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Higher OVDP Penalty Risk for US Taxpayers With Foreign Accounts

December of 2015 was one of the most successful months for the DOJ’s Swiss Bank Program as nearly a record number of banks signed non-prosecution agreements. This success for the DOJ means that more and more of non-compliant US taxpayers with foreign accounts are likely to deal with Higher OVDP Penalty with respect to their undisclosed foreign accounts.

DOJ’s Swiss Bank Program

The Program for Non-Prosecution Agreements or Non-Target Letters for Swiss Banks (Program) was announced by the US Department of Justice on August 29, 2013. The Program was intended to achieve multiple goals, but there are four of them that are most important to the understanding of the Higher OVDP Penalty and the Program.

First, this was an “offer that one cannot refuse” for the Swiss banks– the Program was intended to “allow” (or force) Swiss banks to bring themselves into compliance with US tax laws. In exchange, the Swiss banks received a non-prosecution agreement that promised them protection from US legal enforcement actions.

Second, the Program was intended to obtain as much information as possible about non-compliant US taxpayers with foreign accounts.

The third important goal was to create an atmosphere of global enforcement that would make US voluntary disclosure the most rational choice for non-compliant US taxpayers with foreign accounts given the risk of IRS discovery of their undisclosed foreign accounts.

Fourth, the Program was intended to pave the way for easier acceptance of FATCA throughout the world by demonstrating what could potentially happen in any country that decides to resist the implementation of FATCA.

It must be stated that the Swiss Bank Program has been a spectacular success for the DOJ and the IRS. Both, the banks and non-compliant US taxpayers with foreign accounts flocked to the voluntary disclosure programs. Moreover, today, FATCA is the new global standard of international tax enforcement.

2014 OVDP

The current 2014 IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program is a modification of 2012 OVDP which, in turn, was the continuation of a series of prior IRS offshore voluntary disclosure programs (particularly 2011 OVDI). The 2014 OVDP is designed to help non-compliant US taxpayers with foreign accounts to bring their tax affairs into compliance with US tax laws.

2014 OVDP has a two-tier penalty system. The 50% penalty rate applies to US taxpayers with foreign accounts in the banks on the special IRS list. The 27.5% penalty rate applies to everyone else.

Influence of the Program on the OVDP

The Swiss Bank Program has a direct impact on the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program because every Swiss Bank that signs a Non-Prosecution Agreement under the Program is automatically added to the 50% penalty list of foreign banks.

Thus, as more and more Swiss Banks reach an agreement with the DOJ under the Program, the list of 50% penalty banks keeps expanding and so does the list of US taxpayers with foreign accounts who may be subject to this higher penalty rate.

What Should Non-Compliant US Taxpayers With Foreign Accounts Do?

The growing risk of higher OVDP penalty means that non-compliant US taxpayers with foreign accounts should explore their voluntary disclosure options as soon as possible by contacting an experienced international tax lawyer.

It is a mistake to assume that 50% penalty list will grow only as a result of the Swiss Bank Program. Even today, the list already contains banks which are located outside of the United States (such as HSBC India and Israeli Bank Leumi). This means that any bank in almost any part of the world may tomorrow be on the 50% penalty list and US taxpayers with foreign accounts in this bank would be forced to pay a much higher penalty.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Tax Help With The Voluntary Disclosure of Your Foreign Accounts

The growing risk of higher OVDP penalty means that you should contact the experienced international tax team of Sherayzen Law Office. International tax attorney and Founder of Sherayzen Law Office, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, will personally analyze your case, estimate your IRS penalty exposure, determine your offshore voluntary disclosure options, and implement your customized voluntary disclosure plan to resolve your US tax problems.

50% Offshore Penalty of the 2014 OVDP

The 50% Offshore Penalty is a unique feature of the 2014 OVDP. What is so unusual about this penalty is that its impact widens with each passing month and year to include and affect more and more US taxpayers. In this article, I would like to explore the emergence of the 50% Offshore Penalty and its importance to US international tax compliance.

2014 OVDP Penalty Structure

On June 18, 2014, the IRS completely changed the entire legal landscape of US voluntary disclosure. The unwieldy and uncompromising penalty structure of the 2012 OVDP was replaced by the new Streamlined Procedures and a completely modified 2014 OVDP.

Under the new rules, the IRS eliminated the 5% and 12.5% penalties of the 2012 OVDP and replaced them with milder and more flexible Streamlined Domestic Offshore Penalty of 5% and Streamlined Foreign Offshore Penalty of 0%. On the other hand, the old default 25% penalty of the 2012 OVDP evolved into a new stringent system of dual penalty structure: 27.5% default Offshore Penalty and 50% Offshore Penalty.

FAQ 7.2 and 50% Offshore Penalty

The 27.5% default Offshore Penalty applies unless the participating US taxpayer has foreign accounts in a bank on a special IRS list as described in FAQ 7.2.

FAQ 7.2 states that, starting August 4, 2014, any taxpayer who enters OVDP will be subject to a 50% Offshore Penalty if, at the time the Preclearance letter is submitted to the IRS-CI (Criminal Investigation), a “public disclosure” has already occurred.

FAQ 7.2. further states that a “public disclosure” has occurred if one of the following three events occurs. First, if the foreign financial institution (FFI) where the undisclosed foreign account is held or another “facilitator who assisted in establishing or maintaining the taxpayer’s offshore arrangement” (“facilitator”) is under IRS or US DOJ investigation. The investigation should be the one that is related to accounts that are beneficially owned by a US person.

Second, the FFI or facilitator is cooperating with the IRS or the Department of Justice in connection with accounts that are beneficially owned by a U.S. person. In other words, where a foreign bank signs a Non-Prosecution Agreement with US DOJ; this means every Swiss bank that reached resolution with the DOJ under the Swiss Bank Program; OR

Third, the FFI or facilitator has been identified in a John Doe Summons seeking information about U.S. taxpayers who may hold financial accounts at this FFI or have accounts established or maintained by the facilitator.

FAQ 7.2 provides an example of when a public disclosure occurs: “a public filing in a judicial proceeding by any party or judicial officer; or public disclosure by the Department of Justice regarding a Deferred Prosecution Agreement or Non-Prosecution Agreement with a financial institution or other facilitator.

It is easy to see now why the 50% Offshore Penalty has been increasing in influence – every Non-Prosecution Agreement, every DOJ investigation, every John Doe summons automatically expands the application of the 50% Offshore Penalty to another FFI or even a set of FFIs.

Entire Penalty Base is Subject to 50% Offshore Penalty

If a public disclosure occurs with respect to the FFI or facilitor where the US taxpayer has one or more foreign accounts, the 50% Offshore Penalty applies not only to these accounts but to all of the taxpayer’s assets included in the penalty base. For example, if a US taxpayer has one account at UBS, ten accounts in an Australian bank (for which no public disclosure occurred) and a foreign rental property that generated unreported foreign income, the 50% Offshore Penalty will apply to all of these assets.

List of FFIs and Facilitators

The IRS published the list of all FFIs and Facilitators for which public disclosure has occurred with the dates when the 50% penalty is activated with respect to these FFIs and Facilitators. Here, I am only providing the list up to date through January 7, 2016:

