Late yesterday, the Justice Department announced that it had reached resolutions with four more Swiss banks under the terms of the DOJ Swiss Bank Program. The latest banks to resolve their U.S. tax issues are the following: Société Générale Private Banking (Lugano-Svizzera); MediBank AG; LBBW (Schweiz) AG; and Scobag Privatbank AG.
Yesterday’s announcement brings the total Swiss bank resolutions to seven to date. The Justice Department previously announced resolutions with BSI SA, Vadian Bank AG, and Finter Bank Zurich AG. More than 100 Swiss banks previously notified the Tax Division that they wished to enroll in the program.
In the DOJ press release announcing the resolutions, Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo made the following statement:
Today’s agreements reflect the Tax Division’s continued progress towards reaching appropriate resolutions with the banks that self-reported and voluntarily entered the Swiss Bank Program. The department is currently investigating accountholders, bank employees, and other facilitators and institutions based on information supplied by various sources, including the banks participating in this Program. Our message is clear – there is no safe haven.
Richard Weber, Chief of IRS-Criminal Investigation (CI) made the following statement about the resolutions:
These four additional bank agreements signal a change in terrain for offshore banking. No longer is it safe to hide money offshore and expect that it will not be discovered. IRS CI Special Agents will continue to follow the money to find those who circumvent the offshore disclosure laws and hold them accountable.
The Swiss Bank Program, which was announced on August 29, 2013, provides a path for Swiss banks to resolve potential criminal liabilities in the United States. Swiss banks eligible to enter the program were required to advise the Tax Division by December 31, 2013, that they had reason to believe that they had committed tax-related criminal offenses in connection with undeclared U.S.-related accounts. Banks already under criminal investigation related to their Swiss-banking activities and all individuals were expressly excluded from the program. Under the program, banks are required to:
- Make a complete disclosure of their cross-border activities;
- Provide detailed information on an account-by-account basis for accounts in which U.S. taxpayers have a direct or indirect interest;
- Cooperate in treaty requests for account information;
- Provide detailed information as to other banks that transferred funds into secret accounts or that accepted funds when secret accounts were closed;
- Agree to close accounts of accountholders who fail to come into compliance with U.S. reporting obligations; and
- Pay appropriate penalties.
Swiss banks meeting all of the above requirements are eligible for a non-prosecution agreement.
According to the terms of the non-prosecution agreements signed today, each bank agrees to cooperate in any related criminal or civil proceedings, demonstrate its implementation of controls to stop misconduct involving undeclared U.S. accounts and pay the penalties in return for the department’s agreement not to prosecute these banks for tax-related criminal offenses.
The Justice Department announcement provided the following details about each bank’s U.S.-related accounts and practices related thereto:
Société Générale Private Banking (Lugano-Svizzera) SA (SGPB-Lugano) was established in 1974 and is headquartered in Lugano, Switzerland. Through referrals and pre-existing relationships, SGPB-Lugano accepted, opened and maintained accounts for U.S. taxpayers, and knew that it was likely that certain U.S. taxpayers who maintained accounts there were not complying with their U.S. reporting obligations. Since Aug. 1, 2008, SGPB-Lugano held and managed approximately 109 U.S.-related accounts, with a peak of assets under management of approximately $139.6 million, and offered a variety of services that it knew assisted U.S. clients in the concealment of assets and income from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), including “hold mail” services and numbered accounts. Some U.S. taxpayers expressly instructed SGPB-Lugano not to disclose their names to the IRS, to sell their U.S. securities and to not invest in U.S. securities, which would have required disclosure and withholding. In addition, certain relationship managers actively assisted or otherwise facilitated U.S. taxpayers in establishing and maintaining undeclared accounts in a manner designed to conceal the true ownership or beneficial interest in the accounts, including concealing undeclared accounts by opening and maintaining accounts in the name of non-U.S. entities, including sham entities, having an officer of SGPB-Lugano act as an officer of the sham entities, processing cash withdrawals from accounts being closed and then maintaining the funds in a safe deposit box at the bank and making “transitory” accounts available, thereby allowing multiple accountholders to transfer funds in such a way as to shield the identity and account number of the accountholder. SGPB-Lugano will pay a penalty of $1.363 million.
Created in 1979 and headquartered in Zug, Switzerland, MediBank AG (MediBank) provided private banking services to U.S. taxpayers and assisted in the evasion of U.S. tax obligations by opening and maintaining undeclared accounts. In furtherance of a scheme to help U.S. taxpayers hide assets from the IRS and evade taxes, MediBank failed to comply with its withholding and reporting obligations, providing “hold mail” services and offering numbered accounts, thus reducing the ability of U.S. authorities to learn the identity of the taxpayers. After it became public that the Department of Justice was investigating UBS, MediBank hired a relationship manager from UBS and permitted some of that person’s U.S. clients to open accounts at MediBank. Since Aug. 1, 2008, MediBank had 14 U.S. related accounts with assets under management of $8,620,675. MediBank opened, serviced and profited from accounts for U.S. clients with the knowledge that many likely were not complying with their U.S. tax obligations. MediBank will pay a penalty of $826,000.
LBBW (Schweiz) AG (LBBW-Schweiz) was established in Zurich in 1995. Since August 2008, LBBW-Schweiz held 35 U.S. related accounts with $128,664,130 in assets under management. After it became public that the department was investigating UBS, LBBW-Schweiz opened accounts from former clients at UBS and Credit Suisse. Despite its knowledge that U.S. taxpayers had a legal duty to report and pay tax on income earned on their accounts, LLB permitted undeclared accounts to be opened and maintained, and offered a variety of services that would and did assist U.S. clients in the concealment of assets and income from the IRS. These services included following U.S. accountholders instructions not to invest in U.S. securities and not reporting the accounts to the IRS and agreeing to hold statements and other mail, causing documents regarding the accounts to remain outside the United States. LBBW-Schweiz will pay a penalty of $34,000.
Headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, Scobag Privatbank AG (Scobag) was founded in 1968 to provide financial and other services to its founders, and obtained its banking license in 1986. Since August 2008, Scobag had 13 U.S. related accounts, the maximum dollar value of which was $6,945,700. Scobag offered a variety of services that it knew could and did assist U.S. clients in the concealment of assets and income from the IRS, including “hold mail” services and numbered accounts. Scobag will pay a penalty of $9,090.
The DOJ noted that in accordance with the terms of the Swiss Bank Program, each bank mitigated its penalty by encouraging U.S. accountholders to come into compliance with their U.S. tax and disclosure obligations. While U.S. accountholders at these banks who have not yet declared their accounts to the IRS may still be eligible to participate in the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, the price of such disclosure has increased.
Most U.S. taxpayers who enter the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program to resolve undeclared offshore accounts will pay a penalty equal to 27.5 percent of the high value of the accounts. On August 4, 2014, the IRS increased the penalty to 50 percent if, at the time the taxpayer initiated their disclosure, either a foreign financial institution at which the taxpayer had an account or a facilitator who helped the taxpayer establish or maintain an offshore arrangement had been publicly identified as being under investigation, the recipient of a John Doe summons or cooperating with a government investigation, including the execution of a deferred prosecution agreement or non-prosecution agreement. With today’s announcement of these non-prosecution agreements, noncompliant U.S. accountholders at these banks must now pay that 50 percent penalty to the IRS if they wish to enter the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.
The Justice Department released the following documents as part of its announcement: