Two More Swiss Banks Reach Resolutions with U.S. Government

Today the Justice Department announced that Société Générale Private Banking (Suisse) SA (SGPB-Suisse) and Berner Kantonalbank AG (BEKB), have reached resolutions under the department’s Swiss Bank Program.  With today’s announcement, a total of eleven Swiss banks have reached resolutions with the U.S. government.  (See prior posts here, here, and here.)  More than 100 banks are believed to have enrolled in the program.

The DOJ press release is set forth, in pertinent part, below:

“As the agreements reached today confirm, Swiss banks that helped U.S. taxpayers to hide foreign accounts and evade their U.S. tax obligations are providing a detailed account of their cross-border banking activities. The banks are naming officers, employees and others who facilitated this conduct, and providing information that helps us track assets that accountholders moved to other banks and other countries,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Department of Justice’s Tax Division.  “Using information gathered from the banks in this program, we have identified and are investigating individuals, both domestic and foreign, who helped U.S. taxpayers dodge their obligations.”

The Swiss Bank Program, which was announced on Aug. 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 department by Dec. 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 penalties in return for the department’s agreement not to prosecute these banks for tax-related criminal offenses.

SGPB-Suisse has had a presence in Switzerland since 1926, and had a U.S.-licensed representative office in Miami from the early 1990s until it closed on Aug. 26, 2013.  SGPB-Suisse opened and maintained accounts for accountholders who had U.S. tax reporting obligations, and was aware that U.S. taxpayers had a legal duty to report to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and pay taxes on all of their income, including income earned in SGPB-Suisse accounts.  SGPB-Suisse knew that it was likely that certain U.S. taxpayers who maintained accounts at the bank were not complying with their U.S. income tax obligations.

SGPB-Suisse’s U.S. cross-border banking business aided and 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 IRS.  SGBP-Suisse used a variety of means to assist U.S. clients in hiding their assets and income, including opening and maintaining accounts for U.S. taxpayers in the name of non-U.S. entities, including sham entities, thereby assisting such U.S. taxpayers in concealing their beneficial ownership of the accounts.  Such entities included Panama and British Virgin Island corporations, as well as Liechtenstein foundations.  In two instances, an SGPB-Suisse employee acted as a director of entities that had U.S. taxpayers as beneficial owners.  In another instance, upon the death of the beneficial owner of an entity, the heirs opened accounts held by sham entities at SGPB-Suisse to receive their shares of the assets from the entity account.

SGPB-Suisse further provided numbered accounts, allowing the accountholder to replace his or her identity with a code name or number on documents sent to the client, and held statements and other mail at its offices in Switzerland, rather than sending them to the U.S. taxpayers in the United States.  In addition to these services, SGPB-Suisse:

– Processed requests from U.S. taxpayers for cash or gold withdrawals so as not to trigger any transaction reporting requirements;

– Processed requests from U.S. taxpayers to transfer funds from U.S.-related accounts at SGPB-Suisse to accounts at subsidiaries in Lugano, Switzerland, and the Bahamas;

– Opened accounts for U.S. taxpayers who had left UBS when the department was investigating that bank;

– Processed requests from U.S. taxpayers to transfer assets from accounts being closed to other SGPB-Suisse accounts held by non-U.S. relatives and/or friends; and

– Followed instructions from U.S. beneficial owners to transfer assets to corprate and individual accounts at other banks in Switzerland, Hong Kong, Israel, Lebanon, Liechtenstein and Cyprus.

Throughout its participation in the Swiss Bank Program, SGPB-Suisse committed to full cooperation with the U.S. government.  For example, SGPB-Suisse described in detail the structure of its U.S. cross-border business, including providing a list of the names and functions of individuals who structured, operated or supervised the cross-border business at SGPB-Suisse; a summary of U.S.-related accounts by assets under management; written narrative summaries of 98 U.S.-related accounts; and the circumstances surrounding the closure of relevant accounts holding cash or gold.  SGPB-Suisse also provided information to make treaty requests to the Swiss competent authority for U.S. client account records.

Since Aug. 1, 2008, SGPB-Suisse held and managed approximately 375 U.S.-related accounts, which included both declared and undeclared accounts, with a peak of assets under management of approximately $660 million.  SGPB-Suisse will pay a penalty of $17.807 million.

BEKB was founded in 1834 as Kantonalbank von Bern, the first Swiss cantonal bank.  BEKB is based in the Canton of Bern and presently has 73 branches in Switzerland.  BEKB knew or had reason to know that it was likely that some U.S. taxpayers who maintained accounts at BEKB were not complying with their U.S. reporting obligations.  BEKB opened, serviced and profited from accounts for U.S. clients who were not complying with their income tax obligations.

BEKB provided services that facilitated some U.S. clients in opening and maintaining undeclared accounts in Switzerland and concealing the assets in those accounts and related income.  These services included opening and maintaining numbered accounts, allowing clients to use code names rather than full account numbers and providing hold mail services.  BEKB opened accounts for account holders who exited other Swiss banks and accepted deposits of funds from those banks.  BEKB also processed standing orders from U.S. persons to transfer amounts under $10,000 from their U.S.-related accounts.  In one instance, a relationship manager asked an accountholder, who was a dual Swiss-U.S. citizen living in the United States, about the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and voluntary disclosure.  When the accountholder failed to execute FATCA-related documents, BEKB took steps to close the account.  In connection with that closing, the accountholder withdrew $70,000 and approximately 500,000 Swiss francs in cash.

BEKB committed to full cooperation with the U.S. government throughout its participation in the Swiss Bank Program.  As part of its cooperation, BEKB provided a list of the names and functions of 16 individuals who structured, operated or supervised its cross-border business.  These individuals served as the chairman of the board of directors, members of the executive board, regional managers, heads of departments or heads of divisions.  BEKB additionally provided information concerning its relationship managers and external asset managers, and it described in detail the structure of its cross-border business with U.S. persons, including narrative descriptions of high-value U.S.-related accounts and U.S.-related accounts held by entities.

Since Aug. 1, 2008, BEKB held approximately 720 U.S.-related accounts, which included both undeclared and not undeclared accounts, with total assets of approximately $176.5 million.  BEKB will pay a penalty of $4.619 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.

“These two resolutions with Société Générale Private Banking (Suisse) SA and Berner Kantonalbank AG represent the ongoing 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 & International Division.  “We are encouraged by the Justice Department’s program success and look forward to additional information to further our investigations of those who have evaded detection and reporting as well as those who have aided them.”

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 Aug. 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 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.”

The BEKB non-prosecution agreement can be found here. The SGPB-Suisse non-prosecution agreement can be found here.

Two More Banks Reach Resolutions Under Justice Department’s Swiss Bank Program

DOJ logoOn 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:

DOJ Announces Four More Swiss Bank Resolutions

DOJ logoLate 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: