Confirming That No Country Is “Off Limits,” DOJ Secures Guilty Pleas From 2 Cayman Islands Financial Institutions for Tax Evasion

In its first-ever conviction of a non-Swiss financial institution for tax evasion conspiracy, the Justice Department announced today that two Cayman Islands firms pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to conspiring to hide more than $130 million in Cayman bank accounts. The two financial institutions, Cayman National Securities Ltd. (CNS) and Cayman National Trust Co. Ltd. (CNS), admitted that they helped U.S. clients hide assets in offshore accounts, and agreed to provide files of non-compliant U.S. account holders to the U.S. government.

Today’s announcement comes on the heels of the conclusion in January 2016 of the highly-successful Swiss Bank Program, pursuant to which 80 banks in Switzerland entered into non-prosecution agreements and paid more than $1.3 billion in penalties, and the announcement, in February 2016, of a deferred prosecution agreement with another Swiss bank, Julius Baer. In a recent speech, Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the DOJ Tax Division warned that “[o]ur investigations of both individuals and entities are well beyond Switzerland at this point, and no jurisdiction is off limits.” With the Justice Department actively conducting criminal tax investigations around the globe, speculation has swirled about which country or region would be the next target in the U.S. government’s offshore tax evasion crackdown.

“The guilty pleas of these two Cayman Island companies today represent the first convictions of financial institutions outside Switzerland for conspiring with U.S. taxpayers to evade their lawful and legitimate taxes,” said U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara of the Southern District of New York. “The plea agreements require these Cayman entities to provide this office with the client files, because we are committed to finding and prosecuting not only banks that help U.S. taxpayers evade taxes, but also individual taxpayers who find criminal ways not to pay their fair share. We will follow them no matter how far they go to hide their accounts, whether it is Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, or some other tax haven.”

“Today’s convictions make clear that our focus is not on any one bank, insurance company or asset management firm, or even any one country,” said Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division. “The Department and IRS are following the money across the globe – there are no safe havens for U.S. citizens engaged in tax evasion or those actively assisting them.”

The two financial institutions entering guilty pleas today provided investment brokerage and trust management services to individuals and entities within and outside the Cayman Islands, including citizens and residents of the United States. CNS and CNT pleaded guilty to a criminal Information charging them with conspiring with their U.S. clients to hide more than $130 million in offshore accounts from the IRS and to evade U.S. taxes on the income earned in those accounts. CNS and CNT entered their guilty pleas pursuant to plea agreements requiring the companies to, among other things, produce through the treaty process account files of non-compliant U.S. taxpayers who maintained accounts at CNS and CNT, and pay a total of $6 million in financial penalties.

“The veil of secrecy has been lifted from what was once a common place for criminals to hide their money offshore,” said Chief Weber. “The IRS and DOJ work aggressively to require banks to follow the laws and not turn a blind eye to criminal activity. When individuals and entities hide behind shell corporations and numbered bank accounts, they are not only cheating the U.S. government, they are cheating the honest taxpaying citizens who are obeying the law and doing the right thing.”

The Offense Conduct

According to a Justice Department press release, from at least 2001 through 2011, CNS and CNT assisted their U.S. account holders in evading their U.S. tax obligations and otherwise hiding accounts held at CNS and CNT from the IRS. CNS and CNT did so by knowingly opening and maintaining undeclared accounts for U.S. taxpayers at CNS and CNT in the following manner:

  • CNS and CNT opened, and/or encouraged many U.S. taxpayer-clients to open accounts held in the name of sham Caymanian companies and trusts, thereby helping U.S. taxpayers conceal their beneficial ownership of the accounts.
  • CNS and CNT treated these sham Caymanian structures as the account holders and allowed the U.S. beneficial owners of the accounts to trade in U.S. securities.
  • CNS failed to disclose to the IRS the identities of the U.S. beneficial owners who were trading in U.S. securities, in contravention of CNS’s obligations under its Qualified Intermediary Agreement (QI) with the IRS.
  • After learning about the investigation of Swiss bank UBS in 2008, for assisting U.S. taxpayers in evading their U.S. tax obligations, CNS and CNT continued to knowingly maintain undeclared accounts for U.S. taxpayer-clients and did not begin to engage in any significant remedial efforts with respect to those accounts until 2011 and 2012.

