Swiss banking giant UBS and the American tax authorities signed an agreement last week concluding the tax evasion affair which has stirred up the banking and business world.
The agreement was reached following a threat made by the United States' tax authorities to sue the bank, if it failed to provide the names of 52,000 American clients holding secret bank accounts in UBS. Such a lawsuit threatened to cause severe damage to the Swiss bank, but the trial was prevented at the last moment.
The details of the agreement are still secret, but more and more elements have been revealed in the past few days. It appears that the bank would not have to expose all 52,000 names, but would be forced in the coming months to hand over to the US tax authorities the details of 5,000 to 10,000 Americans who own UBS bank accounts.
According to reports on the Swiss and American media, many of the disclosed accounts belong to Holocaust survivors and their heirs. According to lawyers representing UBS clients in the US, quite a few have already turned themselves in to the authorities.
According to the agreement, the Americans would allow the suspected clients to turn themselves in to the authorities until September 23, in order to let them take care of their business and emerge from this situation with relatively small fines. A person whose name will be transferred by the bank to the tax authorities after refusing to uncover himself will be at risk of a big fine and may even be arrested.
5 groups at riskThe lawyers explained that the account owners at risk are divided into five groups. The first includes many Holocaust survivors and their heirs, who chose to hide their money in a historically neutral country.
The second group consists of account owners involved in criminal activity, who have used the secret accounts in order to launder their money. The third group includes American citizens attempting to evade taxes.
The fourth group consists of Americans holding another citizenship, who chose to transfer their money to UBS in Switzerland due to the political stability in the country. The fifth group is of "asset protectors", who are trying to avoid compensation agreements due to negligence or divorce proceedings.
Attorney Bryan Skarlatos of New York, who represents a large group of clients whose names will be turned over to the US authorities, explained that at least half of his 250 clients were Holocaust survivors.
"I have never seen so many people with tears in my office," he said.