Senators to DOJ: At least try to extradite tax cheats

A pair of Senate investigators are pressing the Justice Department to at least try and extradite Swiss bankers charged with helping Americans evade taxes.

Sens. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) said it was time to push the Swiss government on protecting bankers that help wealthy Americans hide their income from the U.S.

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The Justice Department has said that, while it has charged foreign bankers on tax evasion, they have not attempted to extradite them since the Swiss government would refuse to do so.

But in a letter to the Justice Department, the pair, who head the Senate Homeland Security subcommittee on Investigations, argued it was incumbent on the U.S. to at least make the effort, rather than simply accept the Swiss stance.

“It is time to test the Swiss government’s professed willingness to cooperate with international tax enforcement efforts and put an end to its nationals participating in criminal tax offenses,” they wrote to Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

“Even if a request is unsuccessful, it will inform both Switzerland and its citizens that the United States is ready to make full use of available legal tools to stop facilitation of U.S. tax evasion and hold alleged wrongdoers accountable,’ they added.

The letter marks continued pressure from the pair to get the Justice Department to take a more aggressive stance on foreign bankers that help Americans escape a hefty tax bill.

In February, the subcommittee released a report that criticized the Justice Department for showing a “lack of determination” in pursuing tax cheats and those who enable them. The report found that the Swiss bank Credit Suisse has helped wealthy Americans hide up to $12 billion in assets and actively recruited U.S. clients to take their money offshore.

Testifying before the panel after the report was released, Cole told Levin they had not filed extradition requests for those facing evasion charges due to the belief that “the Swiss will not extradite their citizens.”

In recent years, there has been a global crackdown on tax evasion, and Swiss banks and the government have said that intense secrecy, long seen as emblematic of Swiss banks, was becoming a thing of the past.

Credit Suisse CEO Brady Dougan told Levin in February his bank was not looking to help Americans hide assets and was pushing “to build a different and better legal and cultural reality.”

Levin and McCain argued in their letter it was time to put those words of reform to the test by trying to extradite those charged with crimes.

According to Cole, the government has charged 35 bankers and 25 financial advisers with crimes tied to aiding tax evasion. Six have been convicted or pled guilty, while most of the rest “live openly in Switzerland,” according to the senators' letter.

Levin and McCain argued the extradition treaty between the two nations does not protect criminal tax evaders, and pressed the Justice Department to at least try and bring them to trial here.

In response to the subcommittee’s report, the Justice Department has defended its efforts, saying a number of banks are under investigation, and thousands have voluntarily disclosed their offshore holdings after the government began to dig in to the matter.