The sham Caymanian structures that CNT set up for its U.S. clients included trusts, which were nominally controlled by CNT trust officers, but which in fact were controlled by the U.S. clients; managed companies, for which CNT ostensibly provided direction and management services, but which in truth were shell companies that served only to hold the assets of the U.S. clients; and registered office companies, which were shell companies for which CNT simply supplied a Caymanian mailing address. CNS treated these sham Caymanian structures as the account holders and then permitted the U.S. clients to trade in U.S. securities, without requiring them to submit Forms W-9, which are IRS forms that identify individuals as U.S. taxpayers, as CNS was obligated to do under its QI obligations for accounts held by U.S. persons that held U.S. securities. CNS and CNT agreed to maintain these structures for U.S. clients after many of them expressed concern that their accounts would be detected by the IRS.

In or about April 2008, it became publicly known that the Justice Department was investigating UBS for assisting U.S. taxpayers in evading their U.S. tax obligations. Thereafter, despite the public disclosure of the UBS case, and CNS’s awareness of it, CNS continued to assist its U.S. clients in concealing their accounts from the IRS by, among other things, failing to require them to complete Forms W-9. Likewise, up through at least 2010, CNT continued to rely on account opening documentation that, rather than barring the creation of non-tax compliant structures, simply assigned higher “risk” points to such structures. In or about June 2011, CNT hired a new president, who ordered a review of CNT’s files. In the course of that review, not a single file was found to be complete and without tax or other issues. Moreover, with respect to the structures that had U.S. beneficial owners, CNT’s files contained little, if any, evidence of tax compliance.

At their highest point in 2009, CNS and CNT had approximately $137 million in assets under management relating to undeclared accounts held by U.S. clients. From 2001 through 2011, CNS and CNT earned more than $3.4 million in gross revenues from the undeclared U.S. taxpayer accounts that they maintained.

Cooperation by CNS and CNT

As part of their plea agreements CNS and CNT have agreed to cooperate fully with the Justice Department’s investigation of their criminal conduct. To date, CNS and CNT have already made substantial efforts to cooperate with that investigation, including by: (1) facilitating interviews of CNS and CNT employees, including top level executives; (2) voluntarily producing documents in response to DOJ requests; (3) providing, in response to a treaty request, unredacted client files for approximately 20 percent of the U.S. taxpayer-clients who maintained accounts at CNS and CNT; and (4) committing to assist in responding to a treaty request that is expected to result in the production of unredacted client files for approximately 90 to 95 percent of the U.S. clients who maintained accounts at CNS and CNT.

In connection with their guilty pleas, CNS and CNT have agreed to pay the United States a total of $6 million, which consists of the forfeiture of gross proceeds of their illegal conduct, restitution of the outstanding unpaid taxes from U.S. taxpayers who held undeclared accounts at CNS and CNT, and a fine.

DOJ’s Latest Offshore Tax Case Shows Expatriates Who Renounce U.S. Citizenship Not Immune From Prosecution

An individual residing in Switzerland since 2007, who apparently renounced his U.S. citizenship four years ago, was convicted today in federal court of one count of filing a false U.S. income tax return. According to a Justice Department press release, Albert Cambata opened a bank account at an unnamed Swiss bank in 2006 in the name of a Hong Kong company, with the assistance of a Swiss banker and a Swiss attorney. Later that year, Mr. Cambata received $12 million from a company based in Belize, which funds in turn originated from a company in Panama.

On his 2007 and 2008 federal income tax returns, Mr. Cambata failed to report interest income earned on his Swiss bank account in the amounts of $77,298 and $206,408, respectively. In April 2008, Mr. Cambata had his Swiss attorney request that 5 million Euros be wired from his Swiss account to a different account controlled by Mr. Cambata located at the Monaco branch of a different Swiss bank. In June 2008, Mr. Cambata closed his original Swiss bank account and moved the funds to an account he controlled at the Singapore branch of a third Swiss bank.

