On March 9, 2016, the IRS announced the first conviction of Non-Swiss Financial Institutions for tax evasion conspiracy. At Sherayzen Law Office, we have been predicting now for years that the IRS would expand its prosecution of financial institutions far beyond the Swiss borders, specifically pointing to tax shelters such as Cayman Islands. Now that our strategic analysis has been confirmed, it is important to analyze this first conviction of Non-Swiss Financial Institutions and its impact on U.S. taxpayers with undisclosed foreign accounts.
Factual Background of the First Conviction of Non-Swiss Financial Institutions
The first conviction of Non-Swiss Financial Institutions concerned two Cayman Island Financial Institutions, Cayman National Securities Ltd. (CNS) and Cayman National Trust Co. Ltd. (CNT). CNS and CNT were Cayman Island affiliates of Cayman National Corporation, which 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 (U.S. taxpayers).
According to the IRS and documents filed in Manhattan federal court, from at least 2001 through 2011, CNS and CNT assisted certain U.S. taxpayers in evading their U.S. tax obligations to the IRS and otherwise hiding accounts held at CNS and CNT from the IRS (hereinafter, undeclared accounts). CNS and CNT did so by knowingly opening and maintaining undeclared accounts for U.S. taxpayers at CNS and CNT. Specifically, and among other things, CNS and CNT opened and encouraged many U.S. taxpayer-clients to open accounts held in the name of sham Caymanian companies and trusts (collectively, structures), thereby helping U.S. taxpayers conceal their beneficial ownership of the accounts. Furthermore, 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 without ever requiring these U.S. persons to submit Form W-9. 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 (QIA) with the IRS.
At their high-water mark in 2009, these two Non-Swiss Financial Institutions (CNS and CNT) had approximately $137 million in assets under management relating to undeclared accounts held by U.S. taxpayer-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.
In 2008, after learning about the investigation of Swiss bank UBS AG (UBS) for assisting U.S. taxpayers to evade their U.S. tax obligations, these two Non-Swiss Financial Institutions (i.e. 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.
In or about June 2011, CNT hired a new president, who spearheaded 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.
Guilty Pleas of these Two Non-Swiss Financial Institutions
On March 9, 2016, both Non-Swiss Financial Institutions, CNS and CNT pleaded guilty to a criminal Information charging them with conspiring with many of their U.S. taxpayer-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.
As part of their plea agreements, CNS and CNT have agreed to cooperate fully with the IRS investigation of the companies’ criminal conduct. The IRS states that, 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 the IRS 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. taxpayer-clients who maintained accounts at CNS and CNT.
In connection with their guilty pleas, CNS and CNT have also 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.
Impact of the Guilty Pleas of Non-Swiss Financial Institutions on U.S. Taxpayers with Undeclared Foreign Accounts
The impact of the guilty pleas of these two Cayman Island Non-Swiss Financial Institutions is difficult to overstate. First, it becomes clear that the IRS feels confident that it can replicate its success in Switzerland in every offshore jurisdiction and there is no limit to their ability to uncover undeclared foreign accounts of U.S. taxpayers.
“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.”
Second, it is evident that the IRS strategy is to first force Non-Swiss Financial Institutions to reveal information about their U.S. clients and, then, using the information provided by these institutions, pursue noncompliant U.S. taxpayers. As part of their guilty pleas, CNS and CNT are required to turn over extensive materials about their U.S. clients and these noncompliant U.S. taxpayers should be preparing to face the full wrath of the IRS.
“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 Bharara. “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.”
In essence, between FATCA and the constant IRS pressure on Non-Swiss Financial Institutions, the noncompliant U.S. taxpayers are in the constant danger of discovery, which now becomes more of a question of “when”, rather than “if”.
What Should U.S. Taxpayers With Undeclared Foreign Accounts Do?
In light of this development, U.S. taxpayers with undeclared foreign accounts in Non-Swiss Financial Institutions should explore their voluntary disclosure options as soon as possible. For this purpose, they should contact an experienced international tax law firm that specializes in this field.
Contact the Experienced International Tax Law Firm of Sherayzen Law Office, PLLC for Professional Help With Your Undeclared Accounts
If you have undeclared foreign accounts, foreign income or foreign business entities, you are encouraged to contact the international tax law firm of Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible. Our team of experienced tax professionals specializes in this area of law, including the preparation of all necessary legal documents and tax forms. We have helped hundreds of U.S. taxpayers around the world and we can help You!