UBS AG
Credit Suisse AG, Credit Suisse Fides, and Clariden Leu Ltd.
Wegelin & Co.
Liechtensteinische Landesbank AG
Zurcher Kantonalbank
swisspartners Investment Network AG, swisspartners Wealth Management AG, swisspartners Insurance Company SPC Ltd., and swisspartners Versicherung AG
CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank Limited, its predecessors, subsidiaries, and affiliates
Stanford International Bank, Ltd., Stanford Group Company, and Stanford Trust Company, Ltd.
The Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited in India (HSBC India)
The Bank of N.T. Butterfield & Son Limited (also known as Butterfield Bank and Bank of Butterfield), its predecessors, subsidiaries, and affiliates
Sovereign Management & Legal, Ltd., its predecessors, subsidiaries, and affiliates (effective 12/19/14)
Bank Leumi le-Israel B.M., The Bank Leumi le-Israel Trust Company Ltd, Bank Leumi (Luxembourg) S.A., Leumi Private Bank S.A., and Bank Leumi USA (effective 12/22/14)
BSI SA (effective 3/30/15)
Vadian Bank AG (effective 5/8/15)
Finter Bank Zurich AG (effective 5/15/15)
Societe Generale Private Banking (Lugano-Svizzera) SA (effective 5/28/15)
MediBank AG (effective 5/28/15)
LBBW (Schweiz) AG (effective 5/28/15)
Scobag Privatbank AG (effective 5/28/15)
Rothschild Bank AG (effective 6/3/15)
Banca Credinvest SA (effective 6/3/15)
Societe Generale Private Banking (Suisse) SA (effective 6/9/15)
Berner Kantonalbank AG (effective 6/9/15)
Bank Linth LLB AG (effective 6/19/15)
Bank Sparhafen Zurich AG (effective 6/19/15)
Ersparniskasse Schaffhausen AG (effective 6/26/15)
Privatbank Von Graffenried AG (effective 7/2/15)
Banque Pasche SA (effective 7/9/15)
ARVEST Privatbank AG (effective 7/9/15)
Mercantil Bank (Schweiz) AG (effective 7/16/15)
Banque Cantonale Neuchateloise (effective 7/16/15)
Nidwaldner Kantonalbank (effective 7/16/15)
SB Saanen Bank AG (effective 7/23/15)
Privatbank Bellerive AG (effective 7/23/15)
PKB Privatbank AG (effective 7/30/15)
Falcon Private Bank AG (effective 7/30/15)
Credito Privato Commerciale in liquidazione SA (effective 7/30/15)
Bank EKI Genossenschaft (effective 8/3/15)
Privatbank Reichmuth & Co. (effective 8/6/15)
Banque Cantonale du Jura SA (effective 8/6/15)
Banca Intermobiliare di Investimenti e Gestioni (Suisse) SA (effective 8/6/15)
bank zweiplus ag (effective 8/20/15)
Banca dello Stato del Cantone Ticino (effective 8/20/15)
Hypothekarbank Lenzburg AG (effective 8/27/15)
Schroder & Co. Bank AG (effective 9/3/15)
Valiant Bank AG (effective 9/10/15)
Bank La Roche & Co AG (effective 9/15/15)
Belize Bank International Limited, Belize Bank Limited, Belize Corporate Services Limited, their predecessors, subsidiaries, and affiliates (effective 9/16/15)
St. Galler Kantonalbank AG (effective 9/17/15)
E. Gutzwiller & Cie, Banquiers (effective 9/17/15)
Migros Bank AG (effective 9/25/15)
Graubundner Katonalbank (effective 9/25/15)
BHF-Bank (Schweiz) AG (effective 10/1/15)
Finacor SA (effective 10/6/15)
Schaffhauser Kantonalbank (effective 10/8/15)
BBVA Suiza S.A. (effective 10/16/15)
Piguet Galland & Cie SA (effective 10/23/15)
Luzerner Kantonalbank AG (effective 10/29/15)
Habib Bank AG Zurich (effective 10/29/15)
Banque Heritage SA (effective 10/29/15)
Hyposwiss Private Bank Genève S.A. (effective 10/29/15)
Banque Bonhôte & Cie SA (effective 11/3/15)
Banque Internationale a Luxembourg (Suisse) SA (effective 11/12/15)
Zuger Kantonalbank (effective 11/12/15)
Standard Chartered Bank (Switzerland) SA, en liquidation (effective 11/13/15)
Maerki Baumann & Co. AG (effective 11/17/15)
BNP Paribas (Suisse) SA (effective 11/19/15)
KBL (Switzerland) Ltd. (effective 11/19/15)
Bank CIC (Switzerland) Ltd. (effective 11/19/15)
Privatbank IHAG Zürich AG (effective 11/24/15)
Deutsche Bank (Suisse) SA (effective 11/24/15)
EFG Bank AG (effective 12/3/15)
EFG Bank European Financial Group SA, Geneva (effective 12/3/15)
Aargauische Kantonalbank (effective 12/8/15)
Cornèr Banca SA (effective 12/10/15)
Bank Coop AG (effective 12/10/15)
Crédit Agricole (Suisse) SA (effective 12/15/15)
Dreyfus Sons & Co Ltd, Banquiers (effective 12/15/15)
Baumann & Cie, Banquiers (effective 12/15/15)
Bordier & Cie Switzerland (effective 12/17/15)
PBZ Verwaltungs AG (effective 12/17/15)
PostFinance AG (effective 12/17/15)
Edmond de Rothschild (Suisse) SA (effective 12/18/15)
Edmond de Rothschild (Lugano) SA (effective 12/18/15)
Bank J. Safra Sarasin AG (effective 12/23/15)
Coutts & Co Ltd (effective 12/23/15)
Gonet & Cie (effective 12/23/15)
Banque Cantonal du Valais (effective 12/23/15)
Banque Cantonale Vaudoise (effective 12/23/15)
Bank Lombard Odier & Co Ltd (effective 12/31/15)
DZ Privatbank (Schweiz) AG (effective 12/31/15)
Union Bancaire Privée , USP SA (effective 1/6/16)

