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Swiss prosecutors probe former UBS banker turned U.S. informant

The logo of Swiss bank UBS is seen at a branch office in Zurich October 29, 2013. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
The logo of Swiss bank UBS is seen at a branch office in Zurich October 29, 2013. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

ZURICH (Reuters) - Switzerland's prosecutor said it is investigating former UBS banker Renzo Gadola, who received a light sentencing in the U.S. two years ago in return for becoming a informant on wealthy American tax cheats.

The investigation centers on industrial espionage, according to Swiss media, and it raises the specter of more Swiss bankers who have cooperated with foreign officials being pursued by prosecutors for violating the country's strict banking secrecy laws.

"The investigation is underway. Because it is confidential, we cannot give any information on the nature, status or progress of our investigation," a spokeswoman for Switzerland's prosecutor said in an email to Reuters on Tuesday.

Earlier on Tuesday, Swiss weekly business paper Handelszeitung reported that Zurich's prosecutor had referred an investigation involving Gadola, who worked at UBS from 1995 to 2008, and alleged industrial espionage to federal prosecutors.

Gadola, who was not immediately available for comment, would be the first Swiss banker to be pursued in Switzerland on charges of industrial espionage for the United States over the tax spat, although Swiss authorities have charged other bankers for passing on confidential files to Germany.

Almost immediately after his arrest in 2010, Gadola started cooperating with U.S. officials, providing insight into other bankers and Swiss financial institutions offering offshore banking services, according to prosecutors at the time of his sentencing in 2011.

He turned over fellow bankers' names and participated in recorded conversations with clients, according to a document released in the run up to his sentencing.

That cooperation entailed disclosing to U.S. prosecutors for the first time the role of Swiss cantonal banks, including Basler Kantonalbank , in helping Americans to evade U.S. taxes on at least hundreds of millions of dollars in assets.

Gadola, who continued to cooperate as a condition of his probation, was in 2011 sentenced to five months' probation from a Florida federal judge and a fine of $100.

Two years on, Swiss banks are moving towards ending a long-running dispute with U.S. officials over aiding tax evasion through a deal to allow some Swiss banks to pay fines to avoid or defer prosecution.

UBS ended its dispute with U.S. authorities in 2009 by paying $780 million and handing over thousands of files on wealthy American clients. This, combined with an amnesty program aimed at luring U.S. taxpayers to come clean on hidden finds, has spawned an investigation into a second wave of Swiss banks.

Last month, former UBS private banking head Raoul Weil was arrested in Italy on an outstanding U.S. warrant. Weil, who remains in custody in Bologna jail, is expected to be extradited to the U.S. to stand trial on charges of helping Americans dodge taxes.

(Reporting By Katharina Bart; Editing by Louise Heavens)

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