The Swiss operation of Coutts is under investigation by the German authorities for allegedly helping clients to evade tax.
Coutts is one of Britain’s most venerable banks, with a clients list that includes the Queen.
The bank’s Swiss operation is already under investigation by the US authorities about whether it helped American citizens evade tax.
But the parent of Coutts, Royal Bank of Scotland, said the investigation into the Swiss arm of Coutts had now widened to Germany. The activities of Swiss banking operations have come under intense scrutiny following the revelations about HSBC and the leak of 100,000 account details of its subsidiary in Switzerland, which showed it helped clients avoid tax. In order to become a client of Coutts, customers must have more than £1m in investable assets.
In the pages of legal warnings attached to RBS’s annual report, RBS said: “A prosecuting authority in Germany is undertaking an investigation into Coutts & Co Ltd in Switzerland, and current and former employees, for alleged aiding and abetting of tax evasion by certain Coutts & Co Ltd clients. Coutts & Co Ltd is cooperating with the authority.”
RBS – which is 79% owned by the taxpayer – had already put the international operations of Coutts up for sale and will indemnify any buyer of the business against any regulatory action.
Ross McEwan, the chief executive of RBS, said on Thursday that the business was being sold because it did not make money and that private banks had taken too long to clean up their activities.
“I want to be very clear if we find anything that has evidence of wrongdoing we will come down incredibly hard on any of those issues,” he said. “Any situation like this we take seriously … it is the reputation of our business. This is what has tarnished the banking industry and in my view private banks have taken far too long to catch up with the public’s expectations.”
This article was written by Angela Monaghan and Jill Treanor, for theguardian.com on Thursday 26th February 2015 15.05 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010