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help with Your Undisclosed Foreign Accounts

If you have undisclosed foreign accounts, including those FFIs and Facilitators for which public disclosure has occurred, you should contact the experienced international tax team of Sherayzen Law Office, Ltd. Our international tax law firm has helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the globe to bring their tax affairs into full compliance with US tax laws, while reducing their penalty exposure.

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Initial Consultation!

US Income Tax Obligations of Green Card Holders: General Overview

There is a common misconception among Green Card Holders (a common name for US permanent residents) that their US income tax obligations are limited in nature in comparison to US citizens. In this article, I seek to dispel this erroneous myth and provide some general outlines of the US income tax obligations of Green Card Holders.

US Income Tax Obligations of Green Card Holders: Worldwide Income Reporting

I receive a lot of phone calls from Green Card holders who believe that their US income tax reporting obligations are limited only to US-source income (sourcing of income, by the way, is also a very complex subject and I often see egregious mistakes committed even by experienced accountants).

This is not correct. In fact, US permanent residents and US citizens are both considered to be “tax residents of the United States.” US tax residents are required to report their worldwide income on US tax returns and pay US income taxes on foreign-source income (and, obviously, US-source income).

Thus, if you have a Green Card and you have foreign assets (such as foreign bank and financial accounts, foreign businesses, foreign trusts, et cetera), you must report the income from such foreign assets on your US tax returns.

Be careful! You must remember that all foreign income must be reported in US dollars and according to US tax laws. Leaving aside the issue of currency conversion (which is a topic for another article), the reporting of foreign income under US tax laws may be extremely challenging because foreign tax laws may treat this income in a different manner. Let me emphasize this point – the treatment of income under foreign local tax rules may not actually be the same as the treatment of the same income under US tax rules.

For example, Assurance Vie accounts in France may be completely tax-exempt if certain conditions are met. However, the annual income from these accounts must be reported on US tax returns.

Moreover, to make matters worse, these accounts may contain PFIC (Passive Foreign Investment Company) investments which are treated in a very complex and generally unfavorable manner under US tax laws. The calculation of US tax liability in this case may be extremely complex (especially since the French banks are not required to keep the kind of information that is necessary to properly calculation PFIC tax and interest).

US Income Tax Obligations of Green Card Holders: Reporting of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts

As US tax residents, the Green Card holders are also required to disclose their ownership of certain foreign bank and financial accounts to the IRS. Many US permanent residents are shocked to learn about these requirements and the draconian penalties associated with failure to file the required information reports.

The top two bank and financial account reporting requirements are FinCEN Form 114 (known as “FBAR” – the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts) and Form 8938 (which was born out of FATCA). Other forms, such as Form 8621, may apply.

It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss these requirements in detail. However, it is impossible to overstate their importance, especially the FBAR, due to potentially astronomical non-compliance penalties (including criminal penalties). You can find more information about these requirements at sherayzenlaw.com.

