UBS Faces Money Laundering and Fraud Inquiry in Belgium
LONDON — A Belgian magistrate judge is investigating whether the Swiss bank UBS engaged in fraud, money laundering and other crimes in an effort to help wealthy individuals avoid taxes, the Brussels prosecutor’s office said on Friday.
UBS is suspected of having directly approached Belgian customers, without going through its Belgian subsidiary, to encourage clients to engage in transactions meant to evade taxes.
UBS acknowledged the inquiry, but it said little more.
“We take note of various articles in the press, which indicate that an official investigation will be conducted,” a UBS spokesman said. “UBS will continue to defend itself against any unfounded allegations.”
The judicial inquiry came after the Belgian authorities said that they had received “excellent cooperation” from the authorities in France, which has conducted a similar inquiry into UBS’s activities.
UBS was placed under formal investigation in France in July 2014 and ordered to post a bail of more than $1 billion after it was accused of money laundering and tax fraud for helping French clients hide funds from the national tax administration in the period from 2004 to 2012. That case is still underway.
The investigation in Belgium is not the bank’s first run-in with the authorities in that country.
In 2014, Marcel Bruehwiler, the chief executive of UBS’s Belgium business, was charged by the Belgian authorities with money laundering and other crimes after raids at the bank, at his home and at a client’s home.
Later that year, the Belgian private bank Puilaetco Dewaay agreed to acquire UBS Belgium for an undisclosed sum.
Tax authorities in the United States and Europe have been increasingly pursuing individuals who seek to avoid paying taxes and the institutions that assist them.
Assets hidden in Switzerland, because of its strict banking privacy laws, have been a particular target of tax authorities, with several Swiss banks reaching deals with American authorities in recent years.
UBS itself agreed in 2009 to disclose client names and to pay $780 million in a settlement with the United States Justice Department, in which it avoided criminal prosecution in a tax evasion inquiry.