In 2012, Mr. Cambata went to the U.S. Embassy in Bratislava, Slovakia, to renounce his U.S. citizenship. At that time, he notified the U.S. Department of State that he had become a naturalized citizen of St. Kitts and Nevis.

Sentencing is scheduled for April 15, 2016. As part of his plea agreement, Mr. Cambata agreed to pay $84,849 in restitution.

Several interesting conclusions can be drawn from this latest conviction in the U.S. government’s extensive and ongoing crackdown on offshore tax evasion. First, the information that DOJ used to pursue Mr. Cambata and his extensive trail of money transfers likely came from either banks participating in the Swiss Bank Program or Category 1 Swiss banks which have reached resolutions with the U.S. government (like UBS and Credit Suisse), or perhaps both. All three of Mr. Cambata’s accounts – in Switzerland, Monaco, and Singapore – were held at branches of Swiss banks, and although those banks are not identified by name in the DOJ press release, they are likely cooperating with the U.S. government in same fashion. In addition, the funds at issue originated from companies based in Belize and Panama, countries which are squarely in the sights of the Tax Division’s ongoing investigations. In 2015, a federal court authorized issuance of “John Doe” summonses seeking information regarding accounts held at certain Belize banks as well as companies that assisted in the creation of Belizean international business corporations. Today’s conviction presumably was the product of information shared with the U.S. by Swiss banks and through the “John Doe” summons process.

Second, the guilty plea of Mr. Cambata has several interesting features. He only pleaded guilty to filing false tax returns for 2007 and 2008, and it is unclear why his plea did not include subsequent years given that, according to the press release, he moved his funds to a third Swiss bank account in June 2008. It is possible that Mr. Cambata properly reported his foreign accounts beginning in tax year 2009 and thereafter. In February 2009, the U.S. government announced its landmark agreement with Swiss banking giant UBS, and the significant publicly generated by that announcement may have prompted Mr. Cambata (like many others) to properly file U.S. returns and FBARs starting in that year and thereafter. In addition, the tax years of conviction (2007 and 2008) would normally be closed due to operation of the six-year criminal statute of limitations for tax crimes, but that statute does not run when the defendant is “outside the United States.” According to the press release, Mr. Cambata resided outside the United States – in Switzerland – since 2007. The amount of unreported income, and the “tax loss,” are also of note in this case. Mr. Cambata in his guilty plea agreed to pay restitution to the U.S. Treasury in the amount of $84,849. In a criminal tax case, the restitution amount normally corresponds to the “tax loss,” which is the key factor for sentencing purposes. Assuming that the tax loss is $84,849, with appropriate adjustments for “sophisticated means” typically required in offshore tax cases and for pleading guilty, Mr. Cambata is likely facing a sentence of between 12 to 18 months in prison. The tax loss in this is not overwhelming compared to other offshore criminal tax cases brought by the Justice Department, but given the other features present here – the defendant residing outside the United States; use of a complex web of multiple accounts, entities, and countries – the government obviously felt that this was a case worth prosecuting.

Third, this case should serve as a warning to expatriates that renouncing U.S. citizenship does not confer immunity from criminal prosecution. The rules for renouncing U.S. citizenship are complicated – both from a State Department and IRS perspective – and even those who carefully comply with those rules are not absolved from criminal conduct occurring prior to that time, as Mr. Cambata’s case demonstrates.  This is especially important as the number of U.S. citizens renouncing their citizenship is reaching record levels.

Finally, from a general deterrence perspective, this case serves as a broad warning to taxpayers with undisclosed foreign bank accounts and unreported income like Mr. Cambata – particularly those who are expatriates – that the risk of inaction is grave. For nearly eight full years, the DOJ and IRS have waged a public campaign to crack down on offshore tax evasion, and during that entire time the IRS has offered various voluntary disclosure programs to incentivize non-compliant taxpayers to come forward voluntarily and self-correct their tax issues. Individuals with undisclosed foreign bank accounts who remain on the sidelines at this late stage are very much at risk of discovery (like Mr. Cambata) and will face harsh consequences for failing to take advantage of the various voluntary disclosure options long available to them. Indeed, today’s DOJ press release includes the government’s now-typical language warning non-compliant taxpayers of the dire consequences they face if they fail to take immediate action:

“U.S. taxpayers have been given ample opportunity to come forward, disclose their secret foreign accounts, and come into compliance,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Ciraolo. “Those individuals and entities who rolled the dice in the hope of remaining anonymous are facing the consequences. The Tax Division remains committed to investigating and prosecuting individual taxpayers with undeclared foreign financial accounts, as well as the financial institutions, bankers, financial advisors and other professionals who facilitate the concealment of income and assets offshore. And as today’s guilty plea clearly indicates, the department’s reach is well beyond Switzerland.”

