Ex-UBS Banker Wonders What He’s Doing in $5.3 Billion ‘Mess’

A former executive at UBS Group AG’s French unit says he’s still wondering what he’s being accused of a decade after the start of an investigation which led to a record 4.5 billion-euro ($5.3 billion) penalty for the Swiss bank.

Patrick de Fayet, formerly general manager at the French unit, said that it was “an extraordinary opportunity” for him to join UBS France in 2003 and he’s proud of having worked there.

UBS is challenging a 3.7 billion-euro fine and a further 800 million euros in damages linked to charges that the Swiss lender helped clients launder funds that should have been declared to French tax officials.

“I’m still wondering what we’re doing in this mess,” de Fayet told the Paris court of appeals Tuesday. “It was no fun going through what we went through,” referring the fact that he and another banker were interrogated by investigators while in custody.

On Monday, prosecutors conceded that recent guidance from France’s top court forced them to seek a lower fine on appeal and requested a 2 billion-euro fine. The French state, which is a plaintiff in the case, is also seeking 1 billion euros in damages from the bank, for a total of a 3 billion euro penalty.

De Fayet is among a group of five former UBS bankers who were also convicted in 2019. He was accused of having acted in tandem with UBS’s Swiss bankers to unlawfully seek out new clients in France that would move funds to undeclared accounts. He was given a suspended sentence of 12 months and fined 200,000 euros.

De Fayet’s lawyer criticized prosecutors for developing a theory about the Swiss bank’s alleged “fundamental guilt” that trickled down onto its employees.

The lawyer, Jean-Yves Le Borgne, said there’s no evidence that illegal financial services were offered by Swiss bankers during client events such as hunting trips or golfing, as alleged by prosecutors.

“You don’t know a thing, neither do I,”Le Borgne told judges in closing arguments. “It’s extraordinarily blurry.”

The lawyer then parodied the prosecution’s reasoning.

“You’re not going to make me believe that the lack of proof is a sign of lack of guilt?”

The lawyer said that hosting events was simply a “refined” way of tending to the bank’s brand image and that an “abstract hope” of gaining a new client doesn’t equal unlawful solicitation.

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