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France launches sweeping tax probe into undeclared Swiss bank accounts

Credit Suisse headquarters in Zurich, July 28, 2011. Reuters/Christian Hartmann

French prosecutors announced on Friday they had opened an investigation into Swiss bank accounts that were not declared to France’s tax authorities.

They suspect thousands of such accounts have been used to evade French taxes, which would amount to "aggravated dissimulation of tax fraud".

Credit Suisse, Switzerland’s number two bank, confirmed on Friday that its offices in Paris had been visited by local authorities, as well as its offices in London and Amsterdam.

The bank confirmed in a statement that it was “cooperating with authorities”.

Corresponding probes worldwide

The move is part of a coordinated international tax evasion probe carried out by other European countries and Australia.

While it has not been confirmed that Credit Suisse is the main target of investigations, authorities in these countries have affirmed that Swiss banks are at the heart of the probe.

Dutch prosecutors have announced that dozens are being investigated for tax fraud and money laundering, and that “administrative records” were seized from a “Swiss bank” on Thursday.

“Properties, and jewellery, an expensive car, expensive paintings and a gold bar,” were also seized from homes throughout the Netherlands, added the statement from the Dutch Office for Serious Fraud, Environmental Crime and Asset Confiscation (FIOD).

Australian revenue and financial services minister Kelly O’Dwyer said that more than 300 people “with links to Swiss banking relationship managers” had been identified by investigators.

The minister added that investigators aim to “move quickly” to seek out those who commit tax evasion or fraud.

Britain’s Revue and Customs office also said that it had launched a criminal probe into “a global financial institution” for tax evasion.

“The first phase of the investigation, which will see further, targeted activity over the coming weeks, is focused on senior employees from within the institution, along with a number of its customers,” the London statement said.

Bern allegedly unaware of probe

According to Switzerland’s ATS news agency, the country’s attorney general’s office was not aware of the operations and demanded a written explanation from Dutch officials concerning the lack of cooperation.

The coordinated probe comes as Credit Suisse rolls out its new Automatic Exchange of Information programme designed to share taxpayer information with relevant global authorities as part of a wider Swiss crackdown on money laundering and secretive banking.

However, this is not the first time Swiss banks, Credit Suisse in particular, have been targeted in fraud investigations.

Regulators in the United States fined the bank 2.6 million dollars in 2014 for helping American clients evade taxes.

(with AFP)