“IRS Criminal Investigation will continue to pursue those who do not pay the taxes they owe to the United States,” said Special Agent in Charge Thomas Jankowski of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, Washington, D.C. Field Office. “Today’s plea is a reminder that we are committed to following the money trail across the globe and will not be deterred by the use of sophisticated international financial transactions that hide the real ownership of income taxable by the United States.”

 

DOJ Tax Division Chief Outlines Enforcement Priorities for 2016

DOJ logoIn speech delivered on January 29, 2016, at the American Bar Association’s Tax Section Midyear Meeting, Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Justice Department’s Tax Division recapped her agency’s successes during 2015, and outlined its priorities for 2016. A number of key details regarding the government’s criminal and civil tax enforcement agenda were disclosed during the speech, as follows:

  • Offshore tax enforcement remains among the Tax Division’s top priorities.  Since 2008, DOJ has publicly charged more than 100 accountholders and nearly 50 individuals who have aided and assisted U.S. taxpayers in concealing foreign accounts and evading their U.S. tax obligations.  The government has also reached final criminal resolutions with six foreign financial institutions, including UBS and Credit Suisse, the two largest bank in Switzerland.
  • The Tax Division recently concluded the Swiss Bank Program, with 80 banks reaching resolutions and paying over $1.3 billion in penalties.
  • More than 54,000 individual taxpayers have made voluntary disclosures to the IRS regarding undisclosed offshore assets, paying over $8 billion in taxes, penalties, and interest.
  • The Tax Division continues to pursue investigations of banks outside of Switzerland, including in countries such as Belize, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Cook Islands, India, Israel, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Marshall Islands and Panama.
  • The Tax Division encourages “outreach by practitioners” and “encourage[s] financial institutions and individuals who have engaged in criminal conduct to contact the department to discuss their options.”
  • In addition to criminal enforcement, the Tax Division is using civil enforcement tools to pursue those who continue to conceal foreign accounts and assets and evade their U.S. tax obligations.  DOJ will continue to work with the IRS with respect to the examination and assessment of penalties for violations of the FBAR reporting requirements, file suits to collect outstanding FBAR penalties and defend against complaints for refund of FBAR penalties paid.
  • The Tax Division will continue to work closely with the IRS in its efforts to obtain foreign account records.  Using the “Required Records Doctrine,” DOJ has successfully challenged motions to quash grand jury subpoenas in criminal cases and obtained orders enforcing summonses in civil cases.  “At this point, the message is clear: taxpayers are required to maintain foreign records and produce them upon request.”
  • The DOJ will continue to make of “John Doe” summonses where the IRS is aware of possible violations of the internal revenue laws by individuals whose identities are unknown. In addition, the Tax Division will use Bank of Nova Scotia summonses and grand jury subpoenas, which seek to compel a domestic financial institution to produce records located in a foreign country.
  • The Tax Division is willing to assist treaty partners in their own tax enforcement efforts, as evidenced by a recent case, Dileng v. Commissioner.  In that case, the taxpayer had unpaid tax liabilities in excess of $2.5 million in Denmark. Under the U.S.-Denmark Tax Treaty, the Danish taxing authority submitted a collection assistance request and a revenue claim to the IRS, requesting that the IRS assist in collecting Mr. Dileng’s Danish liabilities.  Mr. Dileng filed suit, seeking to enjoin collection efforts by the IRS. The district court dismissed that suit, finding that an accepted revenue claim must be treated like a U.S. tax assessment for collection purposes within the United States, even though Mr. Dileng is prohibited from challenging those liabilities in U.S. courts.
  • In 2016, we can expect additional civil enforcement actions and ongoing and new criminal investigations and prosecutions.  Taxpayers participating in the OVDP or Streamlined programs may be contacted and interviewed by the IRS/DOJ as part of their ongoing cooperation.  Taxpayers who filed returns and FBARs pursuant to the streamlined filing procedures or the Delinquent International Information Return or FBAR submission procedures should be “very concerned if they falsely claimed to have engaged in non-willful conduct or acted with reasonable cause.”
  • “[F]inancial institutions and individuals who have facilitated the concealment of offshore accounts and the evasion of U.S. tax obligations would be well advised to anticipate an investigation and consider voluntarily disclosing any criminal activity to the department before they become the subject of an investigation.”
  • In the past year, the Tax Division has hired more than 80 new attorneys.  Currently, the Tax Division has more than 200 civil trial attorneys, more than 100 prosecutors and approximately 50 appellate attorneys. The Tax Division has established an international training series to ensure that its attorneys are familiar with the relevant issues and available tools in offshore enforcement and are working very closely with the IRS to identify those U.S. taxpayers failing to comply with their tax obligations.
  • “Those who underestimate the ability of the United States to pursue offshore tax evasion do so at their own peril.”

