5 countries launch tax evasion sweep linked to Credit Suisse

5 countries launch tax evasion sweep linked to Credit Suisse

GENEVA — European authorities are investigating dozens of people suspected of tax evasion and money laundering involving Swiss bank Credit Suisse, officials said Friday, with Dutch authorities in particular detaining two people and seizing 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.

Eurojust, the European Union’s judicial co-operation agency, said authorities in Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Australia took part in an “action day” Thursday against companies and individuals in an operation begun by Dutch prosecutors and tax authorities following a Dutch probe opened last year.

“The undeclared assets hidden within offshore accounts and policies are estimated in the millions of euros,” Eurojust said. It said questioning of witnesses was continuing, that more actions were expected in coming weeks, and that international co-operation “will be intensified.”

The operations, coming just days before Credit Suisse in April begins a program of automatic information exchange with European countries, will again train a spotlight on the Swiss banking industry, which for years has had a reputation as ensuring 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. The probe involved “the same Swiss bank” in all five countries, it said.

Credit Suisse said Friday it is co-operating with authorities and emphasized its “strategy of full client tax compliance.” Bank officials declined to comment further.

Patrick Teuscher, a spokesman for the Swiss Federal Tax Administration, said it had not been contacted by foreign authorities in the case, adding: “We are not involved.”

Switzerland has in recent years 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 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. Swiss banks in 2018 will start providing data on accounts to tax officials in countries that meet standards set by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Dutch tax authorities said new technology, greater international co-operation and the lifting of bank secrecy are making it easier for authorities to find tax evaders and their money. The Dutch and raids were conducted in The Hague, Hoofddorp, Zwolle and Venlo.

France’s national financial prosecutor said raids involving about two dozen French customs agents took place in France as part of the probe begun in April, which turned up thousands of Swiss accounts that were not declared to tax authorities.

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 and Customs said.

Authorities in Australia said they were investigating 346 Australians with links to Swiss banking relationship managers who were alleged to have “promoted and facilitated tax evasion schemes.” Those Australians identified held 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,” Australia’s Minister for Revenue and Financial Services, Kelly 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,” she said.

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Angela Charlton in Paris, Raf Casert in Brussels, and Danica Kirka in London contributed to this report.

Jamey Keaten, The Associated Press

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