Tax fraud in a Swiss bank

Belgian state prosecutors have escalated a probe into UBS over allegations of money laundering and organised tax fraud at the Swiss bank.

The Brussels state prosecutor’s office said on Friday that the “bank is suspected of having directly approached Belgian customers (without going through its Belgian subsidiary) with the goal of encouraging them to sign up to tax-evasion structure”.

The investigation includes “laundering, exercising illegally the profession of financial intermediary in Belgium, and serious and organised tax fraud”.

The announcement marks a deepening of the probe into what is known in the Belgian legal system as an “inculpation”. It means that the judge investigating the case believes that there are serious indications of wrongdoing. The status also grants extra rights to the company being investigated in terms of its involvement in the inquiry.

UBS said in a statement: “The Belgian authorities have confirmed today by way of a press release that the investigating magistrate has opened a formal investigation against UBS AG.”

“Any discussion of potential charges at this stage is premature,” it said.

The case is being handled by Michel Claise, a Belgian investigating magistrate who is a specialist in financial crime.

Mr Claise opened his investigation into UBS in 2014. The probe was prompted by information gleaned from a UBS compliance officer turned whistleblower, who has since left the bank.

That followed the opening of a formal investigation into the bank in France for alleged complicity in having illicitly solicited clients on French territory.

The Brussels prosecutor’s office said it had been able to pursue the case to this point thanks to “excellent co-operation” with the French authorities. The office declined to provide further information.

UBS said that it “will continue to defend itself against any unfounded allegations.

” Friday’s move follows a decision by Belgium in 2014 to charge Marcel Bruehwiler, then chief executive of UBS’s Belgium unit, with alleged involvement in a multibillion-euro tax fraud.

Mr Bruehwiler denies the charges and UBS has since sold this part of its operations. The Swiss bank declined to comment on Mr Bruehwiler’s employment status.