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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Swiss Asset Manager Pleads Guilty in Federal Court to Conspiring with U.S. Taxpayers to Evade Federal Income Taxes and File False Tax Returns

A Swiss citizen and former asset manager at a Swiss asset management firm pleaded guilty to conspiring with U.S. taxpayer-clients and others to help U.S. taxpayers hide millions of dollars in offshore accounts from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and to evade U.S. taxes on the income earned in those accounts, the Justice Department announced. 

Peter Amrein, 53, a Swiss citizen, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Sidney H. Stein of the Southern District of New York pursuant to a plea agreement to one count of conspiracy to defraud the IRS, to evade federal income taxes and to file false federal income tax returns.  Amrein faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison at his July 1 sentencing before Judge Stein.

“Peter Amrein’s guilty plea today is another example of individuals being held culpable, in addition to institutions, for their criminal violations of U.S. tax laws,” said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York.  “Regardless of the elaborate scheme you might employ, we will use all of our investigative powers to ensure that all citizens pay their fair share, and that those who assist them in evading our laws are also held responsible.” 

According to the allegations in the superseding Information and the prior indictment, as well as statements made during the plea proceeding and other documents filed in federal court in Manhattan, New York:

Amrein worked as a client advisor at a Swiss bank (Swiss Bank No. 3) and, later, as an asset manager at a Swiss asset management firm (the Swiss Asset Management Firm).  In those roles, between 1998 and 2012, Amrein helped U.S. taxpayers evade taxes and hide millions of dollars in undeclared accounts at various Swiss banks, including Wegelin & Co., which was charged and pleaded guilty in the Southern District of New York for its conduct in conspiring with U.S. taxpayers to evade taxes.  Amrein, among other things, worked with an attorney based in Zurich, to establish sham foundations, which were organized under the laws of non-U.S. countries such as Liechtenstein, so that the undeclared assets of certain of Amrein’s U.S. taxpayer-clients could be maintained in the names of these foreign foundations rather than in the clients’ own names.  Amrein did so in order to help his clients conceal their ownership of these undeclared accounts from the IRS. 

In 2008, it became publicly known that UBS AG (UBS) was being investigated by U.S. law enforcement for helping U.S. taxpayers maintain undeclared accounts in Switzerland.  Because of the investigation of UBS, one of the Swiss banks where Amrein had opened undeclared accounts for U.S. taxpayers (Swiss Bank No. 4) informed Amrein that it was going to close these undeclared accounts.  In order to assist his clients in continuing to maintain undeclared accounts, Amrein searched for other banks in Switzerland that, despite the public investigation of UBS, were still willing to open undeclared accounts for U.S. taxpayers.  Amrein found such a bank (Swiss Bank No. 1).  Thereafter, Amrein opened undeclared accounts for U.S. taxpayer-clients at Swiss Bank No. 1 in the name of sham foundations, and transferred the clients’ undeclared assets from Swiss Bank No. 4 to these accounts at Swiss Bank No. 1.   

For some of these clients, Amrein, with the assistance of others, helped send funds back to the United States and to other foreign jurisdictions in ways that were designed to ensure that U.S. authorities would not discover the existence of the clients’ undeclared accounts.  For instance, Amrein instructed a client advisor at Swiss Bank No. 1 (the Swiss Bank No. 1 Client Advisor) to empty one of the accounts by sending checks in amounts smaller than $9,900 to the beneficial owner of the account, i.e., the U.S. taxpayer.  On another occasion, Amrein instructed the Swiss Bank No. 1 Client Advisor to transfer the balance of one of the accounts, which was then valued at more than $2.4 million, to another account controlled by the U.S. taxpayer in Belize City, Belize.  Moreover, as late as 2011, Amrein continued to look for other Swiss banks that were still willing to open undeclared accounts for U.S. taxpayers.  For example, in June 2011, Amrein met with a client advisor at a Swiss bank (Swiss Bank No. 2), to discuss opening undeclared accounts for U.S. taxpayer-clients at Swiss Bank No. 2.         

Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding investigative work of the IRS-Criminal Investigations.  He also thanked the Department of Justice’s Tax Division for their significant assistance in the investigation.

This case is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Sarah E. Paul, Jason H. Cowley, and Daniel B. Tehrani are in charge of the prosecution.

Press Release Number: 
Updated May 18, 2016