Swiss asset manager pleads guilty in U.S. over tax dodge scheme

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A Swiss asset manager pleaded guilty on Tuesday to participating in a scheme to help U.S. citizens hide millions of dollars in Swiss bank accounts and evade paying taxes.

Peter Amrein, 53, entered his plea in Manhattan federal court to conspiring to defraud the United States and Internal Revenue Service. The case is one of a number spilling out of a broad crackdown by the United States on offshore tax evasion by Americans.

“I assisted some of my U.S. clients in evading their U.S. tax obligations,” Amrein said. “I am pleading guilty because I am guilty,” he said.

Amrien’s plea came a day after Swiss bank BSI SA, the private banking unit of Italy’s Generali, agreed to pay $211 million in what was the first deal reached by a Swiss private bank under a U.S. Department of Justice-run voluntary disclosure program for tax-related offenses.

Amrein, a Swiss citizen, was a client adviser at a Zurich-based bank before leaving in 2006 to work at an asset management firm, the indictment said.

Neither of his employers was identified in court papers, and both a spokesman for Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and Amrein’s lawyer declined to identify them.

Prosecutors said beginning in 1998, Amrein was involved in managing undeclared U.S. citizens’ accounts with Edgar Paltzer, a Zurich-based lawyer who pleaded guilty in 2013 and has been cooperating with U.S. authorities.

Prosecutors said Amrein helped U.S. clients open and keep offshore accounts in at least five Swiss banks, including Wegelin & Co.

These included accounts under the names of sham foundations based in Liechtenstein that Amrein worked with Paltzer to set up, prosecutors said.

Amrein continued to help U.S. citizens hide their money offshore, even as U.S. authorities’ cracked down on offshore accounts, prosecutors said.

The crackdown eventually forced Wegelin, Switzerland’s oldest private bank, to close after pleading guilty in 2013 to helping wealthy U.S. citizens avoid paying taxes and agreeing to pay $74 million.

The Wegelin case came after UBS AG became the first bank to settle with the U.S. government, agreeing in 2009 to pay $780 million and entering into a deferred prosecution agreement.

Credit Suisse Group AG in 2014 pleaded guilty to conspiracy to aid and assist U.S. taxpayers in filing false returns as part of a more than $2.5 billion settlement with various authorities.

Sentencing of Amrein, who faces up to five years in prison, was set for July 1.

The case is U.S. v. Amrein, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 13-cr-00972.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond and Tom Brown in New York; editing by Noeleen Walder and G Crosse)

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