editing by Susan Thomas and Tom Brown

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