The text of the Acting Assistant Attorney General’s speech is set forth below.

Thank you for that kind introduction.  Let me begin by saying how nice it is to return to the American Bar Association (ABA) Tax Section meetings.  I’d like to focus my remarks this afternoon on the Justice Department Tax Division’s offshore enforcement efforts.  As you know, it has been a very busy year for the Tax Division, and I’m happy to report on our accomplishments and discuss what lays ahead in 2016.

First, a bit of history for those of you who may not have spent your summer in Switzerland or encouraging countless numbers of clients to participate in the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offshore voluntary disclosure programs.  Offshore tax enforcement has been and remains among the department’s top priorities.  Since 2008, the department has publicly charged more than 100 accountholders and nearly 50 individuals who have aided and assisted U.S. taxpayers in concealing foreign accounts and evading their U.S. tax obligations.  We also reached final criminal resolutions with six foreign financial institutions, including Credit Suisse, which pleaded guilty in May 2014 and agreed to pay $2.6 billion for its role in assisting U.S. taxpayers to evade their U.S. reporting and tax obligations.

On Aug. 29, 2013, the department announced the Swiss Bank Program, which provided a path for Swiss banks to resolve potential criminal liabilities in the United States.  Banks already under criminal investigation related to their Swiss-banking activities, identified as Category 1 banks, and all individuals were expressly excluded from the program.

Under the program, Swiss banks about which we had little or no information came forward and self-identified as having helped U.S. taxpayers to hide foreign accounts and evade their U.S. tax obligations.  In exchange for a non-prosecution agreement, these institutions, identified as Category 2 banks, made a complete disclosure of their cross-border activities, provided detailed information on accounts in which U.S. taxpayers have a direct or indirect interest, are cooperating in treaty requests for account information, are providing detailed information as to other banks that transferred funds into secret accounts or that accepted funds when secret accounts were closed and must cooperate in any related criminal and civil proceedings for the life of those proceedings.  Additionally, the Category 2 banks have paid appropriate penalties, which were mitigated with proof that the U.S. taxpayer declared the account, the account was reported by the bank or the U.S. taxpayer came into a voluntary disclosure program at the bank’s urging.

On March 30, 2015, the department signed the first non-prosecution agreement with BSI SA and announced its goal to complete the Category 2 bank agreements by year end.  I’m very proud to announce that earlier this week, the department signed the final Category 2 bank non-prosecution agreement with HSZH, imposing a penalty in excess of $49 million.  For those who are counting, in the last 10 months, the department executed 78 agreements with 80 banks and imposed more than $1.3 billion in Swiss Bank Program penalties.

The department also signed a non-prosecution agreement with Finacor, a Swiss asset management firm, reflecting the department’s willingness to reach fair and appropriate resolutions with entities that come forward in a timely manner, disclose all relevant information regarding their illegal activities and cooperate fully and completely, including naming the individuals engaged in criminal conduct.

