Swiss Banker Seeks Bail in U.S. Without Going to Court
A Swiss banker accused of helping U.S. clients cheat on their taxes wants a judge to grant him bail without his having to appear first in a New York courtroom.
Stefan Buck, who was Bank Frey & Co.’s head of private banking in Switzerland and an executive board member, was indicted in April 2013 on a charge of conspiring to help clients hide millions of dollars from the Internal Revenue Service in offshore assets.
Buck, who hasn’t appeared in federal court in New York, asked for a bail package without leaving Switzerland, which doesn’t extradite its citizens for tax offenses.
“In a case such as this, where the defendant wishes to leave the ‘safe haven’ of Switzerland to appear in a U.S. court to clear his name, the government, most respectfully, should be open to practical solutions to this laudable result,” according to a Nov. 18 filing by Buck’s attorney Marc Agnifilo.
Buck, 34, is one of three dozen foreign bankers, lawyers and advisers charged by U.S. prosecutors fighting offshore tax evasion. Several pleaded guilty, including Buck’s co-defendant Edgar Paltzer, 58, a Swiss lawyer who is cooperating with prosecutors and returned to Switzerland while on bail. Last month, former UBS AG global wealth-management chief Raoul Weil was acquitted of tax conspiracy charges.
Jerika Richardson, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara in New York, declined to comment on the request. Agnifilo also declined to comment.
Buck met for two days of interviews, known as proffers, with an assistant U.S. attorney and two IRS agents, and “has endeavored to commence his defense of these charges under reasonable circumstances,” according to the filing.
Federal defendants under indictment must appear before a judge for a bail hearing. The judge reviews a background report prepared by the Pretrial Services office, an arm of the court, and weighs arguments by prosecutors and defense lawyers on whether a defendant might flee or is a risk to the community.
Agnifilo said that while “there is no statute that prevents” a bail hearing without Buck’s presence, prosecutors have said they won’t allow Buck to return home to Switzerland after appearing in the U.S. By making Buck stay in the U.S. after such a hearing, prosecutors are “not providing a practical or reasonable solution,” Agnifilo wrote.
The defense case poses “unprecedented difficulties,” including that the bank has documents that may point to Buck’s innocence, yet Swiss law prevents their disclosure. The process of securing those documents will be lengthy, Agnifilo wrote.
“Clearly, if his intent is to evade the U.S. justice system, he would remain in Switzerland,” according to the filing. “But, he is looking to come to the U.S. to engage our justice system, and we should attempt to accommodate this meritorious decision.”
Agnifilo proposed a $500,000 bail package requiring Buck to post $100,000 in cash.
Prosecutors charge that Paltzer and Buck opened and maintained accounts that U.S. taxpayers didn’t declare to the IRS. They used sham foundations to conceal the ownership of accounts, and they helped clients move money to the U.S., according to prosecutors.
At the time of Paltzer’s guilty plea, his lawyer, Thomas Ostrander, said he’s cooperating with U.S. authorities.
“His cooperation is complete and without any limitation,” Ostrander said at the time. “He very quickly made a decision to face these charges and come to the U.S.”
From March 2009 to February 2012, Bank Frey experienced an increase of about 300 percent in clients who were U.S. taxpayers, Bharara said in a statement at the time of the indictment.
As of Sept. 30, 2012, the bank had about 2 billion Swiss francs ($2.06 billion) in assets under management, according to the indictment. About 882.5 million francs, or 44 percent of the total, was held on behalf of U.S. taxpayers living in the U.S., according to prosecutors.