Two bankers, including a former employee of UBS, the world’s leading wealth
manager, have been charged by US authorities with helping a American billionaire evade income taxes on about $200m of assets deposited in Swiss and Liechtenstein bank accounts.
Bradley Birkenfeld, Mario Staggl and “others known and unknown” were accused in the indictment, unsealed on Tuesday, of conspiring to defraud the US from at least 2001 by engaging in a scheme that included falsifying documents, helping to set up shell companies and destroying banking records.
Mr Birkenfeld, who appeared in court on Tuesday, is a former UBS private banker, based in Geneva, who became involved in a legal dispute with his former employer over the terms of his employment and compensation, the Financial Times has learnt. The indictment said he was a US citizen who had lived in Switzerland since 1996.
Mr Birkenfeld was formerly a member of the team headed by Martin Liechti, one of the most senior private bankers at UBS. The FT identified Mr Liechti as the person recently detained by authorities in the US investigating whether the Swiss bank had helped US clients evade US tax obligations.
Mr Liechti, Zurich-based head of North and South America for UBS’s international wealth management business, was detained as a material witness while visiting Miami in April and was not charged.
Mr Staggl, who remains at large, was described in the indictment as a resident of Liechtenstein, where he owns New Haven Trust Company. Mr Birkenfeld and Mr Staggl helped a US real estate developer, an unindicted co-conspirator, to evade US taxes on income earned on about $200m of assets kept offshore, the indictment said.
The developer is Igor Olenicoff, founder of Olen Properties in Newport Beach, California, his lawyer said. Mr Olenicoff pleaded guilty in December to filing a false tax return and agreed to pay $52m in back taxes. He was sentenced to probation, 120 hours of community service and was fined $3,500.
The indictment said while marketing services to US clients, Mr Birkenfeld and Mr Staggl claimed that “Swiss and Liechtenstein bank secrecy was impenetrable”.
UBS said: “The bank is continuing to co-operate with this investigation. In light of the pending investigation, it is not appropriate to comment on charges brought against a former UBS employee.”