Last Swiss Bank Program Category 2 Resolution

On January 27, 2016, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) declared the last Swiss Bank Program Category 2 Resolution. The Swiss Bank Program was proclaimed on August 29, 2013, and constituted an unprecedented triumph of US economic might over the most formidable bank secrecy bulwark (though, already a greatly weakened one since the 2008 UBS case) which Switzerland had been for hundreds of years.

Under the Swiss Bank Program, the Swiss banks were forced to turn over a large amount of information regarding foreign accounts held by US persons, cooperate with US information requests, and, in case of category 2 banks, pay a fine. In return, the Swiss banks were provided a guarantee against US criminal prosecution in the form of non-prosecution agreements.

The Swiss Bank Program was successful, though not every eligible Swiss bank actually chose to participate in the Program. The most profitable part of the Program consisted of the Category 2 banks, which had to pay fines as a condition of their participation in the Swiss Bank Program.

The first resolution with a Category 2 bank occurred on March 30, 2015. On January 27, 2016, the last Swiss Bank Program Category 2 resolution took place after reaching a Non-Prosecution Agreement with HSZH Verwaltungs AG (HSZH).

In total, the DOJ signed Non-Prosecution Agreements with about 80 banks and collected more than $1.36 billion in Swiss Bank Penalties, including $49 million from the last Swiss Bank Program Category 2 resolution. While this amount pales in comparison with the originally-projected amounts (due to penalty mitigation), the enormous impact the Program has had on the worldwide US tax compliance and convincing foreign governments to accept FATCA render this Program an important success for the US government.

The final Swiss Bank Program Category 2 resolution marked the end of the Category 2 part of the Swiss Bank Program, but an important question remains – will we see the re-appearance of the Swiss Bank Program with Category 2 banks in another country? While the implementation of FATCA reduces the probability of a chance of another program similar to Swiss Bank Program, one cannot fully discount this possibility. It is possible that the IRS will identify another important center (such as the Cayman Islands, Hong Kong, Isle of Mann, Singapore, et cetera) of US tax non-compliance based on the information collected in the Swiss Bank Program and attack this center.

On the other hand, one can also see the appearance of a global “Swiss Bank Program” which banks of any country can enter in order to prevent US criminal prosecution.

Whatever form the future voluntary disclosure program for foreign banks will take, one can be certain that the last Swiss Bank Program Category 2 Resolution with HSZH was not the last IRS enforcement effort with respect to foreign banks.

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