Three More Swiss Banks Have Secured Non-Prosecution Agreements with the DOJ

Since our last update, three more Swiss banks have reached resolutions with the Justice Department under its Swiss Bank Program –Valiant Bank AG, Schroder & Co. Bank AG, and Hypothekarbank Lenzburg AG. To resolve their respective tax-related criminal offenses, Valiant Bank agreed to pay a penalty of $3.3 million, Schroder Bank agreed to pay a penalty of $10.3 million, and HBL agreed to pay a penalty of $560,000.

In press releases, the DOJ described the relevant conduct of each of the banks in relation to their U.S. accountholders as follows:

Valiant Bank (announced yesterday)

Valiant traces its origins to 1824 and is headquartered in Bern, the capital of Switzerland.  Today, Valiant is the successor of 40 banks.

Valiant offered hold mail services and numbered accounts to its U.S. clients, including some U.S. clients who had not provided Valiant with an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form W-9.  Valiant also accepted funds from 19 UBS accountholders who exited UBS.  Eleven of these 19 U.S. persons provided a signed Form W-9.  The remaining eight U.S. persons who did not were later forced to close their Valiant accounts.

For 26 accountholders who refused to sign a Form W-9, Valiant cashed out or converted into gold hundreds of thousands (and even millions) of dollars in account balances.  In late November 2011, one accountholder withdrew more than one million Swiss francs in various currencies and 114,000 Swiss francs in gold coins, gold bars and precious metal.  Another accountholder withdrew $2 million in cash and wired 400,000 Swiss francs to a U.S. bank.  In both instances, the accountholders refused to sign a Form W-9.  Other accountholders withdrew only amounts under $10,000 either by U.S. dollar cash withdrawals or by check or wire transfer to the United States, or transferred large sums to non-U.S. institutions.  For example, one accountholder transferred over 435,000 euros to France and $350,000 to Luxembourg.  Two other accountholders each transferred 75,000 Swiss francs to Dubai and closed their accounts with cash withdrawals of over 300,000 Swiss francs.

In 2009, an accountholder refused to sign a Form W-9 and requested that Valiant ignore the accountholder’s U.S. status.  The accountholder’s non-U.S. spouse later opened a separate account at Valiant, and the accountholder transferred more than $1 million into that account.  According to an “Agreement of Donation” between the accountholder and the accountholder’s non-U.S. spouse, the purpose of the transfer was “to make a donation” and “without any consideration.”  The agreement provided that the donation was “irrevocable.”  The non-U.S. spouse then transferred the funds to UBS and instructed Valiant to close the account.

Some U.S.-related accounts at Valiant were held in the name of non-U.S. entities with one or more U.S. beneficial owners.  In one case, a British Virgin Islands entity opened an account at Valiant through a third-party Swiss entity assigned to manage the account.  The entity holding the account designated four U.S. persons as beneficial owners, but signed a Valiant form declaring that the account was for the benefit of non-U.S. persons.

Since Aug. 1, 2008, Valiant had 330 U.S.-related accounts, out of a total of 600,000 accounts.  The maximum aggregate dollar value of the U.S.-related accounts was $147.4 million.  Valiant will pay a penalty of $3.304 million.

Schroder Bank (announced 9/3/2015)

Schroder Bank was founded in 1967 and received its Swiss banking license in 1970.  Since 1984, Schroder Bank has had a branch in Geneva.  The bank has two wholly owned subsidiaries, Schroder Trust AG (domiciled in Geneva) and Schroder Cayman Bank & Trust Company Ltd. (domiciled in George Town, Grand Cayman).  Schroder Cayman Bank & Trust Company Ltd. provides services to clients such as the creation and support of trusts, foundations and other corporate bodies.  Both subsidiaries also acted in some cases as an account signatory for entities holding an account with the bank.  Schroder Bank is in the process of closing the operations of Schroder Trust AG and Schroder Cayman Bank & Trust Company Ltd.

