Countries coordinate tax evasion probe
Geneva — European authorities are investigating dozens of people suspected of tax evasion involving Swiss bank Credit Suisse, officials said Friday. Dutch authorities in particular said they had detained two people and seized assets including luxury cars, paintings and even a gold bar in the multi-country sweep.
Credit Suisse issued a brief statement Friday saying that local authorities had made “visits” to its offices in Amsterdam, Paris and London in connection with unspecified client tax issues. A person familiar with the case said it involved Credit Suisse, but bank officials and authorities did not officially confirm a link pending the investigations.
The operations, coming just days before Credit Suisse in April begins a program of automatic information exchange with European countries, was set to again train an international spotlight on a Swiss banking industry that has for years had a reputation as a haven of secrecy for tax evaders.
The Dutch tax administration said authorities detained two suspects and seized a gold bar, luxury cars, dozens of paintings, real estate, jewelry and bank accounts as well as data from thousands of account holders. More actions were likely in the coming weeks, it said in a statement.
Several million euros worth of funds had been hidden from authorities, the statement said, adding that related investigations were under way in Britain, Australia, Germany and France.
“Yesterday, during internationally coordinated operations, the FIOD searched houses of persons with undeclared savings and seized administrative records from the Swiss bank,” it said, referring to the Dutch tax investigation body. “The same operations were carried out in the other European countries and Australia.”
“The suspects with undeclared savings in the above-mentioned countries all deposited their money in the same Swiss bank,” it said.
Credit Suisse said Friday it is cooperating with authorities and emphasized its “strategy of full client tax compliance.” Bank officials declined to comment further.
Swiss banks have long been a focus of international efforts to clamp down on tax evasion and avoidance. Switzerland changed its rules on banking secrecy for foreigners after a U.S. led effort to crack down on tax cheats uncovered large-scale evasion assisted by Swiss banks.
In December, the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force said Switzerland had achieved “good results” in fighting money laundering and terrorism financing, but called on it to strengthen its compliance controls, boost scrutiny on the use of cash and share information more with foreign authorities.
“Swiss banks won’t accept untaxed assets, and don’t want to manage them,” said Sindy Schmiegel, a spokeswoman for the main Swiss bankers’ association, SwissBanking. For the first time, Swiss banks in 2018 will start providing data on accounts to tax officials in countries abiding by Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development standards.
The Dutch tax authorities said current technology, greater international cooperation and the lifting of bank secrecy are making it easier for authorities to find tax evaders and their money. The Dutch seizures included data from thousands of account holders, and raids were conducted in The Hague, Hoofddorp, Zwolle and Venlo.
British tax authorities, meanwhile, said they launched a criminal investigation into suspected tax evasion that was focused on senior employees of the unspecified financial firm and a number of customers.
“The international reach of this investigation sends a clear message that there is no hiding place for those seeking to evade tax,” Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs said in Australia.
Authorities in Australia said they were investigating 346 Australians with links to Swiss banking relationship managers who are alleged to have “promoted and facilitated tax evasion schemes.”
Kelly O’Dwyer, the country’s minister for revenue and financial services, said the investigation showed that the Australians identified hold numbered accounts with a Swiss bank.
“The fact that these accounts are unnamed means that by their very nature they are likely to have been established to hide the identity of the owner,” O’Dwyer said in a statement. “Unfortunately, there are still those who believe they can dodge from their tax obligations and avoid detection by government agencies.”
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