A Paris court just hit Swiss Bank UBS AG with a $5.1 billion fine, after finding the investment bank guilty of money laundering. The fine included a 3.7 billion euro fine and 800 million euros in additional damages to the French state. The record penalties exceed the bank’s net profit of $4.9 billion reported in 2018.
The Zurich-based bank was convicted of soliciting high-net-wealth clients to help them dodge taxes.
Christine Mee, president of the court, stated,
“The court can only conclude that (UBS) consistently put its own financial interests over the sovereign rights of the French state.”
UBS, one of the world’s largest wealth management banks, denies any wrongdoing and is appealing the verdict.
According to an official statement issued by the bank,
“UBS resolutely rejects this ruling. The Bank has always denied any criminal misconduct in this matter, both during the entire investigation and during the trial. There is no concrete evidence of a conviction. Instead, the verdict is based on unproven allegations by former employees who were not even heard at the trial. No evidence was provided that a French customer was approached by a client advisor of UBS AG for an account opening in Switzerland. Since there is no offense in France, the judgment effectively applies French law to Switzerland. This undermines the sovereignty of Swiss law and raises significant questions regarding territoriality.”
According to the prosecution UBS established an elaborate scheme to help tax-evading clients.
“French prosecutors say UBS sent Swiss bankers to golf tournaments, classical music concerts and hunting parties to solicit new clients illegally, while the bank is also alleged to have helped its clients launder the money involved.”
“Prosecutors told the court that UBS’s bankers would hand over business cards without any logo and used computers which carried software allowing data to be quickly erased.”
Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies are peer-to-peer, blockchain-based applications designed to wipe out intermediaries and settle transactions using distributed ledgers that cannot be erased, modified or manipulated.
UBS has a long record of fines for repeatedly committing crimes.
Violation Tracker ranks UBS as the 16th largest violator with fines in excess of $5 billion. It trails behind Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and BP, which are the first, second and third biggest violators.
In December, UBS agreed to pay $68 million to settle allegations of rigging the London Interbank Offered Rate (Libor), which affected trillions of dollars of financial instruments.
Also in December, UBS reached a settlement with the SEC, agreeing to pay $5 million for failing to report suspicious transactions in customer accounts.
In 2012, UBS admitted to fraud and bribery, and agreed to pay over $1.5 billion in fines and penalties to US and European authorities for its role in the manipulation of the Libor.
In 2009, UBS agreed to turn over names of alleged US tax evaders and pay $780 million in fines, penalties and restitution to the US government following allegations that the Swiss bank helped US residents dodge taxes through offshore accounts.