Schroder Bank opened accounts for trusts and companies owned by trusts, foundations and other corporate bodies established and incorporated under the laws of the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Panama, Liechtenstein and other non-U.S. jurisdictions, where the beneficiary or beneficial owner named on the Form A was a U.S. citizen or resident.  In addition, a small number of accounts were opened for U.S. limited liability companies (LLCs) with U.S. citizens or residents as members, as well as for U.S. LLCs with non-U.S. persons as members.  Schroder Bank communicated directly with the beneficial owners of some accounts of trusts, foundations or corporate bodies, and it arranged for the issuance of credit cards to the beneficial owners of some such accounts that appear in some cases to have been used for personal expenses.

Schroder Bank also processed cash withdrawals in amounts exceeding $100,000 or the Swiss franc equivalent.  For at least three U.S.-related accounts, a series of withdrawals that in aggregate exceeded $1 million were made.  In addition, at least 26 U.S.-related accountholders received cash or checks in amounts exceeding $100,000 on closure of their accounts, including in at least three cases cash or checks in excess of $1 million.

Between 2004 and 2008, four Schroder Bank employees traveled to the U.S. in connection with the bank’s business with respect to U.S.-related accounts.  In 2008, Swiss bank UBS AG publicly announced that it was the target of a criminal investigation by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the department, and that it would be exiting and no longer accepting certain U.S. clients.  In a later deferred prosecution agreement, UBS admitted that its cross-border banking business used Swiss privacy law to aid and assist U.S. clients in opening accounts and maintaining undeclared assets and income from the IRS.  Between Aug. 1, 2008, and June 30, 2009, Schroder Bank opened eight U.S.-related accounts with funds received from UBS, which was then under investigation by the U.S. government.

Since Aug. 1, 2008, Schroder Bank had 243 U.S.-related accounts with approximately $506 million in assets under management.  Schroder Bank will pay a $10.354 million penalty.

Hypothekarbank Lenzburg AG (announced 8/27/2015)

HBL offered a variety of traditional Swiss banking services that it knew could assist, and that did assist, U.S. clients in the concealment of assets and income from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  For example, HBL, upon client request, did not send mail associated with some U.S.-related accounts to the United States.  In addition, HBL offered numbered accounts to its clients, a service by which access to information about an account, including the identity of the accountholder, was limited to only certain employees of HBL.  In a handful of instances, the accountholders of U.S.-related accounts who refused to provide a Form W-9 or who admitted that they were not tax compliant withdrew significant amounts of cash or physical assets when HBL forced these accounts to be closed.

In or about 2008, Swiss bank UBS AG publicly announced that it was the target of a criminal investigation by the IRS and the department, and that it would be exiting and no longer accepting certain U.S. clients.  In a later deferred prosecution agreement, UBS admitted that its cross-border banking business used Swiss privacy law to aid and assist U.S. clients in opening accounts and maintaining undeclared assets and income from the IRS.  HBL opened one account for a U.S. person who exited UBS.  For another long-standing holder of a U.S.-related account, HBL received a transfer of funds from an account held at UBS into a pre-existing account at HBL.

Another accountholder who resided in the United States for many years had two accounts, one of which was a numbered account.  In 2012, the accountholder’s relationship manager requested a Form W-9 for the numbered account and the accountholder refused to provide one.  As a result, the relationship manager directed the accountholder to close the numbered account.  Thereafter, the accountholder came to Lenzburg to close the numbered account.  The accountholder withdrew 240,000 Swiss francs and 12,000 euros and purchased precious metals in the amount of 318,000 Swiss francs.

Since Aug. 1, 2008, HBL had 96 U.S.-related accounts with an aggregate value of $69.8 million.  HBL’s average annual revenue attributable to U.S.-related accounts in the form of fees, commissions and earnings on client funds that were loaned out by HBL was $198,000, or a total of $1.2 million since Aug. 1, 2008.  HBL will pay a penalty of $560,000.

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 Valiant Bank non-prosecution agreement and statement of facts (available here).
  • The Schroder Bank non-prosecution agreement and statement of facts (available here).
  • The HBL non-prosecution agreement and statement of facts (available here).

A Welcome Change: Congress Finally Conforms FBAR and Tax Return Filing Deadlines

Last week Congress passed, and the President signed, a bill entitled “The Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015.” While this legislation was primarily directed at extending federal funding for transportation projects, buried within the bill were several tax-related provisions that changed key filing deadlines. One of the most important passages in this new law changed the due date for an important information reporting form: the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (commonly referred to as the “FBAR”).

