Credit Suisse faces investigation by Belgian prosecutors over hidden accounts

August 24, 2020.

Belgian prosecutors have launched an investigation to see if helped around 2,650 clients who are Belgian residents hide their money from tax authorities.

Last year, the Belgian federal prosecutor’s office retrieved a list of Belgian residents holding an active account between 2003 and 2014 with the second-largest bank in Switzerland, Eric Van Duyse, a spokesperson for the prosecutor office, said on Monday.

“For this reason, a file was opened to inform on money laundering and illegal exercise of the profession of financial intermediary at the expense of Credit Suisse as well as the Belgian clients/residents of Credit Suisse who have not yet regularized their situation,” Duyse added. 

News of the investigation was first reported by L’Echo, a Belgian business newspaper, on Saturday.  

“Credit Suisse applies a strict zero tolerance policy and wishes to conduct business with clients who have paid their taxes and fully declared their assets,” Credit Suisse spokesperson Karina Byrne told Fastinform on Monday. 

“We strictly comply with all the applicable laws, rules and regulations in the markets in which we operate,” Byrne said. 

The investigation is at the information-gathering stage and no charges have been brought, Bloomberg reported. Prosecutors also received the account data from French authorities last year, Bloomberg said. 

Other Swiss banks have been facing similar probes as a global tax crackdown is forcing the country to let go of its tradition of banking secrecy, which made disclosing client information to third parties without consent a crime. 

In 2018, Swiss tax agency the Federal Tax Administration started exchanging bank account data with tax authorities in other countries for the first time, and individuals could no longer hide funds in Swiss banks. 

That came after Switzerland in 2004 agreed to apply a European Union tax on savings income. The European Union and Switzerland upgraded that agreement in 2015 and signed on an automatic exchange of financial account information, in a bid to “clamp down on tax fraud and tax evasion.”

In August 2019, ’s Swiss arm agreed to pay EUR 294.4 million ($329 million) to settle a similar tax fraud case in Belgium. 

Credit Suisse's main rival was fined EUR 4.5 billion ($5.3 billion) in February 2019,  after allegedly helping rich clients in France hide funds in offshore accounts. UBS said it would appeal. 

The U.S. Justice Department has also received settlements from Swiss banks for allegedly helping Americans hide money in Switzerland in the past years, including $2.6 billion from Credit Suisse in 2014, $780 million from UBS in 2009, $547 million from Julius Baier in 2016 and $192 million from HSBC’s Swiss branch in 2019.