A former Swiss banker who once worked at a subsidiary of the beleaguered Credit Suisse financial institution pleaded guilty Wednesday to helping U.S. residents hide their money from tax collectors in offshore accounts.
Andreas Bachmann is the first of eight Swiss bank officials — most of them connected to Credit Suisse — to admit wrongdoing in the case, which dates to 2011, when prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia charged the group with conspiring to defraud the United States.
The plea comes a few weeks after Credit Suisse agreed to pay $196 million to settle Securities and Exchange Commission charges that it advised U.S. clients without the required registration. As part of his plea agreement, Bachmann has also agreed to cooperate with federal investigators, which could spell more trouble for the Swiss banking giant and Bachmann’s former customers in particular.
“What it means is there’s a real likelihood that he’s going to be providing information regarding his clients and some of the bank’s activities to the Department of Justice,” said Bryan Skarlatos, a lawyer at the New York firm of Kostelanetz & Fink who specializes in tax cases. “That’s the real significance.”
Bachmann, 56, admitted in a statement that he had worked in various banking positions since 1974, including for a Credit Suisse subsidiary from about 1994 to 2006. In that role, he had about 25 or 30 U.S. clients and managed a number of undeclared Swiss accounts for them to avoid IRS detection. He also admitted that he continued his illicit work after he left the subsidiary, joining another company and taking with him about 20 U.S. clients.
In one instance, Bachmann said, he advised a client to transfer money from an undisclosed Swiss account in installments of less than $10,000 each to avoid detection, according to the statement. In others, he advised against clients keeping hard copies of statements that U.S. investigators could seize.
Bachmann was one of eight people indicted in 2011 for alleged wrongdoing on the part of several former Credit Suisse executives and bankers. The indictment alleged that the bankers moved funds around institutions so they would be harder for the IRS to trace and even discouraged a few account holders from participating in an IRS program to voluntarily disclose their offshore assets and pay penalties. Bachmann, according to his agreement, advised U.S. customers starting in 2009 to disclose their assets but continued managing offshore accounts for those who refused to do so.
The indictment and Bachmann’s plea agreement do not name Credit Suisse, but other court records do. The indictment and other records say Bachmann worked for a number of Swiss financial institutions and that he hardly worked alone.
In his statement, Bachmann said that personnel at Credit Suisse did nothing to ensure compliance with an agreement the institution had with the IRS and that management at the subsidiary where Bachmann worked had “first-hand knowledge” that some employees were violating it.
According to the plea agreement, after Bachmann complained about the legal limits on his activities in the United States, one executive told him something to the effect of: “You know what we expect of you — don’t get caught.”
Court records show Bachmann is the only one in the indicted group to formally answer the charges. Calvin Mitchell, a Credit Suisse spokesman, confirmed that Bachmann left a subsidiary of Credit Suisse in 2006, but declined to comment further.
U.S. authorities have for years prosecuted Swiss bank executives or worked out financial settlements with Swiss banks for various misdeeds, though in recent weeks, legislators have criticized them as not going far enough. A Senate subcommittee report last month cast the Justice Department as particularly ineffective in getting Credit Suisse to turn over the names of some of its 22,000 U.S. customers.
Responding to that report, a Justice Department spokesman said prosecutors have charged 73 account holders and 35 bankers and advisers with offshore tax evasion offenses since 2009. The U.S. and Swiss governments agreed last year to allow some Swiss banks to voluntarily disclose wrongdoing and American customer information — and pay fines — to avoid prosecution. The deal did not cover the 14 Swiss banks, including Credit Suisse, that were already being investigated by the Justice Department.
William Burck, Bachmann’s lawyer, declined to comment on the guilty plea. Bachmann faces a maximum five years in prison at his Aug. 8 sentencing, although federal guidelines spell out a worst-case scenario of 3 years and 10 months, Burck said during the hearing.