* CEO to testify before head of Senate investigative panel
* Bank is among those facing tax-dodging probe by U.S. prosecutors
* Settlement for Credit Suisse may be near, say lawyers
By Patrick Temple-West
WASHINGTON, Feb 24 (Reuters) - The chief of Swiss bank Credit Suisse Group AG will square off on Wednesday against U.S. Senator Carl Levin as the veteran congressional investigator releases his latest findings on offshore tax evasion.
For more than six years, Levin’s staff and U.S. officials have been probing how Americans dodged taxes by hiding assets in secret Swiss bank accounts, with cash-strapped governments worldwide tightening international tax law enforcement.
Levin is expected to release a report on Credit Suisse to coincide with the hearing at which bank CEO Brady Dougan and three other senior bank officers are slated to appear. The session will be co-chaired by Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, and Arizona Senator John McCain, the panel’s top Republican.
“The hearing will continue the subcommittee’s examination of tax haven bank facilitation of U.S. tax evasion, focusing on the status of efforts to hold Swiss banks and their U.S. clients accountable for unpaid taxes on billions of dollars in hidden assets,” said Levin’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in a statement.
Separately from Levin’s panel, U.S. prosecutors are investigating Credit Suisse and 13 other large Swiss banks for allegedly helping U.S. clients hide money from tax authorities.
U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole and Assistant Attorney General Kathryn Keneally, who heads the Justice Department’s tax division, will also testify to the panel, amid expectations that the department is close to a settlement with Credit Suisse, the second-largest bank in Switzerland.
A Justice Department spokeswoman had no immediate comment.
Sanford Boxerman, a lawyer with Capes Sokol Goodman & Sarachan who represents individuals facing allegations of tax evasion, questioned whether it was advisable for Credit Suisse officers to testify before the congressional panel.
He said it may be that Credit Suisse is “close to a settlement or confident that it’s going to be settled, so they don’t feel it’s too much harm to be suffered by testifying.” Boxerman is not involved in the Credit Suisse case.
Scott Michel, a tax lawyer with Caplin & Drysdale, said members of the subcommittee are likely to “hammer” both Credit Suisse and the Justice Department over the pace of the department’s investigation “moving too slowly.”
Dougan will be joined at the hearing by the bank’s general counsel, Romeo Cerutti, and the co-heads of its private banking and wealth management divisions, Hans-Ulrich Meister and Robert Shafir. A Credit Suisse spokesman in New York confirmed the four officials will testify, but declined to comment on Monday.
Credit Suisse on Friday said it agreed to pay $196.5 million and admit wrongdoing to settle U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission charges that it provided cross-border brokerage and investment advisory services to U.S. clients without first registering with the regulator.
The settlement agreement said Credit Suisse had up to 8,500 accounts tied to U.S. clients from 2002 to 2008 and realized about $82 million in pretax income through the unlawful aspects of its U.S. cross-border securities business.
Earlier this month, Credit Suisse said it had set aside 175 million Swiss francs for a U.S. probe into hidden offshore accounts in Switzerland.
UBS AG , the largest bank in Switzerland, in 2009 agreed to pay $780 million to avoid prosecution for helping Americans evade taxes and agreed to hand over to the United States the names of more than 4,000 American clients.
A senior UBS officer testified before Levin and apologized for the bank’s conduct in March 2009. Five months later, UBS reached its deal with the Justice Department. That was after a former UBS banker who once smuggled a client’s diamonds into the United States in a toothpaste tube pleaded guilty to helping a billionaire hide $200 million from U.S. tax authorities.
The Wall Street Journal reported in January that Credit Suisse and U.S. authorities were in settlement talks and that an agreement of more than $800 million could be struck in the first six months of this year, citing unnamed sources.