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Credit Suisse offices searched in tax evasion probe

In an internationally coordinated investigation, authorities in five countries searched offices of Swiss banking giant Credit Suisse. Prosecutors are investigating tax evasion by the bank's clients.

Swiss bank Credit Suisse has been dragged into yet more tax evasion and money laundering investigations, after a tip-off to Dutch prosecutors about 55,000 suspect accounts triggered raids in five countries.

Coordinated raids began on Thursday in the Netherlands, Britain, Germany, France and Australia, the Dutch office for financial crimes prosecution (FIOD) said on Friday.

While prosecutors did not name the bank, Swiss banking giant Credit Suisse said that its offices in Amsterdam, London and Paris had been "visited" on Thursday as part of investigations into clients' tax matters.

Eurojust, the European Union's judicial cooperation agency, said authorities in Britain, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Australia took part in an "action day" Thursday against companies and individuals in an operation begun by Dutch prosecutors and tax authorities following a Dutch probe opened last year.

"The undeclared assets hidden within offshore accounts and policies are estimated in the millions of euros," Eurojust said. It added that questioning of witnesses was continuing, that more actions were expected in coming weeks, and that international cooperation "will be intensified."

Jewellery, paintings, gold

Dutch fiscal investigators arrested two suspects. They seized "administrative records as well as the contents of bank accounts, immovable properties, and jewellery, an expensive car, expensive paintings and a gold bar," prosecutors said. "In the next few weeks, more operations will be carried out," the Dutch prosecutors announced.

Similar operations in Britain, France, Germany and Australia all focused on clients who "deposited their money in the same Swiss bank", according to FIOD.

Britain's tax authority said it had launched a tax-evasion and money-laundering probe against an international financial institution, some of its senior employees and a number of its customers.

"The international reach of this investigation sends a clear message that there is no hiding place for those seeking to evade tax," Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs said in a statement. Would-be tax cheats "need to wake up to reality and accept that attempting to hide wealth overseas, or within institutions, doesn't work."

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Global banks helped wealthy hide assets

France's financial prosecution office said that about 25 customs investigators had carried out searches and questioned people across the country as part of an internationally coordinated investigation. The probe had revealed "several thousand" bank accounts opened in Switzerland and not declared to French tax authorities, the office said, also without naming any financial institution.

German prosecutors confirmed they were involved in the investigation and cooperating with authorities in other countries. "We have launched an investigation against clients of a bank," said a spokesman for the prosecutor's office in Cologne, declining to identify the lender.

In Australia, revenue and financial services minister Kelly O'Dwyer said investigators there had identified more than 346 people "with links to Swiss banking relationship managers" who allegedly promoted tax evasion.

Switzerland taken by surprise

"We are cooperating with authorities," Credit Suisse said in a statement from Zurich. The bank stressed that it has been complying with Dutch, French and British tax rules, and that it has severed its ties with clients who do not pay their taxes.

The office of the Swiss attorney general criticized the fact that other countries had made a conscious decision not to inform Switzerland about the probe, and demanded a written explanation from Dutch officials in particular over the lack of cooperation, according to Swiss news agency ATS.

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. 

Credit Suisse has previously been in the crosshairs of tax officials. US regulators fined the bank $2.6 billion (2.4 billion euros) in 2014 for helping Americans evade taxes.

bea/uhe (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

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