Any U.S. taxpayer with a financial interest in, or signature or other authority over, a foreign bank account with a balance in excess of $10,000 is required to annually disclose the existence of such account(s) on the FBAR form. The deadline for filing the form is June 30, 2015, and no extension of that deadline was available under prior law. The FBAR is required to be filed electronically using the BSA e-filing system website.

Practitioners and taxpayers alike have complained for years that the deadlines for filing tax returns (April 15 for individuals) and the FBAR (June 30 for all taxpayers) were not aligned, and that no extension of the FBAR deadline was available. Congress finally heeded these calls for change, and last week’s legislation contains the following short, but critical, provision:

(11) The due date of FinCEN Report 114 (relating to Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts) shall be April 15 with a maximum extension for a 6-month period ending on October 15 and with provision for an extension under rules similar to the rules in Treas. Reg. section 1.6081–5. For any taxpayer required to file such Form for the first time, any penalty for failure to timely request for, or file, an extension, may be waived by the Secretary.

This provision applies to returns for taxable years beginning after December 31, 2015.

As a result of this new legislation, the FBAR filing deadline will be April 15, starting with the 2016 tax year. Thus, for taxpayers required to file a 2015 FBAR, the deadline will remain June 30, 2016. For taxpayers required to file a FBAR for 2016 (and thereafter), the deadline will change to April 15, 2017. Importantly, taxpayers will also be able to request, for the first time, a six-month extension of the FBAR filing deadline, to October 15. (As noted above, previously taxpayers were unable to request any extension of the FBAR deadline, even if their income tax return was placed on extension.) We expect the Treasury Department to promulgate regulations setting forth the procedure for requesting an extension of the FBAR filing deadline. Note that the new April 15 FBAR filing deadline applies to all types of taxpayers, not just individuals. Thus, corporate taxpayers that file on March 15 will also have an April 15 deadline for filing their FBAR forms.

The legislation also provides the opportunity for penalty relief for first-time filers. This is significant because the FBAR statute provides for substantial penalties for taxpayers who fail to file, or file false, FBAR forms. Willful failure to file the FBAR is a felony that can subject the taxpayer to criminal prosecution and/or civil penalties in the amount of 50 percent of the highest balance of the unreported bank account(s). Negligence penalties can also apply, at a rate of up to $10,000 per unreported account per year.

Changing the FBAR filing deadline to April 15, to align with the Form 1040 income tax return deadline, is a positive and much-needed development. Taxpayers, and return preparers, will now be able to focus on income tax and FBAR reporting at the same time and, more importantly, will be able to seek a six-month extension of the FBAR deadline if necessary. Given the difficulties that taxpayers often experience in obtaining account records from offshore financial institutions, the ability to seek an extension is a welcome change.

IRS Issues Last-Minute FBAR Filing Reminder

With the June 30 deadline to file the FBAR form fast approaching, the IRS issued another reminder to taxpayers with bank accounts located outside of the United States. The IRS noted that during 2014, the total number of FBAR filers exceeded one million for the first time in history. Taxpayers with foreign bank accounts should take care to comply with their FBAR filing obligations, as hefty civil and criminal penalties can apply to non-compliant taxpayers.  The June 30 deadline cannot be extended, and the FBAR form must be filed electronically.

Here is the text of the latest FBAR press release issued by the IRS:

WASHINGTON—The Internal Revenue Service today reminded everyone who has one or more bank or financial accounts located outside the United States, or signature authority over such accounts that they may need to file an FBAR by next Tuesday, June 30.

FBAR refers to Form 114, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, which must be filed with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), a bureau of the Treasury Department. It is not a tax form and cannot be filed with the IRS. The form must be filed electronically and is only available online through the BSA E-Filing System website.

In general, the filing requirement applies to anyone who had an interest in, or signature or other authority over foreign financial accounts whose aggregate value exceeded $10,000 at any time during 2014. Because of this threshold, the IRS encourages taxpayers with foreign assets, even relatively small ones, to check if this filing requirement applies to them.

