The federal prosecutor’s office in Brussels has opened a criminal investigation into the Swiss bank Credit Suisse, in particular the dealings of 2,600 Belgian clients suspected of using Swiss bank accounts to evade taxes.
“A criminal investigation has been opened against Credit Suisse for money laundering and unlawfully acting as a financial intermediary, as well as against Belgian customers who have not yet undergone tax regularisation.”
On several occasions, the tax authorities in Belgium have offered a partial amnesty to anyone wishing to repatriate money hidden in accounts abroad, making it possible for them to launder their money legally on payment of a penalty.
The investigation was triggered by leaked documents detailing 2,600 Belgian clients of the bank – the second-biggest in Switzerland – who held accounts there between 2003 and 2014. The documents were passed by the French authorities to their Belgian counterparts.
The object of the operation was to hide the money in the Credit Suisse accounts from the Belgian tax authorities – a practice that better international cooperation is making more and more difficult, though still not impossible.
In some cases, the money concerned disappeared into strawman companies established in tax havens specifically to act as smoke-screens to tax investigators by making it impossible to find out who the owners of the companies really are.
“We are not aware of an investigation against Credit Suisse in Belgium,” a spokesman for the bank told Belga news agency.
“Credit Suisse has a strict zero tolerance policy and only wants to do business with customers who have paid their taxes and fully declared their assets. We strictly comply with all laws, rules and guidelines that apply in the markets in which we operate.”
Meanwhile the tax authorities are ready to carry out their own investigation based of another set of leaked documents they received earlier this year from an undisclosed source.
“At the beginning of this year, information was communicated to us about Belgians with accounts at Credit Suisse,” said finance ministry spokesperson Francis Adyns.
“That data is being analysed, but the investigations have not really started yet so as not to obstruct the criminal investigation. We cannot give more information at this time.”
In a previous case, the Belgian authorities investigated another bank, HSBC, and uncovered 3,137 accounts belonging to 2,450 Belgian clients accused of using similar means to avoid taxation.
At the end of the investigation last October, the tax authorities reached a settlement with the bank of €295 million in penalties, as well as recouping half a billion euros in back taxes and penalties from clients involved.
In that case too, the case was launched by the leak of documents by a former HSBC employee to the French authorities, who passed them on to Brussels.