Three More Non-Prosecution Agreements with Swiss Banks for a Total Penalty of $20 Million

Three more Swiss banks have reached resolutions with the Justice Department under its Swiss Bank Program – Bank La Roche, St. Galler Kantonalbank AG (SGKB), and E. Gutzwiller & Cie, Banquiers.   To resolve their respective tax-related criminal offenses, La Roche agreed to pay a penalty of approximately $9.3 million, SGKB agreed to pay a penalty of almost $9.5 million, and Gutzwiller agreed to pay a penalty of $1.5 million.

Importantly, the DOJ emphasized the data it is obtaining as a result of the program and how it is using this data in its enforcement efforts:

“The cumulative penalties the Swiss Bank Program has generated to date are extraordinary,” said Chief Richard Weber of IRS-Criminal Investigation (CI).  “However, a significant element of the program is the highly-detailed account and transactional data that has been provided to IRS specifically for law enforcement purposes.  We will continue to use this information to vigorously pursue U.S. taxpayers who may still be trying to illegally conceal offshore accounts, ensuring we are all playing by the same rules.”

The DOJ described the relevant conduct of each of the banks in relation to their U.S. accountholders as follows:

Bank La Roche (announced 9/15/2015)

La Roche was founded in 1787 and is based in Basel, Switzerland, with offices in Olten and Bern, Switzerland.  In 2011, La Roche closed a Hong Kong asset management subsidiary that opened in 2008.  On Feb. 13, 2015, La Roche sold its business to Notenstein Privatbank AG.  Most of La Roche’s employees and the clients of La Roche, with the exception of U.S. taxpayers and a few other clients, will be transferred to Notenstein Privatbank AG.  The transaction is expected to close in October 2015.  Thereafter, La Roche intends to wind down its remaining business and relinquish its banking license.

La Roche assisted some U.S. clients in opening and maintaining undeclared accounts in Switzerland and concealing the assets and income the clients held in their accounts from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  La Roche used a variety of means to assist some U.S. clients in concealing the assets and income the clients held in their La Roche undeclared accounts, including by

– providing numbered accounts for 70 U.S. taxpayers;

– holding bank statements and other mail relating to 66 U.S.-related numbered accounts, as well as 20 named accounts of U.S. taxpayers domiciled in the United States;

– allowing substantial cash and precious metal withdrawals in connection with the closures of 27 U.S. taxpayers’ accounts for a total amount of $11.6 million

– maintaining records in which certain U.S. taxpayers expressly instructed La Roche not to disclose their names to the IRS;

– providing travel cash cards to five U.S. taxpayers upon their request; and

– opening an account in June 2010 for a U.S. taxpayer who left UBS and who transferred $126,000 from UBS to the La Roche account.

Due in part to the assistance of La Roche and its personnel, and with the knowledge that Swiss banking secrecy laws would prevent La Roche from disclosing their identities to the IRS, some U.S. clients of La Roche filed false and fraudulent U.S. Individual Income Tax Returns (IRS Forms 1040), which failed to report their interests in their undeclared accounts and the related income.  Some of La Roche’s U.S. clients also failed to file and otherwise report their undeclared accounts on Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBARs).Since Aug. 1, 2008, La Roche maintained 201 U.S.-related accounts with a maximum aggregate value of approximately $193.9 million.  136 of these accounts were beneficially owned by U.S. clients domiciled in the United States, 36 of which were maintained in the names of entities.  La Roche will pay a penalty of $9.296 million.

As part of its participation in the Swiss Bank Program, La Roche provided information concerning 10 U.S. client accounts held at La Roche in Switzerland since August 2008 sufficient to make treaty requests to the Swiss competent authority for U.S. client account records.  It also provided a list of the names and functions of individuals who structured, operated or supervised the cross-border business at La Roche.

In 51 instances, La Roche maintained accounts for U.S. taxpayers as beneficial owners of accounts held by non-U.S. corporations, foundations or other entities, some of which were sham entities that concealed the beneficial ownership of the U.S. taxpayers.  These entities included Liechtenstein foundations, two of which were established or administered by a Liechtenstein trust company, whose manager and director had a long-standing personal relationship with La Roche.

St. Galler Kantonalbank AG (announced today)

St. Galler Kantonalbank AG (SGKB) has its headquarters in the Canton of St. Gallen, Switzerland.  It was founded in 1868 to provide credit services to Cantonal residents and to assist in the development of the regional economy.  By Cantonal law, the Canton of St. Gallen is SGKB’s majority shareholder, owning 54.8 percent of SGKB’s shares.

SGKB offered a variety of traditional Swiss banking services that it knew could assist, and that did in fact assist, U.S. clients in the concealment of assets and income from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  These services included hold mail, as well as code name or numbered account services.  These services helped U.S. clients eliminate the paper trail associated with the undeclared assets and income they held at SGKB in Switzerland.  By accepting and maintaining such accounts, SGKB assisted some U.S. taxpayers in evading their U.S. tax obligations.

