On May 28, 2015, four Swiss Banks – Société Générale Private Banking (Lugano-Svizzera), MediBank AG, LBBW (Schweiz) AG and Scobag Privatbank AG – signed Non-Prosecution Agreements under the Department of Justice Swiss Bank Program. These four Swiss banks now increased the list of the Swiss Banks that reached the resolution under the Program to the total of seven as of May 31, 2015.
Four Swiss Banks and Swiss Bank Program
The Swiss Bank Program was announced on August 29, 2013. It offered a path to Swiss banks to resolve all of their potential criminal liabilities in the United States in exchange for voluntarily turning over information regarding certain activities and detailed information regarding US-help financial accounts. Category 2 banks were also supposed to pay certain penalty under the rules specified by the Program.
All of the four Swiss Banks entered the Program and signed the Non-Prosecution Agreements on May 28. Under the program, the banks made a complete disclose of their cross-border activities, provided detailed account-by-account information for US-held accounts (direct and indirect interest), promised to cooperated with any treaty requests regarding account information, provided detailed information as to other banks that transferred funds into secret accounts or that accepted funds when secret accounts were closed, agreed to close accounts of accountholders who fail to come into compliance with U.S. reporting obligations, and paid appropriate penalties.
Compliance History of the Four Swiss Banks
The DOJ gave a fairly detailed history of all four Swiss Banks.
The largest of the four Swiss Banks – Société Générale Private Banking (Lugano-Svizzera) SA (SGPB-Lugano) – was established in 1974 and is headquartered in Lugano, Switzerland. Through referrals and pre-existing relationships, SGPB-Lugano accepted, opened and maintained accounts for U.S. taxpayers, and knew that it was likely that certain U.S. taxpayers who maintained accounts there were not complying with their U.S. reporting obligations. Since Aug. 1, 2008, SGPB-Lugano held and managed approximately 109 U.S.-related accounts, with a peak of assets under management of approximately $139.6 million, and offered a variety of services that it knew assisted U.S. clients in the concealment of assets and income from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), including “hold mail” services and numbered accounts. Some U.S. taxpayers expressly instructed SGPB-Lugano not to disclose their names to the IRS, to sell their U.S. securities and to not invest in U.S. securities, which would have required disclosure and withholding. In addition, certain relationship managers actively assisted or otherwise facilitated U.S. taxpayers in establishing and maintaining undeclared accounts in a manner designed to conceal the true ownership or beneficial interest in the accounts, including concealing undeclared accounts by opening and maintaining accounts in the name of non-U.S. entities, including sham entities, having an officer of SGPB-Lugano act as an officer of the sham entities, processing cash withdrawals from accounts being closed and then maintaining the funds in a safe deposit box at the bank and making “transitory” accounts available, thereby allowing multiple accountholders to transfer funds in such a way as to shield the identity and account number of the accountholder. SGPB-Lugano will pay a penalty of $1.363 million.
Created in 1979 and headquartered in Zug, Switzerland, MediBank AG (MediBank) provided private banking services to U.S. taxpayers and assisted in the evasion of U.S. tax obligations by opening and maintaining undeclared accounts. In furtherance of a scheme to help U.S. taxpayers hide assets from the IRS and evade taxes, MediBank failed to comply with its withholding and reporting obligations, providing “hold mail” services and offering numbered accounts, thus reducing the ability of U.S. authorities to learn the identity of the taxpayers. After it became public that the Department of Justice was investigating UBS, MediBank hired a relationship manager from UBS and permitted some of that person’s U.S. clients to open accounts at MediBank. Since Aug. 1, 2008, MediBank had 14 U.S. related accounts with assets under management of $8,620,675. MediBank opened, serviced and profited from accounts for U.S. clients with the knowledge that many likely were not complying with their U.S. tax obligations. MediBank will pay a penalty of $826,000.
Of the four Swiss banks, it appears that LBBW (Schweiz) AG (LBBW-Schweiz) had the largest average balances per US-help account. Since August 2008, LBBW-Schweiz held 35 U.S. related accounts with $128,664,130 in assets under management. After it became public that the department was investigating UBS, LBBW-Schweiz opened accounts from former clients at UBS and Credit Suisse. Despite its knowledge that U.S. taxpayers had a legal duty to report and pay tax on income earned on their accounts, LLBW-Schweiz permitted undeclared accounts to be opened and maintained, and offered a variety of services that would and did assist U.S. clients in the concealment of assets and income from the IRS. These services included following U.S. accountholders instructions not to invest in U.S. securities and not reporting the accounts to the IRS and agreeing to hold statements and other mail, causing documents regarding the accounts to remain outside the United States. LBBW-Schweiz will pay a penalty of $34,000.
Headquartered in Basel, Switzerland, Scobag Privatbank AG (Scobag) was founded in 1968 to provide financial and other services to its founders, and obtained its banking license in 1986. Since August 2008, Scobag had 13 U.S. related accounts, the maximum dollar value of which was $6,945,700. Scobag offered a variety of services that it knew could and did assist U.S. clients in the concealment of assets and income from the IRS, including “hold mail” services and numbered accounts. Scobag will pay a penalty of $9,090.
It is interesting to note that, out of the four Swiss Banks, LBBW-Schweiz and Scobag paid the least penalties. Undoubtedly, the reason lies in the mitigation of penalties due to accounts disclosed by US person as part of their OVDP compliance.
Non-Prosecution Agreements and Four Swiss Banks
According to the terms of the non-prosecution agreements signed today, each of the Four Swiss Banks agreed to cooperate in any related criminal or civil proceedings, demonstrate its implementation of controls to stop misconduct involving undeclared U.S. accounts and pay the penalties in return for the department’s agreement not to prosecute these banks for tax-related criminal offenses.
“[These Non-Prosecution] agreements reflect the Tax Division’s continued progress towards reaching appropriate resolutions with the banks that self-reported and voluntarily entered the Swiss Bank Program,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Department of Justice’s Tax Division. “The department is currently investigating accountholders, bank employees, and other facilitators and institutions based on information supplied by various sources, including the banks participating in this Program. Our message is clear – there is no safe haven.”
Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Your Voluntary Disclosure
As Swiss Banks (in addition to the four Swiss Banks mentioned in this article) sign Non-Prosecution Agreements and turn over information to the DOJ, the US taxpayers with undisclosed accounts in Switzerland, Cayman Islands, Israel, Lebanon, Panama, Singapore and other related foreign jurisdictions are operating under the increased risk of the IRS detection. Moreover, the on-going FATCA compliance introduces a similarly insupportable risk to US taxpayers worldwide.
The IRS discovery of your undisclosed foreign accounts may result in potentially catastrophic consequences, including criminal penalties and incarceration.
This is why, if you have undisclosed foreign financial accounts and any other foreign assets, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office professional help. Our experienced legal team will thoroughly analyze your case, determine your existing penalty exposure, analyze your voluntary disclosure options and implement the entire voluntary disclosure plan (including preparation of tax forms and legal documents).