UBS France CEO eyes growth despite tax probe

Fri Jun 28, 2013 10:04am EDT
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By Lionel Laurent and Matthias Blamont

PARIS (Reuters) - An internal review by UBS's UBSN.VX French unit into allegations that it sold products designed to evade taxes has yet to find evidence of law-breaking, the Swiss bank's French chief told Reuters on Friday.

Putting a positive spin on UBS France's financial health and downplaying the impact of an ongoing tax probe by the French authorities, Jean-Frederic de Leusse told Reuters the bank had shed jobs, tightened risk controls and was targeting market-share gains at its wealth-management business.

Governments across the world are cracking down on tax evasion in the wake of the financial crisis and France's Socialist government is under pressure to act after its budget minister quit over an undeclared bank account in March.

UBS is being probed over its sales practices after a former executive told the authorities that Swiss bank accounts were being illegally sold on French soil and recorded in a separate account-keeping system used to help calculate bankers' bonuses.

The investigation is ongoing but France's ACP banking regulator, after mounting its own inquiry, this week fined UBS France 10 million euros ($13.00 million) - its biggest-ever fine - for dragging its heels in fixing lax risk controls.

Describing the fine as "disproportionate", UBS' de Leusse said the bank would likely appeal. There was no sign yet of illegal activity in transactions reviewed by UBS France, he added.

"We are fully cooperating with the authorities and we are justifying each transaction, line by line, to show that what has been done was legal," de Leusse said on Friday in an interview at the bank's offices near the Paris Opera House.

De Leusse, previously an investment banker at boutique firm Arjil and before then an executive at Credit Agricole (CAGR.PA: Quote), said that he had seen no evidence of impropriety so far.   Continued...

A partially illuminated logo of Swiss bank UBS is seen on a building in Zurich December 18, 2012. REUTERS/Michael Buholzer