Paris (AFP)

After a record fine in the first instance, the Paris Court of Appeal decides on Monday the fate of the UBS bank, suspected of having illegally canvassed clients in France between 2004 and 2012 to invest billions of euros in tax shelter in Switzerland.

During a second trial in March in Paris, the number one in the Swiss banking sector tried to reshuffle the cards in this case, two years after being fined 3.7 billion euros, the heaviest never inflicted in France in a case of tax evasion.

The court had convicted UBS on February 20, 2019 for aggravated money laundering of tax fraud and illegal bank solicitation, sanctioning faults of "exceptional gravity".

The bank, which has consistently denied having crossed the red line of legality, immediately appealed.

The heavyweight of wealth management is accused of having sent Swiss salespeople to France to "hunt" wealthy clients of its French subsidiary, spotted in particular during receptions, concerts or golf tournaments, so that they open accounts Swiss undeclared.

UBS France is being sued for complicity, alongside six former executives.

At the end of June, the Paris Court of Appeal ruled out a procedural question in this case, paving the way for a decision on the merits expected Monday at 1:30 p.m.

The UBS logo at the headquarters of the World Trade Organization (WTO), in Geneva, July 17, 2020 Fabrice COFFRINI AFP / Archives

UBS "knowingly managed the accounts of French tax evaders", assured the prosecution, asking on appeal a new conviction for a "slice of the history of UBS" synonymous with massive tax evasion.

The general prosecutor's office nevertheless requested a fine of "at least" two billion euros, well below the sanction of the first instance.

Between the two trials, the Court of Cassation, the highest court of the French judicial order, has in fact issued several decisions likely to modify the sentence incurred by UBS.

According to one of these judgments, the maximum fine must be calculated on the basis of the amount of taxes presumed evaded and not on the totality of the hidden funds.

Either in this case 2.2 billion, calculated the public prosecutor.

The latter also requested confirmation of the fine of 15 million euros for UBS France, as well as suspended prison sentences and fines for the six former executives.

- "Vacuum cleaner" -

The defense fought for the release by asserting that there was "not the beginning of a proof" that the defendants had violated the rules in force at the time of the facts.

"Nothing" establishes "an illegal act of canvassing", pleaded the lawyer of the French subsidiary Denis Chemla, denouncing the "delusional theory according to which UBS France (would have been) a vacuum cleaner of the savings of the French for the profit of 'UBS Switzerland ".

In the "bygone era" of the alleged facts, between 2004 and 2012, UBS only offered services related to banking secrecy, then "protected" by an agreement concluded between Switzerland and the European Union, argued l lawyer for the parent company, Hervé Temime.

UBS "has scrupulously respected the provisions of national and European law", he insisted.

Denis Chemla, lawyer for the French subsidiary of UBS, October 8, 2018, the opening day of the Swiss bank's trial before the Paris court Thomas SAMSON AFP / Archives

Since 2017, an automatic data exchange system has been gradually implemented, signing, on paper, the end of Swiss banking secrecy.

Each country must now report the existence of an account in the name of a foreign national to its country of origin.

The French State, civil party, requested one billion euros in damages - it had obtained 800 million euros at first instance.

At the end of 2015, some 4,000 UBS clients had regularized their situation with a dedicated unit open to the French Ministry of the Economy, for 3.7 billion recovered - the sum chosen to sanction the bank in the first instance.

These repentant taxpayers are now nearly 17,000, said the lawyer for the French state during the trial.

In other countries, UBS has chosen to trade and pay.

In the United States, where she was notably accused of having allowed more than 17,000 Americans to evade taxes, she had paid in 2009 a sum of $ 780 million.

Questioned at the same time in France, the Swiss subsidiary of the British bank HSBC had avoided a lawsuit by paying the tax authorities 300 million euros in 2017.

© 2021 AFP