UBS Shouldn’t Be Treated Like ‘Scum’ in Appeal, Lawyer Says
(Bloomberg) -- A lawyer for UBS Group AG told Paris judges that the Swiss bank shouldn’t be treated like “scum” on the final day of an appeal of a record 4.5 billion-euro ($5.3 billion) fine.
Hervé Temime attacked the data used by prosecutors to calculate the penalty. He said their database was full of errors and it’s “strictly impossible” to determine with certainty the amount of tax avoided by some 17,000 French UBS clients who belatedly declared their accounts in Switzerland.
UBS is challenging the record penalty linked to charges that the Swiss lender helped clients launder funds through numbered accounts and trusts that should have been declared to French tax officials. On Monday, prosecutors conceded that recent guidance from France’s top court forced them to seek a lower fine on appeal, bringing the total fine and damages sought to 3 billion euros.
“It’s not because it’s a Swiss bank that we have less rights than anyone else, that we should be treated like scum,” Temime, a prominent French defense lawyer who joined the case for the appeal, said during closing arguments Wednesday.
The Paris court of appeals said they plan to rule on the substance of the case on Sept. 27. The judges said they will also issue an intermediary decision on constitutional issues in June, which could delay the final ruling if the matter requires review by a higher court.
Temime said UBS’s behavior was “no different, if not sounder” than other banks based in Switzerland, offering standard services. He said the prosecution failed to produce any specific evidence of money laundering by Swiss bankers.
“The bank isn’t fighting back to protect its financial interests, it’s first and foremost defending the honor of those who work and have worked there,” Temime said.
Earlier Wednesday, another UBS lawyer tried to undermine the credibility of some former bank employees who cooperated with the French probe.
Denis Chemla said the bank found that one witness who worked at UBS for 10 years stole 750,000 euros from clients. The man, known only as “witness 119” in the case, became menacing when the lender lodged a complaint.
“What did 119 tell us? ‘Withdraw your complaint or I’ll speak out,’” Chemla said. “We refused to give in and he carried out his threat,” the lawyer said, adding that the man was later convicted of the theft.
Chemla also took a swipe at former UBS bankers Bradley Birkenfeld and Pierre Gerbier-Condamin.
Birkenfeld, a U.S. prosecution witness who served time in prison in an American tax case, “doesn’t know anything about France,” the lawyer claimed. As to Gerbier-Condamin, Chemla said he was fired by UBS after less than a year in the Geneva office for abusively using his work credit card to the tune of 45,000 euros.
Read more: UBS Lawyer Says Ex-Banker Nearly Punched Him in French Probe
The arguments appeared to miss the mark. Presiding Judge Francois Reygrobellet pointed out that concerns about the trustworthiness of witnesses “had been mentioned many times during the first-instance trial.”
Six ex-UBS bankers are also awaiting the appellate ruling. The most high-profile among them, former head of UBS’s wealth-management unit Raoul Weil, is also the only one who was acquitted in 2019 during the first trial. The five others got suspended sentences and fines as high as 300,000 euros.
Weil on Tuesday said the entire affair -- including a U.S. case where he was also acquitted after facing extradition -- was a “nightmare” that lasted more than a decade and “finished his career.”
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