A former Swiss banker pleaded guilty Wednesday to his role in a fraud scheme that prosecutors say helped U.S. taxpayers hide as much as $3 billion in assets from the IRS.
Andreas Bachmann, 56, a Swiss citizen, is one of eight former employees of Zurich-based Credit Suisse to be charged back in 2011. He is the first to be arrested and plead guilty. All eight were living in Switzerland, which has been unwilling to extradite, but Bachmann agreed to come to the U.S. and strike a plea deal. The plea hearing was scheduled several weeks ago, and he was arrested Tuesday in Alexandria.
Bachmann faces a maximum of five years in prison under the plea deal. His attorney did not return a telephone call and email seeking comment Wednesday.
In a statement, Deputy Attorney General James Cole indicated that more cases could be moving forward in the coming months.
"Today's plea is just the latest step in our wide-ranging investigations into Swiss banking activities and demonstrates the Department of Justice's commitment to global enforcement against those that facilitate offshore tax evasion," Cole said.
In court papers, Bachmann admitted travelling twice a year to the United States as an employee of a Credit Suisse subsidiary to meet with clients who maintained secret Swiss accounts as a means of avoiding U.S. taxes. He would show clients their account statements, and if they asked for a copy he would ask them, "Do you really want to keep the statement?" and suggest that keeping physical records of the account in the U.S. was a risk.
At another point, in a discussion between Bachmann and the CEO of the subsidiary that employed him regarding compliance with U.S. laws, Bachmann says the executive told him, "Mr. Bachmann, you know what we expect of you. Don't get caught."
In 2009, after he had left Credit Suisse, Bachmann began advising clients that they should take advantage of an amnesty program that U.S. authorities were offering at the time to people who had been using secret foreign accounts to evade taxes. But when clients declined to do so, Bachmann still helped them evade taxes, according to the plea agreement.
Tax haven subsidiary set up
The plea documents also show that Credit Suisse deliberately formed a subsidiary in the 1990s to handle tax-haven accounts that were considered too risky to operate under the flagship operation.
Credit Suisse spokesman Calvin Mitchell declined comment Wednesday on Bachmann's plea. At a Senate hearing last month, Credit Suisse CEO Brady Dougan said the bank has been co-operating with U.S. authorities and that senior executives at the bank were not aware that some Credit Suisse bankers were helping U.S. customers evade taxes.
The court documents do not include a specific amount of money that Bachmann helped hide from the IRS, but said he was responsible for 25 to 30 U.S. clients.
Authorities said the Credit Suisse bankers may have been responsible for hiding as much as $3 billion back when the charges were announced in 2011. At a Senate hearing last month, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., said Credit Suisse had more than 22,000 U.S. customers with accounts containing $10 billion to $12 billion.
The charges are part of a crackdown by President Barack Obama's administration on foreign banks believed to be helping U.S. taxpayers hide assets. At last month's hearing, though, Levin chided the Department of Justice for not aggressively pursuing subpoenas and other methods that would have forced Credit Suisse to divulge the names of U.S. account holders. Last year Credit Suisse agreed to release 238 names, which Levin said was an embarrassingly small amount given the fact that there were 22,000 accounts.