A top Swiss banker accused of running a massive tax evasion scheme that helped superwealthy clients evade billions in taxes was acquitted in federal court in Fort Lauderdale on Tuesday. He faced up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Prosecutors failed to prove that Swiss citizen Raoul Weil was aware that bankers under his leadership were running the scheme that allegedly involved wooing wealthy clients to move their fortunes to Swiss bank UBS to evade taxes. According to a 2008 indictment of Weil, UBS bankers solicited clients in Miami Beach and Art Basel and offered "unlicensed and unregistered banking services and investment advice... intended to conceal from the IRS the identities of Swiss Bank's United States clients."
UBS already admitted wrongdoing back in 2009 and paid a $780 million fine, as well as disclosed the names of 4,500 clients who may have been evading taxes. Several of those clients have since been prosecuted. But for U.S. prosecutors, Weil -- the highest-ranked Swiss banker ever prosecuted by the IRS and the Department of Justice -- was the big fish.
But a Fort Lauderdale jury only took about an hour to decide he did nothing illegal.
According to the Associated Press, Weil's attorney, Matthew Menchel, blamed the taxpayers who voluntarily sent their money overseas for breaking the law, not his client.
"Whose obligation was it to pay the taxes? The taxpayers'," Menchel told jurors.
That was enough to beat the argument from prosecutors, who relied heavily on testimony from former UBS employees who were directly involved in the tax-evading games and had already cut deals with the feds.
The Wall Street Journal says prosecutors also tried to use emails of conversation about the tax scheme as evidence. But defense attorneys pointed out that Weil was either not cc'd on many or was one of several high-ranking managers who were cc'd. Besides, he was also too busy with Asian accounts to be involved in hiding a few tax dollars from the U.S. when many of these emails were sent.
Although Weil was indicted in 2008, he remained free in Europe until 2013, when he was apprehended on a fugitive warrant and brought back to the U.S. He remained on house arrest at a friend's home in New Jersey until his trial began three weeks ago.
Feds have been investigating UBS for nearly a decade and have been trying to crack down on infamous Swiss bank tax evasion schemes. In addition to the $780 million fine paid by UBS, the DOJ billed Credit Suisse Group a hefty $2.6 billion for a tax evasion settlement.
Raoul, meanwhile, is a free man and expected to leave sunny Florida and return to Switzerland, where he intends to resume his banking career after this brief hiatus.
Follow Ray Downs on Twitter:
E-mail him at Ray.Downs@browardpalmbeach.com.