Swiss bank unfazed in face of any US legal action

Tue Jan 10, 2012 9:49am EST
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By Martin de Sa'Pinto and Lynnley Browning

(Reuters) - Wegelin & Co, one of Switzerland's oldest banks, on Monday played down any threat by U.S. authorities to take legal action that could lead to charges that the bank enabled wealthy Americans to evade taxes.

In a statement emailed to Reuters, Wegelin said it did not fear the possibility of any such charges - sometimes a corporate death-knell, at least for American companies - by the Justice Department, which is conducting a criminal investigation of the bank's offshore private banking services.

The bank, which dates its founding to 1741, vowed to carry on what it called its interbank business - ties with other banks for moving clients' money around - and said it would maintain the support of Swiss financial authorities to do so.

Reuters, citing people with knowledge of the case, reported on Monday that U.S. authorities were moving toward taking legal action against Wegelin that could lead to an indictment on charges the bank enabled wealthy Americans to evade taxes.

The Wegelin statement said that "we must assume that the Swiss Financial Markets Authority and the Swiss National Bank - as the responsible Swiss authorities - will ensure that the interbank business is not disrupted under any circumstances."

The two Swiss agencies could not be reached for immediate comment.

"An indictment against Wegelin & Co as an entity is essentially no threat," the bank statement said.

"An indictment is not a conviction; furthermore, any subsequent conviction would be contested and thus not legally effective for a considerable period; and ultimately, the question of the enforceability of such a decision would remain."   Continued...