On March 30, 2015, the US Department of Justice announced that BSI SA, one of the 10 largest private banks in Switzerland, was the first bank to reach a resolution under the DOJ Swiss Bank Program.
The Swiss Bank Program, which was announced on August 29, 2013, provides 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 United States-related accounts. Banks already under criminal investigation related to their Swiss-banking activities and all individuals were expressly excluded from the program.
“Because of the department’s continuing efforts to root out offshore tax evasion, Swiss banks are operating much differently today than they did just a few years ago, and the department’s Swiss Banking Program is a big part of that change,” said Acting Deputy Attorney General Sally Quillian Yates. “When we announced the program, we said that it would enhance our efforts to pursue those who help facilitate tax evasion and those who use secret offshore accounts to evade taxes. And it has done just that. We are using the information that we have learned from BSI and other Swiss banks in the program to pursue additional investigations into both banks and individuals.”
Since 2009, the department has charged more than 100 offshore bank accountholders, dozens of facilitators, and financial institutions. The department’s offshore enforcement efforts have reached far beyond Switzerland, as evidenced by publicly announced actions involving banking activities in India, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Israel and the Caribbean.
“Today’s action sends a clear message to anyone thinking about keeping money offshore in order to evade tax laws,” said Chief Richard Weber of IRS-Criminal Investigation (CI). “Fighting offshore tax evasion continues to be a top priority for IRS-CI and we will trace unreported funds anywhere in the world. IRS-CI special agents are our nation’s best financial investigators, trained to follow the money and enforce our country’s tax laws to ensure fairness for all.”
BSI – DOJ Non-Prosecution Agreement
According to the terms of the non-prosecution agreement signed on March 30, 2015, BSI 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 a $211 million penalty in return for the department’s agreement not to prosecute BSI for tax-related criminal offenses.
BSI had more than 3,000 active United States-related accounts after 2008, many of which it knew were not disclosed in the United States. In resolving its criminal liabilities under the program, BSI provided extensive cooperation and encouraged hundreds of U.S. accountholders to come into compliance. BSI is also assisting with ongoing treaty requests.
BSI’s Past Activities
BSI helped its U.S. clients create sham corporations and trusts that masked the true identity of its U.S. accountholders. Many of its U.S. clients also opened “numbered” Swiss bank accounts that shielded their identities, even from employees within the Swiss bank. BSI acknowledged that in order to help keep identities secret, it issued credit or debit cards to many U.S. accountholders without names visible on the card itself.
BSI not only helped U.S. clients shield their identity from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), but helped them repatriate cash as well. BSI admitted that its relationship managers and their U.S. clients used code words in emails to gain access to funds.
Consequences for US Taxpayers With Undisclosed Foreign Accounts
The consequences of the BSI’s participation in the DOJ Program for Swiss Banks are far reaching for the US taxpayers with undisclosed foreign accounts, particularly BSI accounts.
First, the most immediate consequence of the BSI’s Non-Prosecution Agreement is the higher OVDP penalty. 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. With today’s announcement of BSI’s non-prosecution agreement, its noncompliant U.S. accountholders must now pay that 50 percent penalty to the IRS if they wish to enter the OVDP program.
Second, as part of its participation in the DOJ Program for Swiss Banks, BSI provided a very large amount of information regarding its US accountholders as well as individuals who facilitated US tax evasion. This means that these individuals are at the very high risk of being investigated and/or prosecuted by the IRS for tax non-compliance.
Third, as part of its participation in the DOJ Program for Swiss Banks, BSI (and other banks in the Swiss Bank Program) also provided detailed information to the DOJ about transfers of money from Switzerland to other countries. The Tax Division and the IRS intend to follow that money to uncover additional tax evasion schemes.
This means that any US taxpayers who transferred the money out of Switzerland to avoid Swiss bank disclosure are at very high risk of the IRS detection.
What Should US Taxpayers with Undisclosed BSI and Other Swiss Bank Accounts Do?
If you are a US taxpayer who has (or had any point since 2008) undisclosed financial accounts at BSI and any other Swiss bank, you should contact an international tax lawyer to consider your voluntary disclosure options as soon as possible.
What if voluntary disclosure is no longer possible due to investigation by the IRS? The answer that your international tax lawyer will give you is likely to depend on the facts of the case. In some cases, it may be best to pursue a noisy voluntary disclosure option. In other cases, it may be best to contact the IRS and work with them directly to reduce the penalties.
“An individual is not culpable simply because he or she is identified by a bank within the program,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the department’s Tax Division. “With that said, the department strongly encourages those individuals and entities currently under indictment, under investigation, or who have concerns regarding their potential criminal liability to contact and fully cooperate with the department to reach a final resolution.”
Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Undisclosed Foreign Accounts
If you have (had at any point since the year 2008) undisclosed foreign accounts (whether BSI accounts or any other foreign bank), you should contact the international tax law firm of Sherayzen Law Office for experienced professional help.
We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the globe to bring their US tax affairs in compliance with the simultaneous goal of reducing the penalty exposure to a reasonable amount under the IRS rules. And we can help You!