The U.S. Justice Department has indicted Switzerland’s oldest bank for allegedly helping customers hide more than $1.2 billion from U.S. tax collectors.
U.S. authorities also seized more than $16 million in assets that the Wegelin bank holds in a U.S. account.
The indictment charges Wegelin with soliciting customers from another Swiss bank, UBS, when that institution agreed to stop hiding secret accounts in 2008.
If found guilty, Wegelin could be fined at least $500,000. Three Wegelin employees who advised customers also have been charged. Each faces a $250,000 fine and as much as five years in prison.
This is the first time the United States has formally charged a foreign bank with helping U.S. depositors avoid taxes.
President Barack Obama has pledged to crack down on U.S. citizens and corporations that use overseas accounts to evade taxes. He says tax fraud costs the country billions of dollars a year in revenue.