SGKB agreed to open accounts for at least 58 U.S. taxpayers who had left other banks being investigated by the department without ensuring that each such account was compliant with U.S. tax law from their inception at SGKB.  SGKB also issued checks, including series of checks, in amounts of less than $10,000 that were drawn on accounts of U.S. taxpayers or structures in at least nine cases, totaling $3 million.  For example, one U.S. taxpayer made 31 wire transfers for just less than $10,000 between June 2012 and December 2012.  SGKB further processed large cash withdrawals totaling approximately $5.8 million for at least 14 U.S. taxpayers at or around the time the clients’ accounts were closed, even though SGKB knew, or had reason to know, the accounts contained undeclared assets.

Since Aug. 1, 2008, SGKB held accounts for 41 entities or structured accounts.  Eight of these accounts came to SGKB as part of the acquisition of business from Hyposwiss Privatbank AG, of which SGKB formerly was the parent company.  Of the remaining 33 entities, 18 were incorporated at or around the time their SGKB accounts were opened.  These entities were incorporated in Switzerland, Liechtenstein, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the United States, Ireland, Panama, Haiti and Belize.

In August 2008, SGKB mandated that no new funds would be accepted from U.S. residents without a signed IRS Form W-9.  However, certain executives had full discretion and authority to make exceptions to this policy, in keeping with SGKB’s general bank policy of permitting flexibility in its directives.  One executive first requested the authority to make a specific exception because he already had agreed to accept a “pipeline” of problematic U.S.-related accounts from UBS and wanted to keep his word to his former UBS colleague.  This “pipeline” consisted of six U.S.-related accounts with approximately $9.2 million in assets under management.  This executive granted another significant exception from this policy in connection with clients of an external asset manager.  At least 72 accounts with approximately $150 million in assets under management were opened at an SGKB subsidiary between late October and December 2008 without a Form W-9 as an exception to SGKB’s policy.  The majority of these accounts were transferred from UBS.

Since Aug. 1, 2008, SGKB held a total of 626 U.S.-related accounts with approximately $303 million in assets under management.  SGKB will pay a penalty of $9.481 million.

Gutzwiller & Cie, Banquiers (announced today)

Gutzwiller & Cie, Banquiers, was founded in 1886 and is headquartered in Basel, Switzerland.  This entity is affiliated with two asset managing entities in Geneva and Zurich, Gutzwiller SA Geneve and Gutzwiller AG Zurich, respectively (collectively Gutzwiller).

Of the 128 U.S.-related accounts at Gutzwiller, approximately 96 used hold mail services.  Gutzwiller also opened and maintained 11 U.S.-related accounts held by non-U.S. entities, such as a Panama foundation or a British Virgin Islands corporation, with the knowledge that a U.S. person was the true beneficial owner of assets.  With respect to some of those 11 accounts, the entity properly identified the U.S. beneficial owners of the assets for Swiss “Know Your Customer” rules, but Gutzwiller’s IRS Forms W-8BEN falsely declared that the beneficial owner of the account was not a U.S. person.  The false Forms W-8BEN thus allowed the true ownership of the accounts to be concealed.

In addition, Gutzwiller accepted an account from a U.S. citizen and resident who presented a U.S. passport at the account opening in 1992.  At various times, the U.S. client refused to sign a Form W-9, prohibited anything relating to the account from being reported to the IRS or other U.S. governmental authority, and refused to respond to Gutzwiller’s questions about whether the account was declared to the IRS.  Although Gutzwiller did not use code names or numbers to communicate with clients, the U.S. client communicated with Gutzwiller by signing communications with an identifying number.  Beginning in 2009, Gutzwiller began to urge the U.S. client to close the account.  Over approximately the next year, the U.S. client began liquidating the account by withdrawing large amounts of cash in person in the form of U.S. dollars, Swiss francs, Euros and U.S. travelers checks.  Gutzwiller also honored the U.S. client’s requests to prepare numerous checks written in amounts below $10,000, which the U.S. client then picked up at Gutzwiller.  In late 2010, Gutzwiller declined a request to liquidate remaining funds in the account in a similar manner and informed the U.S. client that it would only close the account through a single payment in the form of a cash withdrawal, a single check or a wire transfer.  The account was closed in 2011 with a wire transfer of more than $3 million to another Swiss bank, without the U.S. client coming into compliance with U.S. tax obligations.  The U.S. client later voluntarily disclosed the account at Gutzwiller and the other Swiss bank to the IRS.

Since Aug. 1, 2008, Gutzwiller held a total of 128 U.S.-related accounts with a high value of approximately $271 million.  Gutzwiller will pay a penalty of $1.556 million.

Under the Swiss Bank Program, eligible Swiss banks that had notified the DOJ by December 31, 2013 of an intent to participate in the Program were eligible to resolve any potential criminal liabilities in the U.S. by completing the following:

  • 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 these non-prosecution agreements, 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 DOJ’s agreement not to prosecute these banks for tax-related criminal offenses.

The Justice Department released the following documents with each of these announcements:

  • The La Roche non-prosecution agreement and statement of facts (available here).
  • The SGKB non-prosecution agreement and statement of facts (available here).
  • The Gutzwiller non-prosecution agreement and statement of facts (available here).