IRS Targets a Belize Bank with a “John Doe” Summons

The Internal Revenue Service will now obtain information on U.S. accountholders at a Belize bank – Belize Bank International Limited (“BBIL”) or Belize Bank Limited (“BBL”). Yesterday, the Justice Department announced that a federal court has authorized the IRS to serve a “John Doe” summons on Bank of America, N.A. and Citibank, N.A. seeking records for activity from 2006 through 2014 at the correspondent accounts held by BBIL and BBL at Bank of America and Citibank. Once the IRS receives these records, it will be able to identify U.S. taxpayers who held financial accounts at BBIL or BBL and also identify other foreign banks that used BBIL or BBL to serve U.S. clients.

An important aspect to this announcement is that the reason for requesting the “John Doe” summons came from information learned by an IRS investigator having interviewed five taxpayers who disclosed their BBIL or BBL accounts through the IRS’s amnesty program.

In announcing the “John Doe” summons yesterday, the DOJ summarized the basis for the “John Doe” summonses as follows:

According to the IRS declaration, BBL is incorporated and based in Belize, and directly owns BBIL.  The IRS declaration further states that Belize Corporate Services (BCS) is incorporated and based in Belize and offers corporate services including the purchase of “shelf” Belizean international business companies.  BBL, BBIL and BCS are all corporate subsidiaries of BCB Holdings Limited, according to the declaration.  The declaration describes and IRS Revenue Agent’s review of information submitted by BBL and BBIL customers who disclosed their foreign accounts through the IRS offshore voluntary disclosure programs.  The customers in the “John Doe” class may have failed to report income, evaded income taxes, or otherwise violated the internal revenue laws of the United States, according the declaration.

The petition filed by the DOJ (found here) provided more detail and stated that “BBIL and BBL are related banks based in Belize that market their ability to provide secret banking services to foreign residents. Belize Corporate Services is a related corporate service provider that has marketed its ability to set up Belize corporate entities, used to hide the identity of account owners.” The DOJ made these assertions based upon information learned by the IRS in “interviews, voluntary disclosures, and records of criminal prosecutions.” The interviews were of five taxpayers who disclosed their offshore accounts at BBIL or BBL through the IRS’s offshore voluntary disclosure program. Each of the taxpayers admitted to opening accounts at BBIL or BBL, to requesting that account information not be mailed to them in the U.S., and to failing to report income earned in the accounts to the IRS. All but one of these taxpayers admitted to utilizing a Belize corporation to obtain the account at BBIL or BBL and failing to report the corporation on U.S. tax returns. This information, plus publicly-available information gathered through internet research, provided the factual basis for the petition.

In its announcement, the DOJ emphasized its focus on pursuing taxpayers with undisclosed foreign accounts:

“The Department and the IRS are using every tool available to identify and investigate those individuals determined to evade their U.S. tax and reporting obligations through the use of offshore financial accounts and foreign entities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.  “These John Doe summonses will provide detailed information about individuals using financial institutions in Belize and, to the extent funds were transferred, other jurisdictions.  But rest assured, we are receiving information from many sources regarding hidden foreign accounts and offshore schemes.  The time to come clean is now – before we knock on your door.”

“This court action further demonstrates our relentless efforts to pursue and catch those evading taxes with hidden offshore accounts no matter where they are or what structures are used to hide behind,” said Commissioner John Koskinen of the IRS.  “This court action also reinforces the ongoing importance of the John Doe summons in international tax enforcement.”

Serving a “John Doe” summons on a correspondent bank has proven to be an effective government tool to discover potential tax evaders. It was the result of a “John Doe” summons served on UBS AG that the DOJ obtained records of U.S. accountholders at Swiss bank Wegelin & Co., which was Switzerland’s largest bank and closed after pleading guilty to conspiring to assist U.S. accountholders to evade taxes and paying restitution of $57.8 million. A “John Doe” summons was also utilized in 2013 to obtain records of Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce FirstCaribbean International Bank by having been served on Wells Fargo, N.A., where FCIB held a correspondent account.

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