Swiss bank, UBS Group AG (UBS - Free Report) , and its French unit will be facing a trial in France against allegations that the bank helped its clients in that country to evade taxes. Notably, a five-year probe into such allegations was closed last year. Following this, the prosecutor’s office was supposed to file its comments over the next three months. The investigating panel’s decision of whether the bank will face a trial depended on this.
According to a French judicial official, the investigating panel from PNF – the national financial prosecutor’s office – has claimed the charges against the bank as valid and ordered the case to be sent to trial at a later date.
According to the PNF, UBS holds fraudulent money worth around €9.76 billion on behalf of French individuals. On losing the trial, the fine may amount to “up to half of the value or funds involved in laundering operations”, according to the French Criminal Code.
“We will now have the possibility to respond in detail in a court of law,” the bank stated on Monday.
“UBS has made clear that the bank disagrees with the allegations, assumptions and legal interpretations being made,” it added. Management further noted, “We will continue to strongly defend ourselves and look forward to a fair proceeding.”
UBS has been under investigation by the French authorities on potential charges of illegally soliciting clients in France to open Swiss accounts for hiding undisclosed wealth in the period between 2004 and 2012. Later, the investigation included money laundering charges against the bank.
Following the failure of settlement talks on account of UBS’ refusal to plead guilty, the bank was ordered to pay a €1.1 billion bail amount in Jul 2014. Apprehending adverse impact on its business, UBS restrained from pleading guilty. The bank appealed against the verdict citing that the bail amount as "unprecedented and unwarranted." Notably, UBS pressed for the figure equivalent to €300 million, which the bank paid as settlement in 2014, to German authorities related to a similar probe into whether the banking giant helped clients in that country evade taxes.
However, after losing an initial appeal against the €1.1 billion bail payment in Sep 2014, the bank’s appeal was rejected again in Dec 2014 by France’s apex appeals court, Cour de Cassation. Disappointed with the ruling, UBS had proposed to contest the court’s decision, including the right to a fair trial, at the European Court of Human Rights.
Notably, in 2009, the Swiss bank had paid $780 million to regulators as settlement related to U.S. criminal and civil investigation, and admitted that it had helped clients evade taxes. UBS is not the only Swiss bank to be involved in such issues. In May 2014, Credit Suisse Group AG (CS - Free Report) pleaded guilty to criminal charges of assisting its U.S. clients to evade taxes and agreed to shell out $2.8 billion as settlement charges to the U.S. authorities.
We believe that the ongoing investigations on banks will be a step forward toward reducing the huge losses incurred due to offshore tax evasion. Regulatory authorities are investigating scandals and are determined to put forward a landmark judgment to curb such shrewd practices.
Shares of UBS gained 13.1% over the last six months; underperforming 14.6% growth recorded by the Zacks categorized Foreign Banks industry.
UBS Group AG currently carries a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).
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