US billionaire sues UBS in tax case

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A billionaire who pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return involving foreign banking accounts is accusing the Swiss bank of duping him into skirting US tax laws.

18 September 2008

SANTA ANA -- A billionaire who pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return involving foreign banking accounts has filed a lawsuit alleging Swiss bank UBS AG duped him into skirting US tax laws.

Russian-born California real estate developer Igor Olenicoff filed the lawsuit Tuesday in US District Court in Santa Ana in Southern California, accusing the bank of telling him his fortune would be invested in accordance with US tax laws then hiding it in offshore entities.

The lawsuit carries similar accusations against financial entities in the tiny European nation of Liechtenstein, where UBS allegedly moved Olenicoff's USD 200 million (CHF 220 million) in investments.

"When you're told by professionals - 'Trust us: we're experts in this field ' - how many more professionals do you have to go to before you say I trust you?" said William J King, Olenicoff's attorney.

The lawsuit, which seeks USD 500 million in compensation and damages, also accuses officials at some of the foreign businesses of investing Olenicoff's savings in risky investments against his will.

Karina Byrne, a spokeswoman for UBS in New York, would not comment on the allegations. "We intend to vigorously defend ourselves in this litigation," she said.

In July, a US Senate subcommittee accused UBS and a Liechtenstein bank of helping wealthy Americans evade billions in taxes each year.

That was a month after former UBS private banker Bradley Birkenfeld pleaded guilty to defrauding the Internal Revenue Service, the US tax agency. Birkenfeld has said UBS has about USD 20 billion in assets in undeclared accounts for US taxpayers.

The IRS has asked the Swiss government for help in its investigation of possible tax evasion by the US clients of UBS.

The bank has said it is cooperating with Swiss and American investigations and will disclose records involving US clients who might have broken tax laws.

Olenicoff pleaded guilty in 2007 and paid USD 52 million to the IRS in back taxes, penalties and interest. He was sentenced to two years probation and 120 hours of community service.

[AP / Expatica]

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