WASHINGTON – Markus Walder, former head of North America Offshore Banking at an international bank headquartered in Zurich; Susanne D. Rüegg Meier, a former manager with the international bank; Andreas Bachmann, a former banker at a subsidiary of the international bank; and Josef Dörig, the founder of a Swiss trust company, have been charged with conspiring with other Swiss bankers to defraud the United States, the Justice Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced today. The four are charged in a superseding indictment together with four other defendants (Marco Parenti Adami, Emanuel Agustino, Michele Bergantino and Roger Schaerer) who were charged in an indictment returned on Feb. 23, 2011.
According to the superseding indictment, the international bank’s managers and bankers engaged in illegal cross-border banking that was designed to assist U.S. customers evade their income taxes by opening and maintaining secret bank accounts at the bank and other Swiss banks. As of the fall of 2008, the international bank maintained thousands of secret accounts for U.S. customers with as much as $3 billion in total assets under management in those accounts. The conspiracy dates back to 1953 and involved two generations of U.S. tax evaders including U.S. customers who inherited secret accounts at the international bank.
Moreover, according to the superseding indictment, the conspirators utilized a representative office in New York City to provide unlicensed and unregistered banking services to U.S. customers with undeclared accounts. Walder, Schaerer, their co-conspirators and others allegedly made false statements and provided misleading information to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and to the IRS in order to conceal the international bank’s U.S. cross-border banking business and the role of the New York representative office in that business.
The superseding indictment alleges that Walder supervised the U.S. cross-border banking business, including the New York representative office headed by Schaerer, a Geneva-based team of bankers led by manager Marco Parenti Adami and a Zurich-based team of bankers led by manager Rüegg Meier. Rüegg Meier was a member of senior management at the international bank and also served as a private banker, providing unlicensed and unregistered banking services to U.S. customers with undeclared accounts at the bank. The superseding indictment further alleges that Bachmann was a private banker for a wholly-owned subsidiary of the international bank who traveled to the United States to assist U.S. taxpayers in evading their U.S. taxes through the use of secret bank accounts. It is further alleged that Dörig, founder of a Swiss trust company, was a preferred provider of the international bank who assisted U.S. customers in forming and maintaining nominee tax haven entities and opening secret accounts at the international bank and its subsidiaries in the names of the entities.
According to the superseding indictment, the defendants and their co-conspirators solicited U.S. customers to open secret accounts because Swiss bank secrecy would permit them to conceal from the IRS their ownership of accounts at the international bank and other Swiss banks. It is further alleged that they provided unlicensed and unregistered banking services and investment advice to customers in the United States in person while on travel to the United States, including at the international bank’s representative office in New York City and by mailings, email and telephone calls to and from the United States. It is further alleged that the international bank’s employees destroyed statements and other account records that were sent via email or facsimile to the representative office in New York so that records regarding the undeclared accounts would not be maintained in the United States.
The superseding indictment alleges that the defendants and their co-conspirators caused U.S. customers to travel outside the United States to conduct banking related to their secret accounts; opened secret accounts in the names of nominee tax haven entities for U.S. customers; accepted IRS forms that falsely stated under penalties of perjury that the owners of the secret accounts were not subject to U.S. taxation; advised and caused United States customers to structure withdrawals from their secret accounts in amounts less than $10,000 in an attempt to conceal the secret accounts and the transactions from American authorities; mailed bank checks in amounts less than $10,000 to customers in the United States; and advised U.S. customers to utilize offshore charge, credit and debit cards linked to their secret accounts and provided the customers with such cards, including cards issued by American Express, Visa and Maestro.
According to the superseding indictment, after the bank decided to close the secret accounts maintained by U.S. customers, the defendants encouraged and assisted U.S. customers to transfer their secret accounts to other foreign banks as a means of continuing to hide their assets from the IRS and discouraged the customers from disclosing their secret accounts to the IRS through the IRS’s Voluntary Disclosure Program.
Neil H. MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; John A. DiCicco, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Tax Division; and Douglas H. Shulman, Commissioner of the IRS, made the announcement.
A criminal indictment is only an accusation and a defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. If convicted, the defendants each face a maximum of five years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000.
U.S. Attorney MacBride and Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General DiCicco commended the investigative efforts of the IRS agents involved in this case, as well as Senior Litigation Counsels Kevin M. Downing and John E. Sullivan and Trial Attorneys Mark F. Daly, Tino M. Lisella, Michelle M. Petersen and Melissa Siskind of the Tax Division, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark Lytle, who are prosecuting the case.