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FRAUD

US trial set to start against ex-UBS banker

A former top-level UBS banker will stand trial in the United States this week accused of helping rich Americans evade millions of dollars in taxes.

US trial set to start against ex-UBS banker
Raoul Weil when he worked for Switzerland's largest bank. Photo: UBS/File

Five years after being charged with conspiracy to commit tax fraud, Raoul Weil, 54, the former head of the Swiss banking giant's global wealth management business, plans to plead not guilty at the federal trial that opens on Tuesday in Florida.
   
If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison and a hefty fine.
   
"He is not guilty," his lawyer Aaron Marcu told AFP.

"The same people at UBS who were doing bad things and helping clients hiding assets are the same who are going to testify against him."
   
The Weil case is a high-profile part of the massive US crackdown on offshore tax dodging, particularly in Switzerland, renowned for its vault-like banking secrecy.
   
According to the indictment, between 2002 and 2007, as Zurich-based Weil supervised the bank's overseas activities that serviced some 20,000 customers, he and his co-conspirators helped US customers conceal around $20 billion in assets from tax authorities.
   
The Swiss national was declared a fugitive by the US.
   
Fired by UBS in April 2009, Weil joined the wealth management firm Reuss Private Group in 2010 as a consultant, then became head of the company in early 2013.
   
That career came to an end when he was arrested in October 2013 after using his real name to check into a luxury hotel in Bologna, Italy and he was extradited to the United States.
   
Weil has been living in New Jersey under the supervision of authorities after being freed on bail of $10.5 million last December. He was ordered to surrender his passport and wear a GPS tracking monitor.
   
His trial initially was set for February 18th but Weil obtained a delay to examine millions of documents provided by the plaintiff, the Department of Justice.

Star witness

Weil's line of defence for the trial in Fort Lauderdale is that he was victimized by his colleagues who had concealed their activities helping US clients dodge taxes.

The conspiracy was brought to light by a whistleblower, the former UBS banker Bradley Birkenfeld, who served time in prison for participating in the illegal scheme.
   
After his release, Birkenfeld was given a $104-million reward by the Internal Revenue Service for providing the insider information that exposed the vast tax evasion conspiracy.
   
UBS has been cooperating with US authorities in the crackdown on tax evasion under a landmark agreement reached in February 2009.

UBS paid $780 million to settle the tax fraud case.
   
The trial, which looks set to pit current and former UBS employees against each other, was expected to last up to a month.
   
For the prosecution, the star witness undoubtedly will be Martin Liechti, the former head of UBS's wealth management operations in the Americas.
   
Arrested in 2008 by US authorities, Liechti struck a deal with them to avoid criminal punishment in exchange for providing detailed information about Weil's alleged illegal activities, according to legal documents.
   
The defence team is expected to present fewer than ten witnesses, including two or three who will testify by video conference from London.

Marcu said a number of people who were asked to testify on behalf of Weil have declined because they fear arrest if they enter the US.
   
There appears little chance that the two sides will strike a settlement deal before the trial opens, say people close to the matter.

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FRAUD

How to avoid the most common online scams in Switzerland

Swiss authorities are warning the public against the most common current online, telephone and postal scams and issuing useful advice on how to avoid these shady schemes.

How to avoid the most common online scams in Switzerland
Beware of scams circulating in Switzerland. Photo by Greg Baker / AFP

The number of attempts to extort money from unsuspecting individuals is on the rise in Switzerland, and the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), as well as other authorities, are advising the public to be vigilant of any scheme asking for bank account or credit card numbers.

These are some of the most common scams that should ring alarm bells:

Tax arrears

Geneva officials have alerted taxpayers not to fall victim to telephone scams where the callers identify themselves as employees of the cantonal tax office. The person is told that he or she owes money for unpaid taxes, and callers demand the number of the bank account to withdraw the amount owed.

In case the taxpayer refuses, fake employees threaten the victim with a 200,000-franc fine. If the person is elderly — often the most vulnerable victim — the scammers exert pressure by saying their social security payments will be suspended until payment is made.   

Geneva authorities urge the public to inform the police if they receive such a phone call.

READ MORE: Switzerland: Zug residents receive fake letters telling them to quarantine

Package delivery against payment

You may receive an email, supposedly from well-known parcel delivery services, notifying you that a package addressed to you will be delivered once payment is made.

The parcel notification email contains a link to a page asking for credit card details or to activate a service on the mobile phone by sending a text message.

IT support

A caller pretending to be an employee of Microsoft or another IT company tells you that your computer is infected with a virus and new software has to be installed.

The aim of these cyber-attackers is to trick you into downloading a program that will give them access to your computer. 

In most cases, the callers will also try to sell you software licence or another service by asking for your credit card information.

Competitions and prizes

You may get emails, allegedly from well-known Swiss retailers, promising you vouchers for expensive prizes. But in order to receive them, personal data such as credit card details, name, email address, and mobile phone number have to be entered on a fake website.

The fee is immediately charged to your credit card and, unbeknownst to you, you will take out an expensive long-term subscription to a product or service you may or may not get.

The list of all the current scams in Switzerland is here.

If you receive any of the above or similar messages by post, email or phone, the NCSC advises to:

  • Ignore these messages by hanging up the phone and / or deleting emails, moving them to the Spam folder
  • Never give out your credit card number or bank account information to people you don’t know
  • If you did give your card number, contact your credit card company immediately to have the card blocked. Likewise, if you gave out your banking details, get in touch with your bank.
  • In the event of financial loss, the NCSC recommends filing a criminal complaint with the cantonal prosecution authorities. You can search for police stations in your area and their telephone numbers on the Police website.

A good rule to remember is that if an offer or a deal sound too good to be true, or if threats and pressure are involved, they are more than likely scams.

READ MORE: Swiss public warned about fake emails sent from banks and police

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