SWITZERLAND'S oldest private bank is to close permanently after pleading guilty to helping Americans evade taxes through secret accounts.
Wegelin, established in 1741, admitted that for more than ten years it helped dozens of wealthy Americans evade US taxes by concealing more than $1.2bn (£740m) from the Internal Revenue Service.
As part of its guilty plea – the first by a foreign bank to tax charges and the first time that a foreign bank has been indicted for facilitating tax evasion by US taxpayers – Wegilin will pay around $20m to the IRS and pay a $22.05m fine.
US attorney Preet Bharara said: "The bank wilfully and aggressively jumped in to fill a void that was left when other Swiss banks abandoned the practice due to pressure from US law enforcement.
"Wegelin became a haven for US taxpayers seeking to circumvent the tax code by hiding their money in secret off-shore accounts."
Bharara hailed the plea as a "watershed moment in our efforts to hold to account both the individuals and the banks – wherever they may be in the world – who are engaging in unlawful conduct that deprives the US Treasury of billions of dollars of tax revenue".
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