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UBS France could face criminal investigation: source

A partially illuminated logo of Swiss bank UBS is seen on a building in Zurich December 18, 2012. REUTERS/Michael Buholzer
A partially illuminated logo of Swiss bank UBS is seen on a building in Zurich December 18, 2012. REUTERS/Michael Buholzer

PARIS (Reuters) - UBS' French unit could be placed under formal investigation in the coming days as part of a broader probe into the Swiss bank's business practices, a person familiar with the matter said on Friday.

UBS France CEO Jean-Frederic de Leusse was questioned by judges who are deciding whether to formally place the bank under investigation - a step which under French law means there is serious or consistent evidence pointing to probable implication of a suspect in a crime -, the source said.

UBS officials in Zurich declined to comment. De Leusse did not immediately return a phone call placed to his office in Paris.

The questioning is likely to continue next week, and the bank could be formally placed under investigation when it has been completed, the source said, confirming an earlier report in Le Monde.

UBS is being probed by the French judiciary into whether it offered potential French clients investments that were allegedly designed to cheat the taxman. Three UBS France executives have been under investigation in relation to that probe, a judicial source told Reuters in April.

Regulators around the world are cracking down on tax evasion and money laundering in the wake of the financial crisis and the issue has taken on particular resonance in France after Budget Minister Jerome Cahuzac quit and admitted to having held an undeclared Swiss bank account.

Sources said in April that France had contacted Swiss authorities for help in determining whether 353 prospective UBS clients in France had undeclared assets in Switzerland.

At the time, de Leusse told Le Monde newspaper that the bank was cooperating fully with the authorities and also said he did not believe the bank had broken the law.

Separately, France has opened a probe into whether British bank HSBC offered illicit products to help French clients avoid tax in Switzerland, the Paris prosecutors' office said last month.

(Reporting by Chine Labbe; Writing by Christian Plumb; Additional reporting by Silke Koltrowitz in Zurich; Editing by Alex Smith and Mark Potter)

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