On May 1, 2019, the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina (the “Court”) authorized the IRS to serve John Doe Summonses seeking information about Finnish residents who own secret US bank accounts (collectively Finnish US Bank Accounts). Let’s discuss this development concerning Finnish US bank accounts in more depth.
Finnish US Bank Accounts Targeted by the Finnish Tax Administration.
This whole case is about the Finnish government’s efforts to identify noncompliant Finnish taxpayers who failed to disclose income related to their non-Finnish bank accounts. Specifically, the Finnish Tax Administration (“FTA”) identified bank accounts in the United States owned by Finnish tax residents as one of the primary targets in its tax enforcement campaign.
The reason why Finland cannot identify the affected individuals itself is because, in circumstances where the payment cards are used only at ATMs or in other transactions where authorization is by PIN code, and the cardholder need not identify himself or herself to the merchant, the cardholders cannot be identified from sources in Finland. Earlier FTA investigations of approximately 120 to 150 Finnish taxpayers who used foreign payment cards in a similar manner have yielded extremely high rates of tax non-compliance, as noted in the United States’ memo in support of the petition, which indicates that it is likely that the John Does sought by the summons are Finnish residents who are failing to report these foreign accounts and associated income.
Hence, the FTA asked the US Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the IRS for help as prescribed by the tax treaty between Finland and the United States. The treaty provides for cooperation in exchanging information that is necessary for enforcement each of the signatory’s tax laws.
The DOJ and the IRS readily agreed. Then, the DOJ filed a petition in the Court asking for it to grant the IRS a permission to issue John Doe Summonses in response to the FTA’s request for help.
Finnish US Bank Accounts: Affected US Financial Institutions
The IRS Summonses specially target persons who reside in Finland and have Bank of America, Charles Schwab or TD Bank payment cards linked to bank accounts located outside of Finland. It is important to note that the DOJ does not allege that Bank of America, Charles Schwab or TD Bank violated any US or Finnish laws with respect to these accounts.
Finnish US Bank Accounts: Information Targeted by the IRS John Doe Summonses
The IRS John Doe Summonses seek the identities of Finnish residents who have payment cards linked to bank accounts located outside of Finland so that the Finnish government can determine if those persons have complied with Finnish tax laws.
Finnish US Bank Accounts: Foreign Individuals With Secret US Bank Accounts Are Not Safe from Disclosure to Their Governments
The recent IRS John Doe summonses concerning Finnish US bank accounts is another indication that foreign individuals with secret US bank accounts are not immune from the disclosure of these accounts to their governments at home. In fact, the US government will cooperate with requests for such information, at least from friendly governments.
“The Department of Justice and the IRS are committed to working with the United States’ international treaty partners to identify and stop individuals using hidden offshore accounts to evade tax laws,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division. “The United States does not tolerate offshore tax evasion, nor does it sanction tax evasion committed through U.S. financial institutions.”
This cooperation also stems from the desire to somehow thank the foreign government for their prior cooperation with the IRS tax enforcement efforts that targeted (and continue to target) US taxpayers with undisclosed foreign bank accounts. “Our continued success in combating offshore tax noncompliance has been helped by the assistance we receive through the network of tax treaties around the globe,” said IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig. “Yesterday’s effort reflects that the U.S. will return this help by working under the law with tax administrators in other nations to help them in their fight against tax evasion and avoidance. A global economy should not be allowed to serve as a possible vehicle for tax evasion in any country.”