Offshore Tax Enforcement Update: DOJ Announces Criminal Charges Against Bank Julius Baer

The U.S. government has filed criminal charges against another Swiss Bank — Bank Julius Baer — and simultaneously secured guilty pleas from two Julius Baer bankers who had been fugitives for the past five years. Pursuant to the terms of a deferred prosecution agreement, the bank admitted that it knowingly assisted many of its U.S. customers in evading their obligations under U.S. law. Julius Baer must pay $547 million as part of the deal. Resolution of the U.S. government’s investigation of Julius Baer has been long-awaited, and follows the UBS deferred prosecution agreement in 2009 and the guilty plea of Credit Suisse in 2014.

The full text of the Justice Department’s press release follows.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Announces Criminal Charges Against Bank Julius Baer Of Switzerland With Deferred Prosecution Agreement Requiring Payment Of $547 Million, As Well As Guilty Pleas Of Two Julius Baer Bankers

Bankers Daniela Casadei and Fabio Frazzetto, Fugitives since 2011, Surrender and Plead Guilty to Felony Tax Charges

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Caroline D. Ciraolo, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Justice Department’s Tax Division, and Richard Weber, Chief, Internal Revenue Service – Criminal Investigation, (“IRS-CI”), announced the filing of criminal charges against Bank Julius Baer & Co., Ltd. (“JULIUS BAER” or the “Company”), a financial institution headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland.   JULIUS BAER is charged with conspiring with many of its U.S. taxpayer-clients and others to help U.S. taxpayers hide billions of dollars in offshore accounts from the United States Internal Revenue Service (the “IRS”) and to evade U.S. taxes on the income earned in those accounts.

Mr. Bharara also announced a deferred prosecution agreement with JULIUS BAER (the “Agreement”) under which the Company admits that it knowingly assisted many of its U.S. taxpayer-clients in evading their tax obligations under U.S. law.  The admissions are contained in a detailed Statement of Facts attached to the Agreement.  The Agreement requires JULIUS BAER to pay a total of $547 million by no later than February 9, 2016, including through a parallel civil forfeiture action also filed today in the Southern District of New York.

The criminal charge is contained in an Information (the “Information”) alleging one count of conspiracy to (1) defraud the IRS, (2) to file false federal income tax returns and (3) to evade federal income taxes.  If JULIUS BAER abides by all of the terms of the Agreement, the Government will defer prosecution on the Information for three years and then seek to dismiss the charges.

In addition, two Julius Baer client advisers, DANIELA CASADEI and FABIO FRAZZETTO, pled guilty in Manhattan federal court today.  CASADEI and FRAZZETTO were originally charged in 2011 and remained at large until February 2, 2016, when they each made initial appearances before the Honorable Gabriel W. Gorenstein, United States Magistrate Judge for the Southern District of New York.

CASADEI and FRAZZETTO each pled guilty to an Information (collectively, with the JULIUS BAER Information, the “Informations”) before U.S. District Judge Laura Taylor Swain charging them with conspiring with U.S. taxpayer-clients and others to help U.S. taxpayers hide their assets in offshore accounts and to evade U.S. taxes on the income earned in those accounts.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said:  “Bank Julius Baer not only turned a blind eye to tax avoiders, but actually conspired with them to break the law.  Together with our partners at the IRS, we will continue to prosecute financial institutions and individuals who facilitate tax evasion.”

Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo said:  “Today’s resolution with Bank Julius Baer and the guilty pleas entered by two bank employees reflect the department’s continued commitment to hold accountable those financial institutions who conspired with U.S. taxpayers to conceal assets abroad and evade U.S. tax obligations, as well as those individuals responsible for such crimes.  The deferred prosecution agreement filed today makes it clear that there is a heavy price to pay for this conduct, and that there is a significant benefit in fully cooperating with the department.”

IRS Chief Richard Weber said:  “In taking responsibility for their actions, Bank Julius Baer has agreed to cooperate and pay a substantial penalty for their role in circumventing offshore disclosure laws.  The agreement – as well as the guilty pleas of client advisors Daniela Casadei and Fabio Frazzetto – sends a strong message to the international banking community as well as U.S. taxpayers who think they can outsmart the system by hiding their money in these international banks.  The consequences of not reporting your foreign accounts and paying the taxes you owe will be significant for those who do not heed the warnings that agreements like this yield.”

According to the Informations, statements made during the proceedings today, and other documents filed in Manhattan federal court, including the Statement of Facts to the Agreement:

The Offense Conduct

From at least the 1990s through 2009, JULIUS BAER helped many of its U.S. taxpayer-clients evade their U.S. tax obligations, file false federal tax returns with the IRS, and otherwise hide accounts held at JULIUS BAER from the IRS (hereinafter, “undeclared accounts”).  JULIUS BAER did so by opening and maintaining undeclared accounts for U.S. taxpayers and by allowing third-party asset managers to open undeclared accounts for U.S. taxpayers at JULIUS BAER.  CASADEI and FRAZZETTO, bankers who worked as client advisers at JULIUS BAER, directly assisted various U.S. taxpayer-clients in maintaining undeclared accounts at JULIUS BAER in order to evade their obligations under United States law.  At various times, CASADEI, FRAZZETTO, and others advised those U.S. taxpayer-clients that their accounts at JULIUS BAER would not be disclosed to the IRS because JULIUS BAER had a long tradition of bank secrecy and no longer had offices in the U.S., making JULIUS BAER less vulnerable to pressure from U.S. law enforcement authorities than other Swiss banks with a presence in the U.S.