FBAR filings have surged in recent years, topping the one-million mark for the first time during calendar-year 2014. The FBAR requirement is separate from the requirement to report specified foreign financial assets on a U.S. income tax return using Form 8938. A brief comparison of the two filing requirements is available on IRS.gov.

For more on filing requirements for the FBAR, see Current FBAR Guidance on IRS.gov. The IRS has also produced a free one-hour webinar explaining the FBAR requirement.

Blank Rome’s FBAR and FATCA Compliance Team regularly advises taxpayers as to foreign bank account reporting obligations, the IRS voluntary disclosure programs, and FATCA compliance.

IRS Reminds Taxpayers with Foreign Assets of Their FBAR/FATCA Obligations As Key Deadline Approaches

Today the Internal Revenue Service issued two public notices reminding taxpayers of their obligations to report foreign assets as the June 30 FBAR deadline fast approaches. Each notice referred to the extensive guidance issued by the IRS on the reporting obligation imposed by the foreign bank account reporting rules (FBAR) and the relatively new Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). Taxpayers with foreign bank accounts in excess of $10,000 must file the FBAR form electronically by June 30, 2015, and no extensions of that deadline are available.

The text of the first IRS notice is shown below:

Taxpayers with Foreign Assets May Have FBAR and FATCA Filing Requirements in June

WASHINGTON—The Internal Revenue Service today reminded all taxpayers with an FBAR filing requirement to report their foreign assets by the June 30 deadline. FBAR filings have risen dramatically in recent years as FATCA phases in and other international compliance efforts have raised awareness among taxpayers with offshore assets.

The IRS encourages taxpayers with foreign assets, even relatively small amounts, to check if they have a filing requirement. Separately, certain taxpayers living abroad may also have to file the FATCA-related Form 8938 with their tax returns by the June 15 deadline. (Domestic filers may also be required to file Form 8938, which would have been due by April 15 with their tax returns.)

“The vast majority of taxpayers pay their fair share. The FBAR and FATCA filing requirements make it tougher for that relatively small number of taxpayers trying to hide assets and income offshore,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Taxpayers are encouraged to review the rules and disclose their offshore assets.”

FBAR Requirements

FBAR refers to Form 114, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, that must be filed with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), which is a bureau of the Treasury Department. The form must be filed electronically and is only available online through the BSA E-Filing System website.

Who needs to file an FBAR? Taxpayers with an interest in, or signature or other authority over, foreign financial accounts whose aggregate value exceeded $10,000 at any time during 2014 generally must file. For more on filing requirements, see Current FBAR Guidance on IRS.gov. Also see the one-hour webinar explaining the FBAR requirement.

The FBAR filing requirement is not part of filing a tax return. The FBAR Form 114 is filed separately and directly with FinCEN.

FBAR filings have surged in recent years, according to data from FinCEN. FBAR filings exceeded 1 million for the first time in calendar year 2014 and rose nine of the last 10 years from about 280,000 back in 2005.

FATCA Requirements

FATCA refers to the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. The law addresses tax non-compliance by U.S. taxpayers with foreign accounts by focusing on reporting by U.S. taxpayers and foreign financial institutions.

In general, federal law requires U.S. citizens and resident aliens to report any worldwide income, including income from foreign trusts and foreign bank and securities accounts. In most cases, affected taxpayers need to complete and attach Schedule B to their tax returns. Part III of Schedule B asks about the existence of foreign accounts, such as bank and securities accounts, and generally requires U.S. citizens to report the country in which each account is located.

In addition, certain taxpayers may also have to complete and attach to their return Form 8938 Statement of Special Foreign Financial Assets.  Generally, U.S. citizens, resident aliens and certain nonresident aliens must report specified foreign financial assets on this form if the aggregate value of those assets exceeds certain thresholds. See the instructions of this form for details.

The FATCA Form 8938 requirement does not replace or otherwise affect a taxpayer’s obligation to file an FBAR Form 114.  A brief comparison of the two filing requirements is available on IRS.gov.

U.S. Income Tax Obligations

U.S. citizens and resident aliens, including those with dual citizenship who have lived or worked abroad during all or part of 2014, may have a U.S. tax liability and a filing requirement in 2015.

