On October 20, 2014, the Justice Department and the IRS announced that Menashe Cohen pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire to filing a false federal income tax return for tax year 2009. In addition, Mr. Cohen has agreed to resolve his civil liability for failure to report his financial interest in the undeclared UBS account on a FBAR by paying a 50 percent civil penalty to the IRS based on the high balance of his ownership of the undeclared UBS account.
Main Facts of the Case
According to court documents, Mr. Cohen, an oriental carpet dealer, and his sister maintained an undeclared UBS account in Switzerland that had a balance of approximately $1.3 million. Mr. Cohen also maintained bank accounts in Israel and in Jersey, a British Crown dependency located in the Channel Islands off the coast of Normandy, France. It appears that the defendant did report the Israeli and Jersey account on his 2009 FBAR, but he failed to report his financial interest in the undeclared UBS account in Switzerland. In total, for tax years 2006 through 2009, Cohen failed to report approximately $170,000 in income earned from offshore bank accounts.
The actual guilty plea, however, is related only to the 2009 tax return where Mr. Cohen reported only $350 in interest income, when in fact he had received approximately $66,500 in interest from his undeclared UBS account.
Mr. Cohen faces a statutory potential maximum sentence of three years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000 at his January 26, 2015, sentencing.
Mr. Cohen’s case is actually quite troubling because it involves a criminal pursuit of an owner with an undeclared UBS account even though many of the usual criminal facts are not present in the case.
There was no complex tax planning with an intention to conceal the ownership of the undeclared UBS account. The balance on the undeclared UBS account is on the milder side ($1.3 million is not a small amount of money, but the criminal cases tend to concentrate in the amount higher than $3 million); in this case, half of the undeclared UBS account was not even owned by Mr. Cohen, but his sister. Finally, the under-reported amount of interest from the undeclared UBS account was not such a large amount as to normally warrant criminal prosecution.
It appears that two factors steered this case toward criminal prosecution. First, partial FBAR reporting – the fact that Mr. Cohen reported two out of three accounts gave rise to the inference that he acted willfully with respect to his undeclared UBS account.
Second, it appears that the under-reporting of income might have involved all three accounts, not just the undeclared UBS account. If this was the case, then it might have a been a contributory factor in favor of the prosecution as well.
The Importance of the Case to Other Taxpayers With Undeclared Foreign Accounts
Mr. Cohen’s case with respect to his undeclared UBS account contains a strong warning to other US taxpayers with undeclared foreign accounts – it appears that the IRS is now willing to prosecute cases involving lower dollar amounts than in the past. While an undeclared UBS account has its special negative connotations in US tax enforcement, it does appear that there is a growing trend toward criminal prosecution of under-reported foreign income as long as the IRS is comfortable with being able to establish willfulness with respect to FBAR non-reporting.
This means that the taxpayers with balances under $1 million on their undeclared foreign accounts should not take the risk of criminal prosecution lightly. The exact probability of a criminal prosecution should be determined by an international tax lawyer based on the particular facts of a taxpayer’s case.
Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with the Voluntary Disclosure of Your Foreign Accounts
If you have undeclared foreign accounts, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office for legal and tax help. We are a team of highly experienced tax professionals who will thoroughly analyze, determine the proper path of your voluntary disclosure, and prepare all of the necessary legal and tax documents. Once your voluntary disclosure is filed, our international tax firm will be there to defend your case against the IRS.