In furtherance of the scheme to help U.S. taxpayers hide assets from the IRS and evade taxes, JULIUS BAER undertook, among other actions, the following:

— Entering into “code word agreements” with U.S. taxpayer-clients under which JULIUS BAER agreed not to identify the U.S. taxpayers by name within the bank or on bank documents, but rather to identify the U.S. taxpayers by code name or number, in order to reduce the risk that U.S. tax authorities would learn the identities of the U.S. taxpayers.

— Opening and maintaining accounts for many U.S. taxpayer-clients held in the name of non-U.S. corporations, foundations, trusts, or other legal entities (collectively, “structures”) or non-U.S. relatives, thereby helping such U.S. taxpayers conceal their beneficial ownership of the accounts.

JULIUS BAER was aware that many U.S. taxpayer-clients were maintaining undeclared accounts at JULIUS BAER in order to evade their U.S. tax obligations, in violation of U.S. law.  In internal JULIUS BAER correspondence, undeclared accounts held by U.S. taxpayers were at times referred to as “black money,” “non W-9,” “tax neutral,” “unofficial,” or “sensitive” accounts.

JULIUS BAER also advised its bankers to take certain steps to avoid scrutiny from U.S. authorities when travelling to the U.S., as well as steps to avoid U.S. law enforcement identifying JULIUS BAER clients.  In a memo entitled “U.S. Clients Do’s & Don’ts,” circulated internally in 2006, a JULIUS BAER employee provided client advisers with advice regarding travel to the U.S., including:

— “At Immigration . . . When asked by Officer what will you do while in the USA, say Business and of course some leisure, trying to take some time to enjoy your beautiful country. Proud government employees usually love this type of statement.One can throw in skydiving or another fun sport/activity.This tends to shift the questioning away from the business purpose to the ‘fun time’ part of the trip (carrying a tennis racket also puts the emphasis on “fun and games,” and not on business).”

— “In regard to communicating while in the U.S.:“Only use mobile phone[s] registered in and operating from Switzerland.Avoid phone calls from hotel to clients.It is recommended to purchase a telephone calling card from the post office, grocery stores, or electronic shops.This allows you to use practically any phone with no specific link left behind. The best is to pay for the calling card in cash.For ex: a 400 minutes local calling card costs less than $50, but the rates can vary. Most cards can also be used to call anywhere abroad.”

At its high-water mark in 2007, JULIUS BAER had approximately $4.7 billion in assets under management relating to approximately 2,589 undeclared accounts held by U.S. taxpayer-clients.  From 2001 through 2011, JULIUS BAER earned approximately $87 million in profit on approximately $219 million gross revenues from its undeclared U.S. taxpayer accounts, including accounts held through structures.

Julius Baer’s Blocked Effort to Self-Report, Acceptance of Responsibility, and Cooperation in the Government Investigation

Notwithstanding its lucrative criminal conduct, by at least 2008, JULIUS BAER began to implement institutional policy changes to cease providing assistance to U.S. taxpayers in violating their U.S. legal obligations.  For example, by November 2008, the Company began an “exit” plan for U.S. client accounts that lacked evidence of U.S. tax compliance.  In that same month, JULIUS BAER imposed a prohibition on opening accounts for any U.S. clients without an IRS Form W-9.

Additionally, in November 2009, before JULIUS BAER became aware of any U.S. investigation into its conduct, JULIUS BAER decided proactively to approach U.S. law enforcement authorities regarding its conduct relating to U.S. taxpayers.  Prior to self-reporting to the United States Department of Justice, JULIUS BAER notified its regulator in Switzerland of its intention to contact U.S. law enforcement authorities.  This Swiss regulator requested that JULIUS BAER not contact U.S. authorities in order not to prejudice the Swiss government in any bilateral negotiations with the U.S. on tax-related matters.  Accordingly, JULIUS BAER did not, at that time, self-report to U.S. law enforcement authorities.

After ultimately engaging with U.S. authorities, JULIUS BAER has taken exemplary actions to demonstrate acceptance and acknowledgement of responsibility for its conduct.  JULIUS BAER conducted a swift and robust internal investigation, and furnished the U.S. Government with a continuous flow of unvarnished facts gathered during the course of that internal investigation.  As part of its cooperation, JULIUS BAER also, among other things, (1) successfully advocated in favor of a decision provided by the Swiss Federal Council in April 2012 to allow banks under investigation by the United States Department of Justice to legally produce employee and third-party information to the Department, and subsequently produced such information immediately upon issuance of that decision; and (2) encouraged certain employees, including FRAZZETTO and CASADEI, to accept responsibility for their participation in the conduct at issue and cooperate with the ongoing investigation.

*                *                *

CASADEI, 52, a Swiss citizen, and FRAZZETTO, 42, an Italian and Swiss citizen, each pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to defraud the IRS, to evade federal income taxes, and to file false federal income tax returns.  CASADEI and FRAZZETTO each face a maximum sentence of five years in prison.  The statutory maximum sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentences imposed on the defendants will be determined by the judge.

CASADEI and FRAZZETTO are each scheduled to be sentenced before Judge Swain on August 12, 2016.

Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding investigative work of IRS-CI, and thanked the Justice Department’s Tax Division for their significant assistance in the investigation.  Mr. Bharara also thanked the Department of Homeland Security for their assistance with the case.

This case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jason H. Cowley and Sarah E. Paul are in charge of the prosecution.

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.”

 

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 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).