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Ex-UBS banker wanted in the U.S. appears at Italian court after arrest

By Valentina Accardo

BOLOGNA, Italy, Oct 22 (Reuters) - Raoul Weil, the former UBS banker wanted in the United States over allegations of helping Americans dodge taxes, appeared for a court hearing in Italy on Tuesday in the first step towards possible extradition.

Weil, a Swiss citizen and former head of UBS's global wealth management business, was arrested by Italian police in Bologna on Saturday and held in the local Dozza jail.

Dressed in casual trousers and a blue jacket and appearing unshaven, the 53 year-old banker was escorted in handcuffs into the court building by police officers to attend a closed-door hearing that started at 0830 GMT.

Weil, who was accompanied by his wife and his Italian lawyers, will remain in custody in Italy until the justice ministry decides whether to extradite him to the United States, police and local judicial sources said earlier this week.

He was charged in the United States in November 2008 for conspiring to help 17,000 Americans hide assets worth $20 billion in Swiss bank accounts and declared a fugitive a few months later after failing to surrender to authorities.

In 2009, UBS, the world's largest wealth manager by assets, was fined $780 million and agreed to hand over the names of U.S. clients with secret Swiss bank accounts to avoid facing criminal charges. The deal with the United States marked an historic break with Switzerland's tradition of bank secrecy.

Reuss Private Group, a Swiss wealth management firm where Weil is chief executive, said on Monday the banker had been arrested while making a private visit to Italy and disputes the U.S. charges.

Italy has in the past cooperated with the United States with the exception of crimes that would be punished with the death penalty, which is banned in Italy. Under U.S. law a conviction for tax evasion may result in fines and imprisonment.

A UBS spokesman said on Monday Weil, who became the head of its global wealth management business in 2007 and also sat on the bank's board, was discharged from his duties when he was indicted.

He joined Reuss Private Group in 2010 as a consultant and became chief executive at the beginning of this year.