US fines Israeli bank $356 million in tax evasion case

People walk past a branch of Bank Leumi in Tel Aviv in this file photo.

NEW YORK - Israel's Bank Leumi Group has admitted to helping US taxpayers hide assets and agreed to pay a US$270 million (S$356 million) fine to settle a criminal probe, the Department of Justice announced Monday.

From at least 2000 until early 2011, Leumi sent private bankers from Israel and elsewhere to meet with US taxpayers and help them conceal assets at Leumi locations in Israel, Switzerland and Luxembourg.

Leumi, a unit of Bank Leumi le-Israel, also helped US taxpayers prepare and present false tax returns, prosecutors said.

As part of a deferred prosecution agreement, Leumi agreed to supply information on more than 1,500 US account holders.

"The Bank Leumi Group recognised that the writing is on the wall for offshore banking, and cooperating with the government's investigation was the only way to proceed," said Deputy Attorney General James Cole.

"This deferred prosecution agreement demonstrates both that the Justice Department will hold financial institutions accountable for their crimes, and that we will be fair in recognising extraordinary cooperation."

The Justice Department said the case marks the first time an Israeli bank has admitted to such criminal conduct.