Italians arrest ex-Swiss banker for ‘tax fraud’

Authorities in Milan said on Monday that they have detained a former Swiss banker for allegedly helping wealthy Italian clients evade taxes and launder large sums of money, including the proceeds of embezzlement.

Italians arrest ex-Swiss banker for 'tax fraud'
Dollfus is based in Lugano, the third largest banking centre in Switzerland after Zurich and Geneva. Photo: Switzerland Tourism

Italian financial police (Guardia di Finanza) from Varese northwest of Milan said that Filippo Dollfus, a former board member of the Cornèr Bank in Lugano in the Swiss canton of Ticino was arrested last week.

Dollfus, aided by a Milan accountant arrested in March 2013, is accused of helping clients in the creation of shell companies based in Switzerland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

He also allegedly provided assistance in the creation of offshore companies in tax havens.

Ledgers seized from the accountant identified hundreds of accounts of wealthy Italians who hid “several billion euros” from the taxman over 40 years, the Italian website VareseNews reported online.

The paper reported that Dollfus was arrested in Milan after he crossed the border from Switzerland to attend the communion of his niece.

Citing information from the Italian authorities, the ATS news agency in Switzerland reported that the former Swiss banker operated a company established in Lugano, as well as a branch in Milan.

The company, acting as an intermediary, handled financial operations totalling around 800 million euros, from the initial evidence, according to the financial police, ATS said.

But the Italian police said this amount could be significantly higher, describing a “veritable multinational (financial) recycling” operation.

Dollfus, whose family held a 25.2 percent ownership in the Cornèr Bank at the end of 2014, was a member of the bank’s board of directors from 1996 to 2012, ATS said.

The bank issued a statement in Italian on its website in which it distanced itself from “the arrest of Filippo Dollfus”.

It underlined that Dollfus has not been a member of the bank’s board of directors since March 2012 and that his activities as a trustee had “nothing to do with the bank”.

The bank said the Piotrkowski-Dollfus family is a minority shareholder in the bank and that no family representative, including Filippo Dollfus, has ever played an operating role with the banking group.

Dollfus’s cousin, lawyer Marco Piotrkowski, told the 20 Minuti newspaper he learned of Dollfus’s arrest on Monday morning.

“The fact he was arrested is not good for the image of the bank, but I want to clarify that his fiduciary activities have nothing to do either with the family or Cornèr Bank,” Piotrkowski is quoted as saying.
In any case, until proven otherwise, Dollfus should benefit from the presumption of innocence, he added.

Founded in Lugano in 1952, the Corner Bank Group specializes in private banking, as well as credit cards (Cornèrcard) and online trading.

It operates branches in Chiasso and Locarno (both in the canton of Ticino), Zurich and Geneva, and has affiliates in Luxembourg and Nassau in the Bahamas. 

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Switzerland heavily criticised for welcoming foreign skiers

Italy has hit out at Switzerland for failing to prevent foreign skiers from hitting the slopes. Some have gone so far as to blame Switzerland for the spread of virus mutations across Europe.

Switzerland heavily criticised for welcoming foreign skiers
The mighty Matterhorn lies on the border with Italy. Photo by AFP
Italy's government last week blocked ski resorts from reopening, the day before skiing was due to be allowed for the first time this winter season due to coronavirus restrictions.
There is also a ban on non-essential travel until February 25th.

“It's a disaster. For a week now, we have been readying the slopes for the opening and preparing the health protocol,” said Denis Trabucchi, an Italian ski instructor. 

But the ban has not stopped Italian snow enthusiasts from hitting the slopes on the Swiss side of the border, as Switzerland has kept its ski infrastructure open despite the pandemic.

Many Swiss and Italian pistes lie close to each other so it is an easy commute from one resort to another.

The mayors of Italian border towns are annoyed that local skiers are ‘emigrating’ to Swiss ski slopes, according to the Provincio di Como newspaper.

“Cross-border skiers are not as numerous as cross-border workers, of course, but ski traffic has increased,” said Massimiliano Tam, mayor of Villa di Chiavenna, a town in Lombardy.

He said that despite bans on such border hopping, many Italians rent apartments on the Swiss side of the frontier so they can ski.

Roberto Galli, the mayor of Livigno, a ski resort in the Italian Alps, is also livid at the “cross-border ski mobility”.

“Customs controls are really limited” he said, calling for more rigorous checks “especially for Italian cars with ski racks and snow on the roof”.

Italian authorities even went as far as blaming Switzerland for the spread of the pandemic across Europe. 

Walter Ricciardi, the head of the Italian government's coronavirus task force, said Switzerland's decision to keep ski slopes open throughout winter, while neighbouring countries shut down theirs, allowed the British strain of coronavirus to arrive on the continent.

READ MORE: Is Switzerland to blame for Europe’s third wave of coronavirus?

A similar situation occurred in December, when French skiers tried to sneak into Switzerland to ski.

France’s authorities quickly announced that French residents heading abroad to ski would have to self-isolate for seven days on return and that border checks would be stepped up in certain areas. 

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What are the Covid-19 rules for skiing in Switzerland this winter?