For OVDP lawyers, one of the most significant recent developments in the US international tax law enforcement was the Program for Non-Prosecution Agreements or Non-Target Letters for Swiss Banks (“Program”) announced by the US Department of Justice (“DOJ”) on August 29, 2013. Since the Program began functioning, more than a hundred Swiss banks (out of the approximate total of three hundred eligible banks) elected to enter the Program.
This article will briefly highlight some recent developments concerning Swiss banks participating in the Program, as well as the likely future focus of the DOJ efforts to locate the offshore accounts of US taxpayers (an important focus for OVDP lawyers and their clients). This article is not intended to convey tax or legal advice. If you have an offshore account, you should seek the advice of a tax attorney as significant penalties may be involved. Please contact the experienced OVDP International tax firm, Sherayzen Law Office, PLLC for professional legal and tax assistance.
OVDP Lawyers: At Least Ten Swiss Banks Have Withdrawn From the Program
It appears that some of the Swiss banks entered the Program out of pure caution. According to a recent article in the Swiss newspaper, NZZ am Sonntag, at least ten Swiss banks have withdrawn their participation in the Program. The paper, citing anonymous sources, did not specify which banks withdrew. However, the banks reportedly determined that they had not broken applicable US laws, and according to various news reports, the DOJ had no objection to the banks withdrawing from the Program.
One Swiss bank that publicly announced that it was withdrawing last month is the Liechtenstein-based private bank, VP Bank. According to a news report citing an official statement, the bank noted, “Thorough internal investigations and external expert opinions showed that the conditions for continued participation did not exist…VP Bank therefore withdrew from the U.S. programme.”
For OVDP lawyers, this maybe an important fact that may affect the voluntary disclosure strategies of their clients.
OVDP Lawyers: Many Swiss Banks May Have to Wait Until 2015 to Resolve Disputes in the Program
An important issue for the Swiss Banks and OVDP lawyers is when the DOJ will reach the final resolution under the Program. In a recent article published in the Swiss financial newspaper, finews.ch, Shelby du Pasquier, a partner at the Geneva law firm Lenz & Staehelin representing more than twenty Swiss banks enrolled in the Program, gave the opinion that for most banks enrolled, settling disputes in the Program would last until spring of 2015. He noted that this was his “personal opinion” and not the official opinion of any of the twenty (unnamed) banks he represents. In a separate news report, Boris Collardi, CEO of Julius Baer, was quoted in July of this year as stating that he expects his bank to find a “fair and equitable solution” within the next few months. Du Pasquier seconded the opinion that Julius Baer will likely be one of the next large Swiss banks to settle, along with an unnamed “smaller bank.”
Du Pasquier also opined that the US DOJ is likely to increase scrutiny of accounts in other offshore jurisdictions, especially the Bahamas, Hong Kong and Singapore, and any Swiss bank subsidiaries operating in such countries.
At Sherayzen Law Office, our OVDP lawyers already expressed their opinion that the IRS is already in the process of widening its scope of enforcement with the particular emphasis on the Carribean region, Central America, Hong Kong, India, Singapore in addition to its already deep involvement in Israel. Our OVDP lawyers also second the opinion that the resolution of the issues under the Program is unlikely to be reached for most of the participants in 2014; most likely, we are looking at 2015 and maybe even 2016 for the most difficult cases.
OVDP Lawyers: Several Swiss Banks Seek More US Customers for Offshore Accounts
While most Swiss banks no longer pursue US customers desiring offshore accounts and funds because of the recent increased IRS and DOJ efforts, several Swiss banks have actually increased marketing for this customer base. The new marketing efforts are legal if such offshore funds are properly registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), or other applicable authorities.
In a recent news article in swissinfo.ch, René Marty, CEO of UBS Swiss Financial Advisers (UBS-SFA) stated, “We only accept clients who have declared all their assets.” The Swiss Bank, Vontobel, not only registered with the SEC, but also established a branch in Texas to pursue US customers.
UBS-SFA, Vontobel, and Pictet North America Advisors are the Swiss leaders in this targeted market. Furthermore, from a practical perspective, these banks may provide the only option for US persons living overseas who have declared their offshore accounts, but are unable to open accounts in various Swiss banks that now view having US customers as a stigma.
For OVDP lawyers, it is important to advise their clients that these offshore banks are likely to be subject to additional US tax reporting requirements.
Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help with Undisclosed Foreign Accounts and Other Foreign Assets
If you have undisclosed foreign accounts, you may be running a grave risk of IRS detection and investigation due to FATCA enforcement as well as the widening scope of IRS investigations as it goes through the piles of information it collected as a result of the voluntary disclosure programs and the Swiss Program for Banks. This is why you need the help of an experienced OVDP lawyer to properly advise you with respect to your voluntary disclosure options.
We can help you as we have helped hundreds of our clients around the world. Our OVDP tax team is highly experienced in all voluntary disclosure options involving offshore accounts and other foreign assets. Our international tax compliance team will thoroughly review your case, identify the international tax issues involved, analyze the penalty exposure and the available voluntary disclosure options, and implement the preferred voluntary disclosure plan for you (including preparation of all legal documents and tax forms).