Major Swiss Bank Admits to Hiding Billions in Secret Accounts

( – The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) says Swiss bank Banque Pictet is guilty of helping Americans hide billions of taxable dollars in secret overseas accounts, and that the bank has admitted its actions.

In exchange for foregoing direct prosecution, Banque Pictet has agreed to pay the U.S. Treasury almost $123 million and to continue cooperating with investigators. According to the DOJ, the bank held on deposit $5.6 billion from 1,637 Americans, which allowed them to avoid paying more than $50 million in U.S. taxes. The money hiding took place between 2008 and 2014.

IRS Criminal Investigation Chief Jim Lee released a statement saying “offshore tax evasion is a priority” for the agency, and that the Banque Pictet case should send a message to tax dodgers and financial institutions about what will happen if they conspire to hide taxable income from U.S. authorities.

According to the DOJ, Banque Pictet participated in the illegal scheme by offering U.S. taxpayers so-called “undeclared accounts.” The agency claims both the bank and its staff knew full well what they were doing, and that it was illegal. Bank managing partners knew about the accounts and approved their opening, according to the DOJ.

From the amount Banque Pictet has agreed to pay the U.S., about $52 million makes up fees the bank earned from its illegal activity. $32 million will go directly to the IRS in restitution, and the remaining $39 million represents the fine the bank will pay for participating in the scheme.

The agreement between the U.S. and the bank is called “deferred prosecution.” The DOJ agrees not to prosecute Banque Pictet for three years on the condition that the bank continue to cooperate with U.S. agencies. If this happens, prosecutors will dismiss criminal charges against the bank. Such arrangements are not unusual, both for individuals and for large businesses, as government departments such as the IRS can often recoup fines and gain the compliance they seek more quickly this way than through full and lengthy court cases.

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