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Credit Suisse admits tax "misconduct", but blames rogue staff

Switzerland's second largest bank, Credit Suisse, accused by Washington of helping US clients hide billions from the taxman, acknowledged on Wednesday there had been "misconduct" by some of its employees.

GENEVA: Switzerland's second-largest bank, Credit Suisse, accused by Washington of helping US clients hide billions from the taxman, acknowledged on Wednesday there had been "misconduct" by some of its employees, but said management was unaware.

"Credit Suisse acknowledges that misconduct, centred on a small group of Swiss-based private bankers, previously occurred at our bank," it said in a statement submitted to the US Senate, insisting that the bank management had no knowledge of the misdeeds at the time.

The document, obtained by AFP, included the statement Credit Suisse chief Brady Dougan was set to give before a US Senate panel later Wednesday.

On Tuesday, a scathing Senate inquiry showed his bank had used elaborate measures to help some 19,000 wealthy US clients evade taxes.

"We deeply regret that, despite the industry-leading compliance measure we have put in place, before 2009, some Credit Suisse private bankers appear to have violated US law," the statement said, citing a "broad and deep" independent investigation commissioned by the bank.

The internal probe "found no evidence that Credit Suisse's executive management was aware of these problems," it said. However it added that "we accept responsibility for and deeply regret these employees' actions".

The US Senate report, based on a two-year investigation, maintained on Tuesday that Credit Suisse had "nearly 19,000 US customers with hidden Swiss assets totalling nearly $5 billion" as of 2006.

That figure represents some 85 percent of the bank's more than 22,000 US customers in 2006 with Swiss accounts whose assets at their highest exceeded $13.5 billion, the report said.

That amount is more than "twice as much as what was said so far," Douglas Hornung, a Swiss business lawyer specialised on the banking sector, told AFP.

He speculated that Credit Suisse could face a US fine of around $2.0 billion for its misdeeds.

Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate subcommittee that led the investigation, certainly took a combative tone on Monday.

"It's time to ramp up the collection of taxes due from tax evaders on the billions of dollars hidden offshore," he told the hearing.

- Secret wooing of clients -

Among the bank's cloak-and-dagger practices revealed in the Senate report, Swiss bankers were sent to the United States to secretly find clients, leaving no paper trail, at events sponsored by the bank -- such as at golf tournaments in Florida.

Levin cited testimony from former Credit Suisse clients about being taken to meetings in Zurich on a secret, buttonless elevator controlled remotely, and receiving secret bank statements hidden inside magazines.

Dougan, a 55-year-old US citizen, was scheduled to meet before the Senate panel on Wednesday alongside Hans-Ulrich Meister, who heads the private banking division at Credit Suisse, Robert Shafir, in charge of the bank's US business, and chief council Romeo Cerutti.

In 2008, according to the Senate report, there were more than 1,800 Credit Suisse bankers employed to manage US client accounts, many of which were never declared to the IRS. Transactions were said to be structured to avoid US tax reporting requirements.

From 2008 to 2011, after the scandal broke of tax evasion at fellow Swiss bank UBS, Credit Suisse started putting an end to its evasive practices, asking clients to close their accounts or declare them.

In total, by the end of 2013, the number of Swiss accounts held by US clients at Credit Suisse fell by 85 percent -- the 19,000 clients believed to have had hidden assets, the report said.

While the tone of the Senate hearing was harsh, with Senators complaining they had not received enough names of tax-dodging American clients, Swiss President Didier Burkhalter insisted the effect on Swiss-US relations should not be exaggerated.

"We must not overestimate the impact of these hearings," Swiss President Didier Burkhalter told public broadcaster RTS during a visit to Washington.

He also pointed out that Bern has been waiting for five years for the Senate to ratify a double-taxation deal that is "essential for the collaboration" on tax issues between the two countries.

Credit Suisse is one of 14 Swiss banks under US investigation for allegedly accepting tens of billions of undeclared dollars from US citizens.

About a third of the country's other 300 banks recently agreed to take part in a US programme where they will hand over information to Washington and accept to pay a steep fine in avoid legal action. 

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