The conclusion of the Category 2 agreements is a significant milestone in our continuing effort to shut down offshore tax evasion.  Swiss banks have revealed the names of thousands of U.S. accountholders, a substantial number of whom have voluntarily disclosed their accounts to the IRS, and are providing information for treaty requests to obtain the names and account records of those individuals who have refused to waive Swiss bank secrecy.  The program has driven thousands of taxpayers into the IRS voluntary disclosure programs.  In October 2015, the IRS reported more than 54,000 voluntary offshore disclosures and the collection of more than $8 billion in taxes, penalties and interest.  These figures have substantially increased since the program was announced in August 2013, due in part to the pressure applied by the Swiss banks on their accountholders to come into compliance.

Critical to the success of the program, in addition to the unwavering support of the department’s leadership, was the substantial assistance of IRS-Criminal Investigation and the Large Business & International Division.  Special agents, revenue agents and analysts have been dedicated to the program for two years, working side by side with the Tax Division’s civil trial attorneys, prosecutors and support staff to carefully review and consider the tremendous volume of information produced by the Category 2 banks.  I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am of those involved in this program and the rest of the Tax Division, which stepped up to the plate to handle more work and larger dockets, while their colleagues continued this pursuit.

While I am pleased that we have completed the agreements with the Category 2 banks, it is important to note that our work is far from done, and we do not rest on our laurels.  Tax Division attorneys and IRS personnel are reviewing the information received from Swiss banks that, under Category 3 and Category 4 of the program, maintain that they did not commit any violations of U.S. law, but seek a non-target letter after providing information required by the program.  We are also reviewing the information provided by the Category 2 banks, responses to our treaty requests and information from whistleblowers and cooperators to pursue criminal investigations and work with our colleagues at the IRS on civil enforcement efforts.

Outside the program, we continue to pursue pending Category 1 bank investigations.  We are looking well beyond Switzerland, to jurisdictions that many of you have added to your passports – for example: Belize, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Cook Islands, India, Israel, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Marshall Islands and Panama, just to name a few.  We encourage this outreach by practitioners and encourage financial institutions and individuals who have engaged in criminal conduct to contact the department to discuss their options.

While much attention has been paid to our criminal enforcement efforts, we are also using civil enforcement tools to pursue those who continue to conceal foreign accounts and assets and evade their U.S. tax obligations.  For example, we will continue to work with our colleagues at the IRS with respect to the examination and assessment of penalties for violations of the Foreign Bank and Financial Account (FBAR) reporting requirements, file suits to collect outstanding FBAR penalties and defend against complaints for refund of FBAR penalties paid.

We are also working closely with the IRS in its efforts to obtain foreign account records.  Under the Required Records Doctrine, the department has successfully challenged motions to quash grand jury subpoenas in criminal cases and obtained orders enforcing summonses in civil cases.  At this point, the message is clear: taxpayers are required to maintain foreign records and produce them upon request.

Where the IRS is aware of possible violations of the internal revenue laws by individuals whose identities are unknown, the department has sought and will continue to seek orders authorizing the issuance of “John Doe” summonses.  For instance, this past September, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida authorized the issuance of summonses to Citibank and Bank of America to produce records identifying U.S. taxpayers with accounts at Belize Bank International Limited, Belize Bank Limited or their affiliates, including other foreign banks that used these two banks’ correspondent accounts to service U.S. clients.  The court also granted the IRS permission to seek records related to Citibank’s and Bank of America’s correspondent accounts for Belize Corporate Services and information related to its deposit accounts at Bank of America.  Belize Corporate Services is incorporated and based in Belize and offers, among other things, the purchase of “shelf” Belizean international business companies.

The government’s offshore enforcement arsenal also includes Bank of Nova Scotia summonses and grand jury subpoenas, which seek to compel a domestic financial institution to produce records located in a foreign country.  These summonses or grand jury subpoenas have been utilized and upheld by courts despite the fact that producing the records in the United States would cause the financial institution to violate the laws of a foreign country.  In appropriate circumstances the department will use – and enforce – such subpoenas and summonses.

We also stand ready to assist our treaty partners in their own tax enforcement efforts, as evidenced in Dileng v. Commissioner.  Mr. Dileng has unpaid tax liabilities in excess of $2.5 million in Denmark, which he has challenged in Danish courts.  Like many tax treaties, the U.S.-Denmark Tax Treaty contains a provision allowing a treaty partner to request that the counterpart assist in pursuing collection of domestic taxes in the counterpart jurisdiction.  Pursuant to a collection assistance provision in the U.S.-Denmark Tax Treaty, the Danish taxing authority submitted a collection assistance request and a revenue claim to the IRS, requesting that the IRS assist in collecting Mr. Dileng’s Danish liabilities.  Mr. Dileng filed suit, seeking to enjoin collection efforts by the IRS.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia dismissed the suit, finding that an accepted revenue claim must be treated like a U.S. tax assessment for collection purposes within the United States, even though Mr. Dileng is prohibited from challenging those liabilities in U.S. courts.  The court found that the Anti-Injunction Act and the tax exception to the Declaratory Judgment Act barred him from bringing his claim to stop the IRS from collecting and that the United States had not waived sovereign immunity for his suit.  The court further found that collection under the circumstances did not implicate Mr. Dileng’s due process rights because he is indeed challenging his tax liabilities in Danish courts.

The Dileng case, like similar orders obtained from seven federal courts in 2013 authorizing the IRS to serve John Doe summonses on certain U.S. banks and financial institutions seeking information about persons who used specific credit or debit cards in Norway, demonstrate that the IRS and the department take the United States’ treaty responsibilities seriously.  We will continue to use the collection assistance provisions in our tax treaties to ensure U.S. taxpayers abide by their tax obligations in the United States, and we will continue to do our best to uphold our reciprocal obligations to our treaty partners.

So what can you expect in 2016?  Additional civil enforcement actions and ongoing and new criminal investigations and prosecutions.  Taxpayers who have participated in the IRS voluntary disclosure programs may be contacted and interviewed by the IRS and the department as part of their ongoing cooperation.  Taxpayers who filed returns and FBARs pursuant to the streamlined filing procedures or the Delinquent International Information Return or FBAR submission procedures should be very concerned if they falsely claimed to have engaged in non-willful conduct or acted with reasonable cause.  And financial institutions and individuals who have facilitated the concealment of offshore accounts and the evasion of U.S. tax obligations would be well advised to anticipate an investigation and consider voluntarily disclosing any criminal activity to the department before they become the subject of an investigation.

In the past year, the Tax Division has hired more than 80 new attorneys.  We currently have more than 200 civil trial attorneys, more than 100 prosecutors and approximately 50 appellate attorneys working hard in support of the Tax Division’s mission to enforce the nation’s tax laws fully, fairly and consistently, through both criminal and civil litigation.  We have established an international training series to ensure that our attorneys are familiar with the relevant issues and available tools in offshore enforcement and are working very closely with our partners at the IRS to identify those U.S. taxpayers failing to comply with their tax obligations.  Those who underestimate the ability of the United States to pursue offshore tax evasion do so at their own peril.

In closing, it’s an honor to serve as Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Tax Division, and it’s a great time to be involved in tax enforcement.  I anticipate a very busy 2016, and I’m looking forward to continuing to work with each of you to bring your clients into compliance.  Thank you again for your time, and I hope each of you enjoys the rest of the meeting.

 

Justice Department Announces Historic Conclusion of Swiss Bank Program for Category 2 Institutions

DOJ logoThe Justice Department achieved a historic milestone in its ground-breaking Swiss Bank Program with its announcement today of the final Category 2 bank resolution. The Justice Department executed its 80th and final agreement with HSZH Verwaltungs AG, which agreed to pay a civil penalty of more than $49 million. All told, the 80 Category 2 Swiss banks which resolved their criminal tax exposure with the U.S. government will pay more than $1.36 billion in penalties. Perhaps even more importantly, every Category 2 bank in the Swiss Bank Program is required to cooperate in any future related criminal or civil proceedings, thereby ensuring that the Justice Department will have the complete assistance from each bank as the U.S. government pursues leads throughout the world.

