Attorneys for a former UBS executive who was declared a fugitive from justice said Wednesday that their client did not do anything illegal when he ran the bank's US cross-border banking services.
Raoul Weil, 49, was in charge of wealth management at UBS. Weil was indicted in November with conspiring to hide $20 billion in assets from the Internal Revenue Service by using secret, overseas accounts for thousands of wealthy customers.
He relinquished his duties at the bank in November, pending the outcome of the case.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge James Cohn declared Weil a fugitive from justice; it was largely a procedural step required when an indicted person has made no effort to appear in court or surrender.
The November indictment said that from 2002 and 2007, Weil, as chief of UBS's wealth management business, helped about 20,000 U.S. clients conceal assets in offshore accounts. About 17,000 of the customers hid their identities and their Swiss bank accounts from the IRS and many of them filed false income tax returns.
At the same time, the cross-border business earned about $200 million for UBS from 2002 to 2007, according to U.S. authorities. Prosecutors said Weil referred to the business as "toxic waste" because it put UBS at odds with U.S. tax law.
IRS officials said that the agency is aggressively pursuing anyone who helps wealthy people hide their assets offshore and dodge the tax system.
UBS aggressively marketed its tax evasion business to wealthy people in the U.S., making some 3,800 visits in 2004 alone to discuss accounts with clients. The bank used encrypted laptops, numbered accounts and other "countersurveillance techniques" to guarantee secrecy, the indictment said.
In a statement e-mailed to The Associated Press on Wednesday, UBS said it "continues to work towards a resolution of this matter nothwithstanding the news of this procedural step."
The statement added: "The bank is fully committed to continuing its efforts to cooperate with the investigation of its US cross-border business and to working in a responsible manner with all relevant authorities towards a satisfactory resolution of this matter."
Weil's attorneys have said previously that he is in Switzerland.
"Mr. Weil denies any suggestion that he engaged in any illegal conduct in the operation of UBS's U.S.-cross-border business," Weil's attorney, Aaron Marcu, wrote in an e-mail on Wednesday. "We fully intend to fight this totally unjustified indictment and look forward to vindicating Mr. Weil's good name."
The Weil indictment followed a guilty plea in July in federal court in Fort Lauderdale by former UBS executive Bradley Birkenfeld to a similar charge of conspiracy to defraud the U.S.
Birkenfeld, whose clients included several people with South Florida ties, has yet to be sentenced and has been cooperating with federal investigators looking into UBS practices.