On June 3, 2015, the Justice Department announced that two more Swiss banks, Rothschild Bank AG and Banca Credinvest SA, reached resolutions under the DOJ Swiss Bank Program. Yesterday’s announcement brings the total Swiss bank resolutions to date to nine. (See prior posts here, here, and here.) More than 100 Swiss banks previously notified the Tax Division that they wished to enroll in the program.
In the press release announcing the resolutions, officials from both the Justice Department and the Internal Revenue Service issued stern warnings to taxpayers who continue to hide money offshore:
“The days of safely hiding behind shell corporations and numbered bank accounts are over,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Department of Justice’s Tax Division. “As each additional bank signs up under the Swiss Bank Program, more and more information is flowing to the IRS agents and Justice Department prosecutors going after illegally concealed offshore accounts and the financial professionals who help U.S. taxpayers hide assets abroad.”
“These resolutions with Credinvest and Rothschild are further examples of the commitment by the IRS and the Department of Justice to ensure that U.S. taxpayers report foreign bank accounts and pay taxes on all income earned from those accounts,” said Deputy Commissioner Douglas O’Donnell of the IRS Large Business and International Division. “We are encouraged by today’s progress and our ongoing work with the other Swiss banks that have entered the DOJ Swiss Bank Program.”
“The bank agreements announced today continue to change the landscape in the offshore banking world,” said Chief Richard Weber of IRS-Criminal Investigation. “With each additional agreement, the world where criminals can hide their money is becoming smaller and smaller. Those who circumvent offshore disclosure laws have little room to hide.”
According to the terms of the non-prosecution agreements signed yesterday, 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 penalties in return for the department’s agreement not to prosecute these banks for tax-related criminal offenses.
In its press release announcing the resolutions, the Justice Department provided the following factual background regarding each bank’s banking practices in connection with U.S.-related accounts:
Rothschild Bank AG (Rothschild) was founded in 1968 and is headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland. Rothschild offered services that it knew could and did assist U.S. taxpayers in concealing assets and income from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), including code-named accounts, numbered accounts and hold mail service, where Rothschild would hold all mail correspondence for a particular client at the bank. These services allowed certain U.S. taxpayers to minimize the paper trail associated with the undeclared assets and income they held at Rothschild in Switzerland. For a number of years, including after Swiss bank UBS AG announced in 2008 that it was under criminal investigation, and following instructions from certain U.S. taxpayers, Rothschild serviced certain U.S. customers without disclosing their identities to the IRS. Some of Rothschild’s U.S. clients had accounts that were nominally structured in the names of non-U.S. entities. In some such cases, Rothschild knew that a U.S. client was the true beneficial owner of the account but nonetheless obtained a form or document that falsely declared that the beneficial owner was not a U.S. taxpayer. Since Aug. 1, 2008, Rothschild had 66 U.S.-related accounts held by entities created in Panama, Liechtenstein, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands or other foreign countries with U.S. beneficial owners. At least 21 of these accounts had false IRS Forms W-8BEN in the file, which are used to identify the beneficial owner of an account. Rothschild knew it was highly probable that such U.S. clients were engaging in this scheme to avoid U.S. taxes but permitted these accounts to trade in U.S. securities without reporting account earnings or transmitting any withholding taxes to the IRS, as Rothschild was required to do. Rothschild also opened accounts for U.S. taxpayers who had left other Swiss banks that the Department of Justice was investigating, including UBS. Since Aug. 1, 2008, Rothschild had 332 U.S.-related accounts with an aggregate maximum balance of approximately $1.5 billion. Of these 332 accounts, 191 accounts had U.S. beneficial owners and an aggregate maximum balance of approximately $836 million. Rothschild will pay a penalty of $11.51 million.
Located in Lugano, Switzerland, Banca Credinvest SA (Credinvest) started operations as a fully licensed bank in 2005. Credinvest offered a variety of services that it knew could assist, and that did assist, U.S. clients in concealing assets and income from the IRS, including hold mail service and numbered accounts. Credinvest did not set up any formalized internal reporting regarding U.S. clients and did not adopt any procedures to ascertain or monitor the compliance of its U.S. clients with their U.S. tax obligations. In late 2008, an external asset manager referred 11 accounts to Credinvest, all of which were for U.S. clients who had left UBS. The bank delegated to that external asset manager the primary management of those accounts and failed to ascertain the compliance of those clients with their U.S. tax obligations. The bank thus aided and assisted those clients in concealing their accounts from U.S. authorities. Since Aug. 1, 2008, Credinvest had 31 U.S.-related accounts with just over $24 million in assets. Credinvest will pay a penalty of $3.022 million.
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 also released the following documents as part of its announcement: