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Former Credit Suisse Banker Pleads Guilty | FATCA Lawyer Duluth

On July 19, 2017, Ms. Susanne D. Rüegg Meier, a citizen of Switzerland, pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States in connection with her work as the head of a team of bankers for Credit Suisse AG. The announcement of this plea by a former Credit Suisse Banker came from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Tax Division.

Facts that Led to Guilty Plea by the Former Credit Suisse Banker

According to the statement of facts and the plea agreement, Ms. Rüegg Meier admitted that, between 2002 and 2011, she worked as the team head of the Zurich Team of Credit Suisse’s North American desk in Switzerland. Ms. Rüegg Meier was responsible for supervising the servicing of accounts involving over 1,000 to 1,500 client relationships, out of which she personally handled about 140 to 150 clients (the great majority of these clients were U.S. persons). These “personally handled” clients had assets of about $400 million.

Ms. Rüegg Meier assisted many U.S. clients in utilizing their Credit Suisse accounts to evade their U.S. income taxes and to facilitate concealment of their undeclared financial accounts from the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the IRS. In particular, she engaged in the following activities to help her clients conceal their accounts: retaining in Switzerland all mail related to the account; structuring withdrawals in the forms of multiple checks each payable in amounts less than $10,000 that were sent by courier to clients in the United States and arranging for U.S. customers to withdraw cash from their Credit Suisse accounts at Credit Suisse locations outside Switzerland, such as the Bahamas. Moreover, Ms. Rüegg Meier admitted that approximately 20 to 30 of her U.S. clients concealed their ownership and control of foreign financial accounts by holding those accounts in the names of nominee tax haven entities or other structures that were frequently created in the form of foreign partnerships, trusts, corporations or foundations.

Additionally, between 2002 and 2008, the former Credit Suisse banker traveled approximately twice per year to the United States to meet with her clients. Among other places, Ms. Rüegg Meier met clients in the Credit Suisse New York representative office. To prepare for the trips, the former Credit Suisse banker would obtain “travel” account statements that contained no Credit Suisse logos or customer information, as well as business cards that bore no Credit Suisse logos and had an alternative street address for her office, in order to assist her in concealing the nature and purpose of her business.

After the UBS case, Credit Suisse began closing U.S. customers’ accounts in 2008. During that time, Ms. Rüegg Meier assisted the clients in keeping their assets concealed. In one instance, when one U.S. customer was informed that the bank planned to close his account, the former Credit Suisse banker assisted the customer in closing the account by withdrawing approximately $1 million in cash. Furthermore, she advised the client to find another bank simply by walking along the street in Zurich and locating a bank that would be willing to open an account for the client. The customer placed the cash into a paper bag and exited the bank.

Admitted Tax Loss from the Activities of the Former Credit Suisse Banker and Potential Sentence

The former Credit Suisse Banker admitted that the tax loss associated with her criminal conduct was between $3.5 and $9.5 million. The sentencing of Ms. Rüegg Meier is scheduled for September 8, 2017. She faces a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison, a period of supervised release, restitution and monetary penalties.

UK FATCA Letters

While the United Kingdom signed its FATCA implementation treaty in 2014, UK FATCA letters (i.e. FATCA letters from UK financial institutions) continue to pour into the mailboxes of U.S. taxpayers. In this article, I would like to discuss the purpose and impact of UK FATCA Letters.

UK FATCA Letters

UK FATCA Letters play an integral role in the FATCA Compliance of UK financial institutions. Under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), the UK foreign institutions are obligated to collect certain information regarding U.S. owners of UK bank and financial accounts and provide this information to the IRS. The collected information must include the name, address and social security number (or, EIN number) of U.S. accountholders.

In order to collect the required information and identify who among their clients is a US person for FATCA purposes, the UK financial institutions send UK FATCA Letters to their clients, asking them to provide the information by the required date. If there is no response within the required period of time (which may be extended), the UK financial institutions report the account to the IRS with the classification as a “recalcitrant account”.

UK FATCA Letters and Undisclosed UK Bank and Financial Accounts

While UK FATCA Letters are important to FATCA compliance of UK financial institutions, they also may have important impact on U.S. taxpayers with undisclosed bank and financial accounts in the United Kingdom, particularly on the ability of such U.S. taxpayers to timely disclose their foreign accounts.

Once a U.S. taxpayer receives UK FATCA Letters, he should be aware that the clock has started on his ability to do any type of voluntary disclosure. This is the case because UK FATCA Letters demand a response within certain limited period of time. Then, the UK financial institutions will report the account to the IRS, which may prompt IRS examination which, in turn, may deprive the taxpayer of the ability to take advantage of any type of a voluntary disclosure option.

Furthermore, UK FATCA Letters start the clock for the taxpayers to do their voluntary disclosure in an indirect way. If the taxpayers do not complete their voluntary disclosure within reasonable period of time (which may differ depending on circumstances) after they receive the letters, the IRS may proceed based on the assumption that prior noncompliance with U.S. tax requirements by the still noncompliant taxpayers was willful.

Finally, UK FATCA Letters may impact a U.S. taxpayer’s legal position with respect to current and future tax compliance, because UK FATCA Letters can be used by the IRS as evidence to prove awareness of U.S. tax requirements on the part of noncompliant U.S. taxpayers. This is particularly relevant for taxpayers who receive these letters right before the tax return and FBAR filing deadlines.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office if You Received UK FATCA Letters

If you received one or more UK FATCA Letters from foreign financial institutions, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible. Attorney Eugene Sherayzen is one of the world’s leading professionals in the area of offshore voluntary disclosures and he will personally analyze your case and create the appropriate voluntary disclosure strategy. Then, under his close supervision, his legal team will implement this strategy, including the preparation of all required tax forms.

Call Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Berner Kantonalbank Non-Prosecution Agreement

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!

Contact Sherayzen Law Office NOW to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!