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Italy tax-dodging probe leads to Bermuda

Probe: Italy's tax police raided Credit Suisse's Milan offices

A Bermuda-based subsidiary of a Swiss bank is at the centre of a probe by the Italian tax police into alleged tax-dodging involving around $9.45 billion.

Officers from the Guardia di Finanza searched the offices of Credit Suisse in Milan last month in connection with a series of investigations involving Swiss banks, including Credit Suisse, and their dealings with wealthy clients and hidden offshore accounts.

A spokeswoman for Zurich-based Credit Suisse told Reuters: “We can confirm that the Guardia di Finanza has conducted searches at our premises in Milan and that we are cooperating fully with the authorities.”

But she declined to comment on the reasons for the searches or on Italian media reports that the searches were linked to an investigation into the tax affairs of 1,000 wealthy Italians.

According to the Italian media, the checks involved a life and pensions subsidiary based in Bermuda, which offered insurance products that authorities suspect allowed wealthy clients to hide funds offshore.

A spokesman for the Bermuda Police Service said no approach had been made by the Guardia di Finanza for assistance into the probe.

A spokesman for the Island’s financial services watchdog the Bermuda Monetary Authority declined to comment on whether it was aware of the probe or if it had been asked to assist the Italian authorities.

He said: “With respect to your questions, it should be noted that for legal reasons, the Bermuda Monetary Authority does not publicly comment on whether it is investigating an issue or entity, or whether it is aware of or involved with investigations being carried out elsewhere.

“Comments made before or during an investigation may prejudice the outcome by implying wrongdoing. The Authority may make information public, if appropriate, on the conclusion of the process.”

The Italian tax police search of the Credit Suisse office came against a background of increasing pressure on Switzerland’s strict banking secrecy laws.

The Guardia di Finanza declined to comment on the search or its investigations.

Credit Suisse last year became the largest bank in decades to plead guilty to a $3 billion criminal charge in the US, which involved helping rich Americans avoid paying taxes through the use of secret offshore accounts.

The bank, the second-biggest in Switzerland, was forced to stump up $2.6 billion in the case, brought by the US Justice Department.

US. Attorney General Eric Holder told a news conference after the May guilty plea that Credit Suisse “engaged in an extensive and wide-ranging conspiracy to help tax cheats dodge US taxes.”

Switzerland’s largest bank, UBS, in 2009 entered a deferred prosecution agreement with the Justice Department in which it agreed to pay $780 million in fines and turn over the names of thousands of customers suspected of evading US taxes.

And the country’s oldest bank, Wegelin & Co, pleaded guilty in January 2013 to US tax charges, admitting that it helped American clients hide more than $1.2 billion from the American Internal Revenue Service.