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Belgium investigates Credit Suisse over hidden bank accounts

Belgian prosecutors have launched an investigation into whether Swiss bank Credit Suisse helped some 2,650 Belgians hide money in Swiss accounts.

The investigation by federal prosecutors is at the information-gathering stage, looking for evidence of money laundering and whether the Swiss bank acted as an illegal financial intermediary, a spokesman for the prosecutors said on Monday. However, no formal charges have been brought.

The probe concerns accounts held between 2003 and 2014 on which Belgian prosecutors received information last year from French authorities, who have also conducted their own investigations into the bank and French customers.

The spokesman said the case concerned up to 2,650 Belgian clients, although some may have already declared their funds to the tax authorities.

“We strictly comply with all the applicable laws, rules and regulations in the markets in which we operate,” Credit Suisse told Reuters in a reply to a request for comment on the investigation.

The bank wishes to conduct business with clients who have paid their taxes and fully declared their assets, it added.

Over the past decade Swiss banks have been caught in tax crackdowns after investigations by European and United States authorities.

UBS was the first Swiss bank to be charged with aiding and abetting US tax evaders – a case that sparked the end of Swiss banking secrecy, the demise of Wegelin private bank and a number of other convictions and settlements. 

It then faced an ongoing legal battle in France where it was fined a record €4.5 billion in February 2019 for helping wealthy French clients stash undeclared funds in offshore accounts. UBS has denied any wrongdoing and appealed but the Covid-19 pandemic has delayed the process.

In 2016, Belgium charged UBS with money laundering and serious and organised tax fraud. Prosecutors suspected the Swiss bank of having directly, and not via its Belgian subsidiary, approached Belgian clients to convince them to set up structures aimed at evading taxes. UBS denied the charges.

In August 2019 HSBC’s Swiss private banking arm agreed to pay nearly €294m to settle a Belgian criminal probe into allegations it helped wealthy clients dodge hundreds of millions of euros in taxes.