Two charged in Swiss bank tax evasion scheme

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The United States widened efforts to crack Swiss bank secrecy codes by indicting on Thursday a banker who moved from UBS AG to another bank and a Zurich lawyer, on charges of helping wealthy Americans hide their assets from U.S. tax authorities.

U.S. officials have tried for years to pierce Switzerland's famed bank secrecy rules. On Wednesday they reached a pact to get details of 4,450 accounts of Americans from giant bank UBS as well as help find accounts at other Swiss banks.

We encourage foreign banks to come forward and disclose their conduct immediately before we learn about their criminal conduct from U.S. taxpayers, said John DiCicco, the acting head of the Justice Department's tax division.

In a South Florida court, banker Hansruedi Schumacher and lawyer Matthias Rickenbach were accused of a conspiracy for encouraging Americans to switch from UBS to Neue Zuercher Bank, a private bank, in a bid to conceal their wealth.

They allegedly argued that NZB would be better protected from U.S. tax authorities because it did not have operations on American soil, according to the U.S. Justice Department and Internal Revenue Service.

The two were also accused of helping their American clients move their money back to the United States in ways that would avoid detection and avoid taxes.

Schumacher worked at UBS from the late 1990s through mid-2002 before moving to NZB, where he worked through at least July 2009. The Justice Department declined to say whether he was still employed by the bank or discuss his current whereabouts.

An NZB representative in Switzerland was not immediately available for comment.

The U.S. Internal Revenue Service has given Americans until September 23 to disclose assets and accounts hidden overseas and avoid criminal prosecution. They still would face significant financial penalties that could wipe out the assets.

Under the agreement signed on Wednesday between Swiss and U.S. officials, Berne has agreed to process other requests by the United States seeking information from banks besides UBS about account holders suspected of evading U.S. taxes.

(Reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, Editing by Sandra Maler and Gerald E. McCormick)

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