Sunday, August 30, 2015
The Department of Justice announced today that Hypothekarbank Lenzburg AG (HBL) has reached a resolution under the department’s Swiss Bank Program.
According to the terms of the non-prosecution agreement signed today, HBL agrees to cooperate in any related criminal or civil proceedings, demonstrate its implementation of controls to stop misconduct involving undeclared U.S. accounts and pay penalties in return for the department’s agreement not to prosecute the bank for tax-related criminal offenses.
HBL was founded in 1868 and is headquartered in Lenzburg, Switzerland. Its principal business, focused on the Canton of Aargau, Switzerland, is issuing mortgages on real property and lending to businesses.
HBL offered a variety of traditional Swiss banking services that it knew could assist, and that did assist, U.S. clients in the concealment of assets and income from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). For example, HBL, upon client request, did not send mail associated with some U.S.-related accounts to the United States. In addition, HBL offered numbered accounts to its clients, a service by which access to information about an account, including the identity of the accountholder, was limited to only certain employees of HBL. In a handful of instances, the accountholders of U.S.-related accounts who refused to provide a Form W-9 or who admitted that they were not tax compliant withdrew significant amounts of cash or physical assets when HBL forced these accounts to be closed.
In or about 2008, Swiss bank UBS AG publicly announced that it was the target of a criminal investigation by the IRS and the department, and that it would be exiting and no longer accepting certain U.S. clients. In a later deferred prosecution agreement, UBS admitted that its cross-border banking business used Swiss privacy law to aid and assist U.S. clients in opening accounts and maintaining undeclared assets and income from the IRS. HBL opened one account for a U.S. person who exited UBS. For another long-standing holder of a U.S.-related account, HBL received a transfer of funds from an account held at UBS into a pre-existing account at HBL.
Another accountholder who resided in the United States for many years had two accounts, one of which was a numbered account. In 2012, the accountholder’s relationship manager requested a Form W-9 for the numbered account and the accountholder refused to provide one. As a result, the relationship manager directed the accountholder to close the numbered account. Thereafter, the accountholder came to Lenzburg to close the numbered account. The accountholder withdrew 240,000 Swiss francs and 12,000 euros and purchased precious metals in the amount of 318,000 Swiss francs.
Since Aug. 1, 2008, HBL had 96 U.S.-related accounts with an aggregate value of $69.8 million. HBL’s average annual revenue attributable to U.S.-related accounts in the form of fees, commissions and earnings on client funds that were loaned out by HBL was $198,000, or a total of $1.2 million since Aug. 1, 2008. HBL will pay a penalty of $560,000.