By all accounts, the Swiss Bank Program appears to have been an incredible success for the Justice Department (and IRS) in its efforts to combat offshore tax evasion. Never before had the U.S. government offered an amnesty program to the entire banking industry in a particular country, and at the time the program was unveiled in 2013, it was not clear that the program would be a success or that Swiss banks would be interested. But given the overwhelming demonstration of interest from Swiss banks, the substantial monetary penalties collected, and the wealth of information shared with the U.S., the program can fairly be declared a significant win for the U.S. government. Given the success of the Swiss Bank Program, it will be interesting to see whether the Justice Department offers a similar program to banks in other countries or regions.

Today’s press release included the following quote from the Attorney General thanking the Swiss government for its efforts in making the Swiss Bank Program so successful:

“The Department of Justice is committed to aggressively pursuing tax evasion, and the Swiss Bank Program has been a central component of that effort,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch. “Through this initiative, we have uncovered those who help facilitate evasion schemes and those who hide funds in secret offshore accounts. We have improved our ability to return tax dollars to the United States. And we have pursued investigations into banks and individuals. I would like to thank the Swiss government for their cooperation in this effort, and I look forward to continuing our work together to root out fraud and corruption wherever it is found.”

Other Justice Department officials echoed the Attorney General’s sentiments, and noted that the Swiss Bank Program has provided the DOJ and IRS with a wealth of information that is being mined for leads that are being pursued civilly and criminally throughout the world:

“The department’s Swiss Bank Program has been a successful, innovative effort to get the financial institutions that facilitated fraud on the American tax system to come forward with information about their wrongdoing – and to ensure that they are held responsible for it,” said Acting Associate Attorney General Stuart F. Delery. “As we have seen over the last year, Swiss banks are paying an appropriate penalty for their misconduct, and the information and continuing cooperation we have required the banks to provide in order to participate in the program is allowing us to systematically attack offshore tax avoidance schemes.”

“The completion of the agreements under Category 2 of the Swiss Bank Program represents a substantial milestone in the department’s ongoing efforts to combat offshore tax evasion, and we remain committed to holding financial institutions, professionals and individual taxpayers accountable for their respective roles in concealing foreign accounts and assets, and evading U.S. tax obligations,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Justice Department’s Tax Division. “Using the flood of information flowing from various sources, the department is investigating this criminal conduct, referring appropriate matters to the Internal Revenue Service for civil enforcement and pursuing leads in jurisdictions well beyond Switzerland. Individuals and entities engaged in offshore tax evasion are well advised to come forward now, because the window to get to us before we get to you is rapidly closing.”

Top officials from the Internal Revenue Service similarly commended today’s announcement, noting that more than 54,000 taxpayers have come forward to voluntarily disclose their previously-undisclosed offshore assets:

“Today’s resolution with HSZH Verwaltungs AG brings to a close this phase of DOJ’s Swiss Bank Program,” said acting Deputy Commissioner International David Horton of the IRS Large Business & International Division. “The comprehensive success of this program sends a powerful message to those who might think they can evade their tax obligations by going offshore. A whole sector of financial institutions, 80 banks in all, has been held accountable for aiding the use of secret accounts and circumventing U.S. law. In addition to the more than $1.3 billion in penalties from these resolutions, more than 54,000 taxpayers have come forward to the IRS to pay more than $8 billion in taxes, interest and penalties.”

“The bank agreement with HSZH announced today may bring an end to one phase of the Swiss Bank Program, but more importantly it brings us closer to our overall goal of compliance and accountability for financial institutions and U.S. taxpayers,” said Chief Richard Weber of IRS-Criminal Investigation. “The data received from each agreement on the accounts, schemes and linkages is extremely valuable in combating international tax evasion. I could not be more proud of the effort of our special agents who worked tirelessly to make this program a success in coordination with the Department of Justice.”

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.

Taxpayers who have still not “come clean” and declared their offshore assets may still take advantage of various IRS programs, such as the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program or the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures, but the price of admission has now increased if they had accounts at HSZH:

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 this non-prosecution agreement, noncompliant U.S. accountholders at HSZH must now pay that 50 percent penalty to the IRS if they wish to enter the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.

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).

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).