The US government has raised the stakes in its crackdown on Swiss banks through a hard-charging prosecution that has forced the closing of a 272-year-old Swiss firm for offering tax-evasion services to wealthy Americans.
Tax lawyers and former prosecutors said on Friday the closing of Wegelin & Co, Switzerland's oldest private bank, served as a stark warning for some Swiss banks under investigation, especially smaller firms such as Wegelin.
Wegelin, founded in 1741, said on Thursday it would shut its doors permanently after pleading guilty to an indictment charging it with helping Americans dodge taxes through secret accounts.
It was the first time the United States forced a foreign bank to close because of its sale of tax-evasion services.
"The Justice Department wanted a scalp to send a message to all the other banks, in particular the small cantonal and private banks," said Christopher Rizek, a tax lawyer at Caplin & Drysdale in Washington, DC, and a senior former Treasury Department tax official.