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Swiss bank UBS ordered to stand tax-fraud trial in France

Swiss bank UBS AG has been ordered to stand trial in France for allegedly helping wealthy French clients evade the country's tax authorities after it rejected as too pricey an out-of-court settlement offer from prosecutors.

A French judicial official said Monday that investigating judges found the charges against the Zurich-based bank serious, and the case strong enough to send to trial at a later date.

UBS said in a statement it disagrees with "the allegations, assumptions and legal interpretations being made" and that it will continue to "strongly defend ourselves."

The official said UBS is set to appear in a French criminal court under charges of illegal bank soliciting and aggravated money laundering. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to publicly discuss the decision.

In addition to the parent company, its French subsidiary, UBS France SA, has been ordered to stand trial on the same charges, while five UBS top managers have also been sent to trial, the official said.

Investigators suspect the Swiss bank for years sent its employees to solicit wealthy businessmen or sportsmen during sport or music events in France, urging them to place their money in Switzerland. The assets illegally concealed by French clients in Switzerland between 2004 and 2012 allegedly amounted some 10 billion euros ($10.75 billion).

The judges' move followed a failed plea bargain between national financial prosecutors and UBS representatives, the first time such an out-of-court settlement was tested in France. French magistrates reportedly offered UBS to settle the case for 1.1 billion euros ($1.2 billion), after considering an initial deal of 2.2 billion euros ($2.4 billion).

Markus Diethelm, the chief legal adviser for UBS, was the chief negotiator for the bank with the judicial authorities in France and other countries — the U.S., Germany, Britain and Belgium — where the bank was confronted with tax fraud cases.

He told the French Journal du Dimanche weekly on Sunday, referring to the reported offer from French prosecutors, that "such a sum is unthinkable vis-a-vis our shareholders and vis-a-vis judicial authorities from other countries with which we have negotiated."

UBS is one of the largest wealth management banks in the world.

-----

Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed to the report

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