Five questions answered on the closure of Switzerland’s oldest bank

Weglin pleads guilty to charges.

Swiss bank Wegelin has announced it will close after being hit with a fine from the US authorities. We answer five questions on Wegelin’s closure.

Why is Wegelin closing?

The Swiss bank, which was established 35 years before the US declaration of independence, is closing after pleading guilty to charges brought against it by a New York court which has resulted in the bank being hit with a $57.8m (£36m; 44m euros) fine by the US authorities.

It has announced that once the fine is settled the bank will close permanently.

What charges did Weglin plead guilty to?

The bank pleaded guilty to allowing more than 100 American citizens hide $1.2bn from the Internal Revenue Service for almost 10 years.

Originally, the bank said it would fight the charges, declaring that because it only held branches in Switzerland it could be bound only by Swiss laws.

What is the bank's history?

Weglin was established in 1741 and resides in a small town called St Gallen in Switzerland with further offices in Zurich, Bern, Basel, Geneva, Lausanne, Locarno, Lugano, Chiasso, Schaffhausen, Winterhur, Chur and Lucerne.

It is the first foreign bank to plead guilty to tax evasion in the US.

What have American officials said?

US Attorney Preet Bharara said: "The bank wilfully and aggressively jumped in to fill a void that was left when other Swiss banks abandoned the practice due to pressure from US law enforcement."

Adding: "[This is a] watershed moment in our efforts to hold to account both the individuals and the banks - wherever they may be in the world - who are engaging in unlawful conduct that deprives the US Treasury of billions of dollars of tax revenue".

Are other Swiss banks being accused of the same conduct?

Four years ago UBS was accused by the US authorities of tax evasion related charges. Although UBS never pleaded guilty to the charges it did pay the US government a $780m fine in what is known as a "deferred prosecution agreement" whereby a fine is paid and the charges are then dropped. UBS also agreed to reveal US account holder details.

Credit Suisse, another big Swiss bank, also remains under investigation by the US authorities.

It is unknown whether the US authorities will continue with or drop other charges against three Wegelin bankers, Michael Berlinka, Urs Frei and Roger Keller.

Swiss bank Wegelin has announced it will close. Photograph: Getty Images

Heidi Vella is a features writer for Nridigital.com

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn turns "the nasty party" back on Theresa May

The Labour leader exploited Conservative splits over disability benefits.

It didn't take long for Theresa May to herald the Conservatives' Copeland by-election victory at PMQs (and one couldn't blame her). But Jeremy Corbyn swiftly brought her down to earth. The Labour leader denounced the government for "sneaking out" its decision to overrule a court judgement calling for Personal Independence Payments (PIPs) to be extended to those with severe mental health problems.

Rather than merely expressing his own outrage, Corbyn drew on that of others. He smartly quoted Tory backbencher Heidi Allen, one of the tax credit rebels, who has called on May to "think agan" and "honour" the court's rulings. The Prime Minister protested that the government was merely returning PIPs to their "original intention" and was already spending more than ever on those with mental health conditions. But Corbyn had more ammunition, denouncing Conservative policy chair George Freeman for his suggestion that those "taking pills" for anxiety aren't "really disabled". After May branded Labour "the nasty party" in her conference speech, Corbyn suggested that the Tories were once again worthy of her epithet.

May emphasised that Freeman had apologised and, as so often, warned that the "extra support" promised by Labour would be impossible without the "strong economy" guaranteed by the Conservatives. "The one thing we know about Labour is that they would bankrupt Britain," she declared. Unlike on previous occasions, Corbyn had a ready riposte, reminding the Tories that they had increased the national debt by more than every previous Labour government.

But May saved her jibe of choice for the end, recalling shadow cabinet minister Cat Smith's assertion that the Copeland result was an "incredible achivement" for her party. "I think that word actually sums up the Right Honourable Gentleman's leadership. In-cred-ible," May concluded, with a rather surreal Thatcher-esque flourish.

Yet many economists and EU experts say the same of her Brexit plan. Having repeatedly hailed the UK's "strong economy" (which has so far proved resilient), May had better hope that single market withdrawal does not wreck it. But on Brexit, as on disability benefits, it is Conservative rebels, not Corbyn, who will determine her fate.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.