BUSINESS

UBS, Largest Swiss Bank, Charged With 'Serious And Organized Tax Evasion'

02/26/2016 08:33 EST | Updated 02/26/2017 05:12 EST
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A sign sits illuminated on the roof of the UBS Group AG headquarters in Zurich, Switzerland, on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2016. The European Central Bank would reduce euro-area bank earnings by as much as 10 percent by pushing deposit rates further into negative territory while having little effect on the euro, according to Morgan Stanley. Photographer: Michele Limina/Bloomberg via Getty Images

BRUSSELS -- A Belgian judge charged Swiss bank UBS on Friday with money laundering and "serious and organized tax evasion,'' saying it directly sought clients in the country to help them skip taxes.

UBS is Switzerland's largest bank and is considered the world's largest wealth manager.

The spokesperson for the crown prosecutor, Jennifer Vanderputten, said in a statement that the charges were laid thanks to co-operation with French authorities, and refused to provide additional details.

UBS said in a statement it takes note of the Belgian authorities' actions. "UBS will continue to defend itself against any unfounded allegations.''

The charges come on top of previous ones against UBS's Belgian subsidiary. In that case, the head of the Belgian division was charged in June 2014 on suspicion that he and the firm had helped wealthy clients evade billions of euros in taxes.

The suspected criminal activity is thought to have begun more than a decade ago, when UBS clients in Belgium were allegedly helped to reduce their tax payments.

Information that led to the 2014 charges was given by compliance officers who had left UBS or had been fired and no longer supported the bank's tactics.

UBS denied that its Belgian division, which has since been sold, had ever supported tax evasion.

The new charges are under the supervision of judge Michel Claise.