(adds Finter comment, other banks under criminal investigation)
By Lindsay Dunsmuir
WASHINGTON, May 15 (Reuters) - Finter Bank Zurich AG has agreed to pay $5.4 million in a deal with the Justice Department to resolve tax-related offenses, becoming the third Swiss private bank this year to reach a settlement to avoid U.S. prosecution over helping Americans evade taxes.
Finter, a small private bank headquartered in Zurich with a branch office in the southern Swiss city of Lugano, has 283 U.S. related accounts that have an overall balance of approximately $235 million, U.S. prosecutors said.
The settlement announced by U.S. officials on Friday came under a voluntary Justice Department program launched in 2013 that enables Swiss banks to avoid prosecution by disclosing cross-border activities that helped U.S. account holders conceal assets and income.
Finter CEO Luigi Carnelli said in a statement that the deal allows the bank to concentrate on its future, “now that this legacy from the past has been successfully cleared.”
Two other Switzerland-based banks, BSI and Vadian, have settled in the past couple of months, and dozens more are expected to reach such settlements.
Other banks already under criminal investigation, such as Julius Baer and HSBC’s Swiss private bank, are excluded from the program.
Finter helped U.S. clients open and maintain undeclared bank accounts with them from 2008 to 2011, and took on U.S. account holders who fled other Swiss banks in 2008, including UBS AG after it announced it was being criminally investigated by U.S. authorities over tax evasion in August that year, U.S. prosecutors said.
Finter provided a range of services to help them hide undeclared assets and income from U.S. tax authorities, U.S. prosecutors said. These included providing services to eliminate a paper trail and helping clients set up sham entities, they said.
Under the program, banks must provide detailed information on accounts in which U.S. taxpayers have an interest and agree to close accounts that do not meet U.S. obligations.
Finter has also agreed to put in place new controls to stop future misconduct as part of the non-prosecution agreement, U.S. officials said. (Reporting by Lindsay Dunsmuir, additional reporting by Oliver Hirt in Zurich; Editing by Will Dunham and Alan Crosby)