Oldest private Swiss bank Wegelin to close after guilty plea
When Wegelin last February became the first foreign bank in recent memory to be indicted by U.S. authorities, it vowed to resist the charges. The bank, founded in 1741, was declared a fugitive from justice when its Swiss-based executives failed to
appear in U.S. court.
The surprise plea effectively ended the U.S. case against Wegelin, one of the most aggressive bank crackdowns in U.S. history.
"Once the matter is finally concluded, Wegelin will cease to operate as a bank," Wegelin said in a statement on Thursday from its headquarters in the remote, small town of St. Gallen next to the Appenzell Alps near the German-Austrian border.
But the fate of three Wegelin bankers, indicted in January 2012 on charges later modified to include the bank, remains up in the air. Under criminal procedural rules, the cases of the three bankers - Michael Berlinka, Urs Frei and Roger Keller -
are still pending.
Although Wegelin had about a dozen branches, all in Switzerland, at the time of its indictment, it moved quickly to wind down its business, partly through a sale of its non-U.S. assets to regional Swiss bank Raiffesen Gruppe.
A corporate indictment can be a death knell. In 2002, accounting firm Arthur Andersen went out of business after being found guilty over its role in failed energy company Enron Corp.
A 2005 Supreme Court ruling later overturned the conviction, but it was too late to save the company.
Wegelin, a partnership of Swiss private bankers, was already a shadow of its former self - it effectively broke itself up following the indictment last year by selling the non-U.S. portion of its business.
Dozens of Swiss bankers and their clients have been indicted in recent years, following a 2009 agreement by UBS AG, the largest Swiss bank, to enter into a deferred-prosecution agreement, turn over 4,450 client names and pay a $780 million fine after admitting to criminal wrongdoing in selling tax-evasion services to wealthy Americans.
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