A UBS executive told a congressional committee probing tax shelter abuses that approximately 47,000 U.S. customers had accounts with the Swiss bank, but declined to release the names of the vast majority of them.
Last month, UBS agreed to release about 300 of the names and pay $780 million in fines, penalties and interest as part of a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. Justice Department (see UBS Agrees to Reveal U.S. Tax Shelter Clients).
However, the bank cited Swiss banking secrecy laws in protecting the identities of the other account holders. UBS Global Wealth Management chief financial officer Mark Branson told a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs' Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations on Wednesday that the bank had closed most of the accounts and begun the process of exiting the U.S. cross-border business. “UBS cannot disclose information to the IRS that would put its employees at serious risk of criminal prosecution under Swiss law,” he said.
However, Chairman Carl Levin (pictured), D-Mich., criticized UBS’s efforts. “Switzerland and the United States disagree on whether tax evasion should be a crime,” he said in his opening statement. “That has been true for decades. But here, Swiss bankers aided and abetted violations of U.S. tax law by traveling to this country, with client code names, encrypted computers, counter-surveillance training, and all the rest of it, to enable U.S. residents to hide assets and money in Swiss accounts.”
Levin re-introduced the Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act last week in an effort to crack down on foreign tax shelters such as Swiss bank accounts. The bill would allow U.S. tax and securities law enforcement to treat for tax purposes non-publicly traded offshore entities as being controlled by the U.S. taxpayer who formed them, sent them assets, received assets from them, or benefited from them, unless the taxpayer proves otherwise. It would also give the Treasury Department authority to take special measures against foreign jurisdictions and financial institutions that impede U.S. tax enforcement.
Separately, UBS announced that chairman Peter Kurer will not stand for re-election at the next shareholder meeting in April and will be replaced by former Swiss president and finance minister Kaspar Villiger.
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