Credit Suisse and Italy Settle Dispute Over Undisclosed Offshore Accounts

On December 14, 2016, Credit Suisse and Italy settled their dispute over Credit Suisse undisclosed offshore accounts owned by Italian tax residents. The settlement between Credit Suisse and Italy was approved by a judge in Milan and obligates Credit Suisse to pay a total of 109.5 million euros – 101 million euros in taxes, interest and penalties; 7.5 million euros as a disgorgement of profits; and 1 million euros as an administrative penalty.

The settlement between Credit Suisse and Italy has ended an investigation by the Italian authorities into the bank’s involvement in helping Italians evade Italian taxes. The Italian government’s inquiry into the Credit Suisse’s role in Italian tax evasion appeared to be thorough and, at times, even combined with significant pressure. For example, in December of 2014, the Italian tax authorities raided the offices of a Credit Suisse’s subsidiary in Milan.

The agreement between Credit Suisse and Italy does not mean the end of the Italian tax authorities’ investigation of Italians with undisclosed offshore accounts. On the contrary, these activities will continue their relentless progress.

While a significant event, the settlement between Credit Suisse and Italy pales in comparison with the settlement between Credit Suisse and the US Department of Justice when Credit Suisse paid $2.6 billion.

Nevertheless, the settlement between Credit Suisse and Italy points to the continued global trend of increased focus on international tax compliance. The new trend really started with the IRS victory in the UBS case in 2008, gained steam with the 2009 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program and became worldwide with the passage of FATCA in 2010.

Countries throughout the world, including Italy, have followed the US lead in international tax enforcement. In fact, it appears that the European countries have gone further in some aspects than the United States, especially after the adoption of the Common Reporting Standard (CRS). While the United States refused to join CRS arguing that its revolutionary FATCA already achieved the same goals (and, thereby, effectively turning the United States into a tax shelter for nonresident aliens), the vast majority of the European countries adopted the CRS and applied unprecedented pressure on the financial industry to share the heretofore confidential information with various government tax authorities.

Switzerland has arguably felt more pressure than any other country in the world and has largely been forced to give up its much vaunted bank secrecy. After the US DOJ Program for Swiss Banks dealt the decisive blow to the Swiss bank secrecy laws, various European countries decided to take advantage of the Swiss banks’ defeat and swarmed into Switzerland to get their share of penalties and information regarding tax noncompliance of their own citizens. The recent settlement between Credit Suisse and Italy is just one more example of this continued European squeeze of the Swiss banks for money and information.

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