FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — A federal jury acquitted a former top Swiss banking executive of U.S. charges that he conspired with wealthy Americans to hide $20 billion in secret accounts from the Internal Revenue Service.
Jurors deliberated just over an hour before returning the not guilty verdict for Raoul Weil, formerly the No. 3 executive at UBS AG. He had faced up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine if convicted of conspiring to defraud the U.S. government.
"We're obviously pleased with the verdict. This was a case that should never have been brought," said Weil's attorney, Matthew Menchel.
A spokeswoman for prosecutors said they respect the jury's verdict.
"This decision will not impact the department's ongoing commitment to holding offshore tax evaders and those who aid them accountable," U.S. Department of Justice spokeswoman Nicole Navas said in an email.
In the courtroom, Weil hugged his wife and lawyers, clenching both fists when the verdict was announced.
Weil was the highest-ranking Swiss banker prosecuted under an IRS and Justice Department crackdown on Americans' use of offshore accounts to dodge U.S. taxes. In 2009, UBS paid a $780 million U.S. fine and disclosed names of thousands of American account holders to the IRS, many of whom were later prosecuted.
In a closing argument, prosecutor Jason Poole said the case against Weil was simple: He did everything he could to promote and protect a profit-making business that was highly illegal for U.S. taxpayers.
"It's a simple story of greed and making money," Poole said. "It's simple, straightforward, offshore tax evasion. He was participating in it. He was involved."
Weil, 54, did not testify and his defense attorneys put no witnesses on the stand. In his closing argument, Menchel blamed wrongdoing on lower-ranking UBS bankers acting without Weil's knowledge and suggested many of the government's ex-UBS witnesses were unreliable because they were given immunity from prosecution.
"Who are the criminals here? Who are the ones that should be punished instead of getting sweetheart deals?" Menchel said. "It had nothing to do with Raoul Weil or anybody above him."
Menchel also suggested that it was the wealthy Americans who were to blame for evading taxes because bank secrecy was protected by Swiss law.
"Whose obligation was it to pay the taxes? The taxpayer's," he said.
The trial centered on events that took place from 2002 to 2008, when Weil was UBS global head of wealth management. He left UBS in 2009 and had been chief executive officer at another Swiss bank, Reuss Private Group, since 2010. He was arrested while vacationing in Bologna, Italy in 2013 on a U.S. fugitive warrant.
In all, prosecutors said about 17,000 U.S. taxpayers concealed assets from the IRS in the UBS accounts.
Another former UBS banker, Bradley Birkenfeld, provided U.S. officials with a vast trove of information that pierced the veil of secrecy that has long hidden Swiss bank accounts. Birkenfeld nevertheless served more than 2 1/2 years in federal prison for his role in the tax evasion, but then was awarded more than $104 million by the IRS under a whistleblower program.
Follow Curt Anderson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Miamicurt