SWITZERLAND: U.S. Indicts Six Linked to Ihag Singapore Solution.

As published on finews.com, Tuesday 28 September, 2021.

Six bankers were indicted by the U.S. in an alleged scheme to hide more than $60 million from tax authorities via opaque conduits to new, secret accounts at the private bank.

U.S. prosecutors unsealed an indictment against six bankers accused of helping wealthy Americans hide money offshore via Swiss private bank Ihag, according to a statement on Tuesday. The U.S. also indicted Allied Financial Trust AG, a Swiss consulting firm for wealthy individuals.

Prosecutors allege that Allied and Peter Rueegg, Daniel Waelchli, Ivo Bechtiger, Bernhard Lampert, Roderic Sage, and Rolf Schnellmann were behind what they termed a "so-called Singapore solution". The scheme allegedly helped three unnamed "high-value U.S. taxpayer-clients" to conceal assets and income through nominee accounts in Hong Kong and elsewhere.

The indictment marks the widening of a nearly 15-year tax crackdown, thus far focused largely on Switzerland, to other havens. The Swiss clampdown unearthed a trove of data from Swiss banks such as UBS, and more than 50,000 U.S. taxpayers who came clean on their offshore accounts to avoid prosecution. Some, dubbed leavers, sought haven elsewhere.

The three Ihag clients saw their funds "stripped of all indicia of U.S. ownership in order to disguise the true ownership of the accounts and facilitate the clients' tax evasion," justice officials alleged.

Rueegg, formerly the deputy CEO of Ihag, returned to Switzerland last week, after being detained in Spain last month on an international arrest warrant, finews.com reported on Monday. The 61-year-old Swiss banker is charged with hiding $50 million in undeclared money through the Singapore scheme.

Waelchli is in top management of the holding company which controls Ihag, a wealth manager founded in 1949 by industrialist and arms manufacturer Emil Georg Buehrle. Ihag itself entered a U.S. program six years ago to come clean on past tax offenses and avoid prosecution, paying $7.5 million – a move which likely shields it in this respect.

Schnellmann identified himself as a Swiss whistleblower who in 2017 alleged that Ihag hadn't been totally forthcoming in its settlement, as finews.com reported; Lampert appears to control Allied Financial according to his LinkedIn profile (since taken offline); Sage is a former tax consultant based in Hong Kong; Bechtinger appears to be retired.

A guilty plea from one of the three clients led to the indictment of the six bankers: Wayne Chinn, a 79-year-old Vietnamese-American, admitted to hiding more than $5 million over 17 years at Ihag through offshore accounts with nominee names, U.S. officials said.

Chinn and others in 2010 started transferring these funds to Hong Kong, then on to Singapore, where they continued to be managed by Ihag, according to his indictment, which was only unsealed on Tuesday though he pleaded guilty two years ago.

Chinn agreed to forfeit more than $2 million for cheating on his taxes via the "round trip" scheme. This money was repatriated to the U.S. from Singapore. The other two clients, neither of whom are named, are a New York-based hedge fund manager and a resident of North Carolina.

Rueegg, Waelchli, Schnellmann, Sage, Lampert, and Bechtinger are innocent until proven guilty. If convicted, they face up to five years in prison, while Allied faces financial penalties.