Since the early 2000s, the IRS has engaged in a multi-layered effort to enforce U.S. tax laws overseas, in particular (at least from the perspective of an offshore voluntary disclosure attorney) curb tax evasion in Switzerland with the emphasis on undisclosed Swiss financial accounts (mainly FBAR compliance). In 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) scored a major victory in the now-famous UBS case.
Since that case, DOJ has pursued a large number of criminal investigations against the U.S. accountholders, Swiss tax and financial advisors and, actually, Swiss banks. There has also been a tremendous surge in IRS civil audits and John Doe summons. Even the Whistleblower Office became engaged in the international tax compliance efforts. A number of new laws and treaties, stemming from FATCA, have been utilized by the U.S. government in its worldwide efforts to increase U.S. tax compliance internationally.
As the DOJ increased its pressure on the U.S. taxpayers who have undisclosed foreign accounts, the IRS created a number of voluntary disclosure programs, 2012 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) being the latest example. As of September of 2013, it is estimated that about 40,000 U.S. taxpayers have voluntary participated in this program.
The Program – Voluntary Disclosure Program for Swiss Banks
On August 29, 2013, the DOJ announced a new, unprecedented initiative – The Program for Non-Prosecution Agreements or Non-Target Letters for Swiss Banks (Program) – which is intended to allow Swiss banks to bring themselves into compliance with DOJ requirements and avoid any US enforcement action in exchanged for detailed disclosures and, in some cases, the payment of monetary penalties.
In essence, this is a voluntary disclosure program. Unlike the OVDP, however, this is “OVDP” for foreign banks in a foreign country! This is a truly unique reach that the DOJ and IRS have achieved in a country which has been celebrated for centuries for its bank secrecy laws.
Outlines of Required Disclosure
Under the Program, the Swiss banks are required to turn over a vast amount of extensive and detailed information regarding its account holders, including providing the following information: description of how the banks structured, operated and supervised their cross-border activities; list of names and functions of all individuals who participated in any of this activity; description of how a bank marketed its services to U.S. persons and serviced their accounts; list the value of accounts greater than $50,000 during three separate periods; on an account by account basis, the highest value during the period beginning August 1, 2008; the number of persons affiliated with the account and their functions; whether the account was held in a structure (a foreign corporation, foundation, etc.); whether it held U.S. securities; the name and role of any outside advisor affiliated with the account; information about transfers of funds into or out of the account; and other detailed information (note: these are some of the disclosure requirements, but there are many more – contact an offshore voluntary disclosure attorney at Sherayzen Law Office for more information).
In essence, with this information, the IRS and DOJ can freely pursue civil and criminal investigations of U.S. persons who have had undisclosed bank accounts since 2008 (and possibly earlier).
Consequences for Swiss Banks
The banks who participate in the Program can use the it to effectively close-out any potential U.S. compliance issues and prevent future criminal prosecution of the banks. The hope is that it will enable Swiss banks to put this issue behind them and enable them to develop a more attractive investment environment in the future.
Consequences for U.S. Accountholders
As any offshore voluntary disclosure attorney will tell you, the consequences for the U.S. accountholders with undisclosed accounts in Switzerland are infinitely more dire. Armed with such detailed information, the IRS should have no problems auditing and, ultimately, prosecuting U.S. taxpayers who are not compliant with U.S. tax laws.
Furthermore, those individuals who have engaged in quiet disclosure at any point since 2008 are under severe risk of exposure and potential prosecution. For example, if a U.S. taxpayer had an undisclosed account since 2004 and engaged in quiet disclosure in 2012, he may now potentially face an IRS audit for all years going back to 2007 (and potentially further).
Additionally, there is a great uncertainly for U.S. taxpayers with Swiss accounts who wish to enter the OVDP, because their accounts may have already been disclosed independently by Swiss banks to the IRS. In this case, the OVDP participation may be precluded.
Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Legal Help with Undisclosed Swiss Accounts
If you have undisclosed Swiss accounts at any point since 2005, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. Our international tax law firm is highly experienced in the voluntary disclosures of foreign financial accounts and other offshore assets. We will thoroughly analyze your case, determine the available voluntary disclosure options for your offshore assets, and meticulously implement the chosen plan of action (including preparation of all legal documents and tax forms).