US Income Tax Obligations of Green Card Holders: Reporting of Foreign Business Ownership

Many US permanent residents are surprised to find out that they may be required to provide detailed reports about their foreign businesses – corporations, partnerships and disregarded entities. Indeed, Green Card holders may be subject to burdensome and expensive US reporting requirements on Forms 5471, 8865, 926, 8938, et cetera. These forms may require Green Card holders to provide foreign financial statements translated under US accounting standards, including US GAAP (Generally Accepted Accounting Practices).

Again, you can find more information about these requirement at sherayzenlaw.com.

US Income Tax Obligations of Green Card Holders: Reporting of Foreign Trusts

Another complex trap for Green Card Holders is reporting of an ownership or a beneficiary interest in a foreign trust (generally, on Form 3520). This complicated topic is beyond the scope of this article, but you can find more information about these requirements at sherayzenlaw.com.

US Income Tax Obligations of Green Card Holders: Other Reporting Requirements

There are numerous other US income tax obligations of Green Card Holders that may apply. Moreover, US has multiple income tax treaties with various countries which may modify your particular tax situation. In order to fully determine your US tax obligations as a Green Card holder, it is best to consult with an experienced international tax attorney.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help With Your US Income Tax Obligations

Sherayzen Law Office is a specialized international tax law firm which is highly experienced in helping US Permanent Residents with their US income tax obligations and reporting requirements. One of the unique features of our firm is that our tax team provides both legal and accounting services to our clients throughout the world.

Contact Us Now To Secure Professional Help and Avoid (or Rectify) Costly Mistakes!

Privatbank Von Graffenried AG Signs Non-Prosecution Agreement

On July 2, 2015, the US Department of Justice announced that Privatbank Von Graffenried AG became the fifteenth bank to sign a Non-Prosecution Agreement under the DOJ’s Swiss Bank Program. It also became the 27th bank on the 50% penalty list for US taxpayers who wish to enter the OVDP.

Background Information

Von Graffenried is a private bank founded in 1992 and based in Bern, Switzerland. Starting in at least July 1998, Von Graffenried, through certain practices, assisted U.S. taxpayer-clients in evading their U.S. tax obligations, filing false federal tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and otherwise hiding assets maintained overseas from the IRS.

Von Graffenried opened and maintained undeclared accounts for U.S. taxpayers when it knew or should have known that, by doing so, it was helping these U.S. taxpayers violate their legal duties. Von Graffenried offered a variety of traditional Swiss banking services that it knew could assist, and that did assist, U.S. clients in the concealment of assets and income from the IRS. For example, Von Graffenried would hold all mail correspondence, including periodic statements and written communications for client review, thereby keeping documents reflecting the existence of the accounts outside the United States. Von Graffenried also offered numbered account services, replacing the accountholder’s identity with a number on bank statements and other documentation that was sent to the client.

In late 2008 and early 2009, Von Graffenried accepted accounts from two European nationals residing in the United States who had been forced to leave UBS and Credit Suisse, respectively. At the time it accepted the accounts, Von Graffenried knew that UBS was the target of an investigation by the Department of Justice. It also knew that both individuals had been forced to leave their respective banks because the banks were closing their accounts, and that both individuals had U.S. tax obligations and did not want the accounts disclosed to U.S. authorities. Senior management at Von Graffenried approved the opening of these accounts.

When Von Graffenried compliance personnel sought to obtain an IRS Form 8802, Application for U.S. Residency Certification, from one of the accountholders, that accountholder replied that completing the form would be problematic for him and that he believed the relationship manager knew why. The beneficial owner of the second account was referred by an external fiduciary, who handled the account at Credit Suisse. The fiduciary told a Von Graffenried relationship manager that Credit Suisse was attempting to exit its U.S. offshore clients to other banks if the clients would not sign an IRS Form W-9. The relationship manager agreed to take on the account, which was held by a Liechtenstein “stiftung,” or foundation, with the beneficial owner as the primary beneficiary and U.S. citizens as other beneficiaries.

