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UBS verdict postponed in 4.5 billion euro French tax case

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FILE PHOTO: Logo of Swiss bank UBS is seen in Zurich
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By Tangi Salaün

PARIS (Reuters) -French judges on Monday postponed until Dec. 13 a ruling on UBS's appeal against a landmark fine, in a case in which the Swiss bank has contested allegations it helped wealthy clients stash undeclared assets offshore.

Judges said the decision had to be delayed due to the ill health of one of the magistrates.

UBS said only that it took note of the decision.

The initial trial was the culmination of several years of investigation in which the lender was suspected of using a "James Bond"-like scheme to solicit clients and help them launder money.

It was hit in 2019 with a record 4.5 billion euros ($5.32 billion) in penalties as a result, including a 3.7 billion euro fine and 800 million euros in civil damages.

UBS is looking to reverse that ruling, in which it was found guilty of soliciting clients illegally at sporting events and parties in France, and of laundering the proceeds of tax evasion.

Lawyers for UBS argued in the appeals trial that despite whistleblowers coming forward, investigators had never found clear evidence of systematic attempts to canvass French customers by UBS commercial specialists, including at client events like cocktail parties and hunts.

The bank wants the allegations thrown out altogether. It has also argued that the fine was disproportionate. Prosecutors in the appeals trial said they would seek a fine of at least 2 billion euros, while the French state is looking for 1 billion euros in damages - bringing total penalties to closer to 3 billion euros.

Fines in Europe for tax-related and other offences have historically been lower than in the United States, with the UBS case marking an exception that has been closely watched by other banks.

(Reporting by Tangi Salaun and Mathieu Rosemain; additional reporting by Michael Shields in Zurich, Editing by Daniel Wallis, Louise Heavens and Susan Fenton)

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