On June 9, 2015, the Department of Justice announced that Berner Kantonalbank AG (Berner Kantonalbank), signed a Non-Prosecution Agreement with the DOJ pursuant to the department’s Swiss Bank Program.
Swiss Bank Program Background
The Swiss Bank Program, which was announced on August 29, 2013, provided 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 December 31, 2013, that they had reason to believe that they had committed tax-related criminal offenses in connection with undeclared U.S.-related accounts. Banks already under criminal investigation related to their Swiss-banking activities and all individuals were expressly excluded from the program.
Swiss banks which meet the requirements of the Program are eligible for a non-prosecution agreement.
Berner Kantonalbank Background
Berner Kantonalbank was founded in 1834 as Kantonalbank von Bern, the first Swiss cantonal bank. Berner Kantonalbank is based in the Canton of Bern and presently has 73 branches in Switzerland. Berner Kantonalbank knew or had reason to know that it was likely that some U.S. taxpayers who maintained accounts at Berner Kantonalbank were not complying with their U.S. reporting obligations. Berner Kantonalbank opened, serviced and profited from accounts for U.S. clients who were not complying with their income tax obligations.
Berner Kantonalbank provided services that facilitated some U.S. clients in opening and maintaining undeclared accounts in Switzerland and concealing the assets in those accounts and related income. These services included opening and maintaining numbered accounts, allowing clients to use code names rather than full account numbers and providing hold mail services. Berner Kantonalbank opened accounts for account holders who exited other Swiss banks and accepted deposits of funds from those banks. Berner Kantonalbank also processed standing orders from U.S. persons to transfer amounts under $10,000 from their U.S.-related accounts. In one instance, a relationship manager asked an accountholder, who was a dual Swiss-U.S. citizen living in the United States, about the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and voluntary disclosure. When the accountholder failed to execute FATCA-related documents, Berner Kantonalbank took steps to close the account. In connection with that closing, the accountholder withdrew $70,000 and approximately 500,000 Swiss francs in cash.
Berner Kantonalbank: Participation in the DOJ Program for Swiss Banks
Berner Kantonalbank committed to full cooperation with the U.S. government throughout its participation in the Swiss Bank Program. As part of its cooperation, Berner Kantonalbank provided a list of the names and functions of 16 individuals who structured, operated or supervised its cross-border business. These individuals served as the chairman of the board of directors, members of the executive board, regional managers, heads of departments or heads of divisions. Berner Kantonalbank additionally provided information concerning its relationship managers and external asset managers, and it described in detail the structure of its cross-border business with U.S. persons, including narrative descriptions of high-value U.S.-related accounts and U.S.-related accounts held by entities.
Berner Kantonalbank Non-Prosecution Agreement
According to the terms of the non-prosecution agreement, Berner Kantonalbank agrees to cooperate in any related criminal or civil proceedings, demonstrate its implementation of controls to stop misconduct involving undeclared U.S. accounts and pay penalties in return for the department’s agreement not to prosecute these banks for tax-related criminal offenses.
Since August 1, 2008, Berner Kantonalbank held approximately 720 U.S.-related accounts, which included both undeclared and not undeclared accounts, with total assets of approximately $176.5 million. Berner Kantonalbank will pay a penalty of $4.619 million.
In accordance with the terms of the Swiss Bank Program, Berner Kantonalbank mitigated its penalty by encouraging U.S. accountholders to come into compliance with their U.S. tax and disclosure obligations.
Consequences for US Taxpayers With Bank Accounts At Berner Kantonalbank
While U.S. accountholders at Berner Kantonalbank who have not yet declared their accounts to the IRS may still be eligible to participate in the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, the price of such disclosure has increased.
Most U.S. taxpayers who enter the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program to resolve undeclared offshore accounts will pay a penalty equal to 27.5 percent of the high value of the accounts. On August 4, 2014, the IRS increased the penalty to 50 percent if, at the time the taxpayer initiated their disclosure, either a foreign financial institution at which the taxpayer had an account or a facilitator who helped the taxpayer establish or maintain an offshore arrangement had been publicly identified as being under investigation, the recipient of a John Doe summons or cooperating with a government investigation, including the execution of a deferred prosecution agreement or non-prosecution agreement. This means that the noncompliant U.S. accountholders at Berner Kantonalbank must now pay that 50 percent penalty to the IRS if they wish to enter the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.
Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Undisclosed Foreign Accounts
If you have undisclosed foreign accounts at Berner Kantonalbank or any other bank outside of the United States, please contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible to explore your voluntary disclosure options. Our professional experienced legal team has helped hundreds of US taxpayers worldwide to bring their US tax affairs in order. We can help you!