A filing requirement generally applies even if a taxpayer qualifies for tax benefits, such as the foreign earned income exclusion or the foreign tax credit, that substantially reduce or eliminate their U.S. tax liability. These tax benefits are not automatic and are only available if an eligible taxpayer files a U.S. income tax return.

The filing deadline is Monday, June 15, 2015, for U.S. citizens and resident aliens whose tax home and abode are outside the United States and Puerto Rico, and for those serving in the military outside the U.S. and Puerto Rico, on the regular due date of their tax return. To use this automatic two-month extension, taxpayers must attach a statement to their returns explaining which of these two situations applies. See U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad for details.

Nonresident aliens who received income from U.S. sources in 2014 also must determine whether they have a U.S. tax obligation. The filing deadline for nonresident aliens can be April 15 or June 15 depending on sources of income. See Taxation of Nonresident Aliens on IRS.gov.

More Information Available

Any U.S. taxpayer here or abroad with tax questions can refer to the International Taxpayers landing page and use the online IRS Tax Map and the International Tax Topic Index to get answers. These online tools assemble or group IRS forms, publications and web pages by subject and provide users with a single entry point to find tax information.

Taxpayers who are looking for return preparers abroad should visit the Directory of Federal Tax Return Preparers with Credentials and Select Qualifications.

To help avoid delays with tax refunds, taxpayers living abroad should visit the Helpful Tips for Effectively Receiving a Tax Refund for Taxpayers Living Abroad page.

More information on the tax rules that apply to U.S. citizens and resident aliens living abroad can be found in, Publication 54, Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad, available on IRS.gov.

The IRS has launched new online videos and has expanded other online resources to help taxpayers, especially those living abroad, meet their U.S. tax obligations. For details see IR-2015-85 issued on June 4, 2015.

The text of the second notice issued by the IRS is shown below:

Don’t Miss Filing Deadlines Related to Foreign Income and Assets

All U.S. citizens and residents must report worldwide income on their federal income tax return. If you lived outside the U.S. on the regular due date of your tax return, the extended filing deadline for your 2014 tax return is Monday, June 15, 2015. Similarly, the deadline to report interests in certain foreign financial accounts is the end of June. Here are some important tips to know if these reporting rules apply to you:

FATCA Requirements.  FATCA refers to the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. In general, federal law requires U.S. citizens and resident aliens to report any worldwide income. You must report the existence of and income from foreign accounts. This includes foreign trusts, banks and securities accounts. In most cases you must report the country where each account is located. To do this file Schedule B, Interest and Ordinary Dividends with your tax return.

You may also have to file Form 8938, Statement of Special Foreign Financial Assets with your tax return. Use the form to report specified foreign financial assets if the aggregate value of those assets exceeds certain thresholds. See the form instructions for details.

FBAR Requirements.  FBAR refers to Form 114, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts. If you must file this form you file it with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN. FinCEN is a bureau of the Treasury Department. You generally must file the form if you had an interest in foreign financial accounts whose aggregate value exceeded $10,000 at any time during 2014. This also applies if you had signature or other authority over those accounts. You must file Form 114 electronically. It is available online through the BSA E-Filing System website. The FBAR filing requirement is not part of filing a tax return. The deadline to file Form 114 is June 30.

View the IRS Webinar.  You can get help and learn about FBAR rules by watching the IRS webinar on this topic. The title is “Reporting of Foreign Financial Accounts on the Electronic FBAR.” The presentation is one hour long. You can find it by entering “FBAR” in the search box of the IRS Video Portal home page. Topics include:

– FBAR legal authorities

– FBAR mandatory e-filing overview

– Using FinCEN Form 114; and Form 114a

– FBAR filing requirements

– FBAR filing exceptions

– Special filing rules

– Recordkeeping

– Administrative guidance

You can access IRS forms, videos and tools on IRS.gov at any time.

Additional IRS resources:

Comparison of Form 8938 and FBAR Requirements

International Taxpayers

International Tax Topic Index

FBAR Reference Guide

Publication 54, Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad

IRS Tax Map

Treasury Department End-of-Year Exchange Rates

IRS YouTube Videos – International Taxpayers:

Introduction to the International Taxpayers Webpage

Filing Requirements

Filing Status If Married to a Nonresident Alien

Foreign Earned Income Exclusion

Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)