UBS client pleads guilty to hiding assets

By Samantha Henry
Associated Press / September 26, 2009

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NEWARK - A New Jersey client of the international banking giant UBS AG has pleaded guilty to concealing more than $6 million in assets in Swiss bank accounts.

Juergen Homann of Saddle River is the fifth US-based UBS client to plead guilty in an ongoing federal investigation into the bank’s practices. UBS officials have admitted helping wealthy American clients use foreign accounts to hide assets from the Internal Revenue Service.

Homann, 66, is a German-born US citizen who runs an industrial mineral and chemical trading company - which he declined to name - that does business mainly between China and Latin America. Surrounded by lawyers, Homann tersely answered a long list of questions from US District Judge Stanley Chesler as to whether he fully understood the consequences of entering a guilty plea.

Prosecutors say Homman established an account with UBS in the late 1980s in the name of a Liechtenstein foundation. Under the advice of Swiss lawyer Matthias Rickenbach, prosecutors say, Homann transferred his assets to a less-transparent Hong Kong corporation under the name ELM Finance Limited.

Court papers show Homann had about $6.1 million in assets in the ELM account at UBS in Switzerland from 2001 through 2008. Prosecutors contend he used the ELM account for a sham loan of $5 million to fund his US business.

Rickenbach was indicted for fraud in August for his alleged role in helping wealthy clients conceal their assets.

Homann acknowledged in a Newark federal courtroom yesterday that in addition to not filing the required disclosure forms, he failed to report the account on his individual tax return and did not report income earned on the account.

Homann faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine that could potentially reach several million dollars. Homann and his lawyers declined to comment on the case.

UBS has an agreement with the authorities to divulge names of some 4,450 Americans suspected of evading taxes through secret bank accounts.

Michael Ben’Ary, a trial attorney with the US Department of Justice’s tax division, said Homann’s guilty plea is part of a wider multiagency investigation that is continuing in New Jersey and nationally.

“The IRS is serious about pursuing people with hidden offshore accounts, and we are stepping up our international efforts,’’ IRS commissioner Doug Shulman said in a statement. “People should make sure they meet their filing requirements. Failure to do so can carry serious consequences.’’