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Economy

UBS to face trial for alleged French tax-dodging scheme

media UBS headquarters in Zurich Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann/

Banking giant UBS is to face trial in France accused of organising a massive tax-fraud scheme that hid some 12 billion euros from French tax authorities in Swiss ban accounts. The bank denies the charges, which have been filed after an attempt at a plea bargain broke down.

UBS will face charges of illegal banking practices and concealing tax fraud, judicial sources told news agencies Monday, adding that magistrates had signed the order on Friday.

UBS's French subsidiary will face trial for complicity.

The investigation started five years ago when several former employees blew the whistle on an alleged system of creative accounting to hide the movement of capital to Switzerland between 2002 and 2014.

Staff members allegedly touted for business from enterpreneurs, sports stars and other wealthy French citizens at receptions, golf tournaments and concerts.

Billions of euros hidden from tax authorities

Some 38,000 French nationals are said to have taken advantage of the scheme and are believed to have salted away about 12 billion euros.

The fine for money-laundering can be as high as half the value of the money involved, although the Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday said that prosecutors were proposing that it be 1.1 billion euros, the sum that was posted as a bond in 2014 and upheld as legitimate by the European Courth of Human Rights.

The Zurich-based bank, UBS AG, could also face a fine of 3.75 billion euros because it did not have a licence to trade in France.

Judges rejected an attempt by UBS's French subsidiary to become a party to the case against its parent company and that move is going to appeal, sources have told the Reuters news agency.

Five top French and Swiss UBS bosses Judges have also ordered to face trial, among them the former number three of UBS AG, Raoul Weill.

Plea bargain bid fails

Several months ago the bank tried to take advantage of a new procedure that allowed it to negotiate the fine in return for pleading guilty but failed to reach agreement on the amount.

UBS escaped prosecution in the US in 2009 by paying a 780-million-dollar (725-million-euro) fine for having helped 20,000 Americans to hide 20 billion dollars (19 billion euros).

A UBS official told the AFP news agency that it rejected the French prosecutors' allegations and hoped the trial would allow it the "possibility of responding to the accusations brought against it".

 A lawyer for the bank, Denis Chemla, said the charges contained "no special surprises" and called them "unfounded".

UBS shares fell 1.5 percent on the Zurich stock exchange on Monday.

The bank calls itself  "the world's largest and fastest-growing wealth manager". 

Revelations by whistleblowers have helped French investigators recoup billions of euros from wealthy tax dodgers in recent years and forced budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac to resign and face prosecution.

 

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