(Updates with court testimony)
By Francisco Alvarado
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla., Oct 23 (Reuters) - A former senior Swiss bank executive on trial for federal tax evasion was a micro-manager intimately involved in efforts to deceive U.S. authorities, a former employee testified on Thursday.
Martin Liechti, the former head of the wealth management division for the Americas at UBS , was testifying in Fort Lauderdale for a second day in the trial of Raoul Weil 54, UBS’s former head of wealth management and the highest-ranking Swiss banker to be snared in the U.S. government’s efforts to stamp out offshore tax evasion.
Prosecutors accuse Weil of conspiring to conceal up to $20 billion in U.S. taxpayers’ assets in secret offshore accounts.
Liechti said Weil always know what was going on because he constantly kept in touch with people below him.
Liechti described a Feb. 3, 2003, UBS executive board meeting to discuss the exposure of UBS advisers handling the accounts of U.S. customers who were cheating on their taxes.
“I was afraid of a big headline in the New York Times that said UBS has a big business with U.S. clients who don’t pay their taxes,” he said.
The trial of Weil, a Swiss citizen, is closely watched because it comes as UBS and other Swiss banks struggle to put behind them their pasts as willing accomplices to tax evasion and outright tax fraud.
While Liechti said he was cautious, Weil was aggressive about generating more revenue from U.S. clients who did not report taxes, Liechti said.
Weil pressed departments under him to bring in new money from clients and told Liechti to get his staff to make more calls to clients despite the risks involved, Liechti said.
“This was a big source of concern and debate between myself and Mr. Weil,” he said.
Several of Weil’s former colleagues have already revealed the lengths to which UBS bankers went to avoid being caught, including using a computerized card game to mask secret, hidden laptop hard drives or handing over to a client thousands of dollar bills in interest, wrapped in a newspaper.
Defense attorney Aaron Marcu has slammed the credibility of Weil’s former UBS colleagues, accusing them seeking to curry favor with the U.S. government to reduce their own sentences.
Though UBS cleared up its problems with U.S. government authorities in 2009, it faces pressure in Europe, a far larger private banking market for Swiss banks. (Additional reporting by Katharina Bart in Zurich; editing by David Adams, Matthew Lewis and Cynthia Osterman)