Between July 1998 and July 2000, Von Graffenried accepted approximately two dozen accounts from a specific external asset manager. Von Graffenried was aware that the external asset manager seemed to be targeting U.S. clientele. Sixteen of the accounts were beneficially owned by individuals with U.S. tax and reporting obligations, and most of those accounts were held by U.S. citizens residing in the United States. At the time, Von Graffenried did not have a policy in place that required U.S. clients to show tax compliance. Consequently, Von Graffenried accepted these accounts without obtaining IRS Forms W-9 or assurances that the accounts were in fact tax compliant. By early 2009, Von Graffenried determined that some of the external asset manager’s accountholders likely were attempting to evade U.S. tax requirements. In 2010, Von Graffenried began to close the existing U.S.-related accounts that originated with the external asset manager. Von Graffenried did not complete the exit process for these accounts until late 2012.

Non-Prosecution Agreement with DOJ

According to the terms of the non-prosecution agreement signed on July 2, 2015, Von Graffenried 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 penalties in return for the department’s agreement not to prosecute Von Graffenried for tax-related criminal offenses.

Since August 1, 2008, Von Graffenried held a total of 58 U.S.-related accounts with approximately $459 million in assets. Von Graffenried will pay a penalty of $287,000.

In accordance with the terms of the Swiss Bank Program, Von Graffenried mitigated its penalty by encouraging U.S. accountholders to come into compliance with their U.S. tax and disclosure obligations.

Consequences for US Taxpayers With Undisclosed Accounts at Von Graffenried

There are two major consequences (for US taxpayers with undisclosed accounts) of the Von Graffenried’s participation in the Swiss Bank Program. First, as it was mentioned above, if such taxpayers with undisclosed financial accounts at Von Graffenried wish to enter the 2014 IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Penalty, their penalty rate will now go up to 50% of the highest value of the accounts.

Second, as part of its participation in the Swiss Bank Program, Von Graffenried also had provided to the IRS certain account information related to U.S. taxpayers that will enable the IRS to make requests under the 1996 Convention between the United States of America and the Swiss Confederation for the Avoidance of Double Taxation with Respect to Taxes on Income for, among other things, the identities of U.S. accountholders. If the IRS is successful, then, these accountholders are likely to be rejected from the OVDP participation and may face draconian civil and criminal FBAR and income tax penalties.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Undisclosed Foreign Accounts

The number of banks which are coming forward to disclose their US clients’ accounts is growing rapidly with each passing month. Moreover, the great majority of the banks worldwide are also attempting to comply with various FATCA requirements.

This means that the longer US taxpayers with undisclosed foreign accounts wait, the more likely it is that their situation will worsen. The risk of the IRS discovery is higher today than ever before, and the consequences of such a discovery may be truly grisly.

This is why, if you have undisclosed foreign accounts or any other assets, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible. Our professional legal team is highly experienced in handling all types of offshore voluntary disclosures. We can handle the entire process of your voluntary disclosure from the beginning to the end, including the preparation of all tax forms and legal documents.

So, Contact Us Now to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation Now! We Can Help You!

Bank Sparhafen Zurich AG Reaches Resolution with DOJ

On June 19, 2015, the Department of Justice announced that Bank Sparhafen Zurich AG (Bank Sparhafen) has reached resolution under the department’s Swiss Bank Program.

Bank Sparhafen Background Information

Bank Sparhafen was founded in 1850 and has its sole office in Zurich. Bank Sparhafen knew that U.S. persons had a duty under U.S. law to report their income to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and to pay taxes on that income, including all income earned in accounts that Bank Sparhafen maintained in Switzerland. Despite this knowledge, Bank Sparhafen opened, maintained and serviced accounts for U.S. persons that it knew or had reason to know were likely not declared to the IRS or the U.S. Treasury, as required by U.S. law.

After August 1, 2008, U.S. persons opened 32 U.S.-related accounts at Bank Sparhafen, and only one of them provided a Form W-9 to Bank Sparhafen upon opening an account. In most cases, the U.S. persons who opened accounts at Bank Sparhafen during this period had been required to close their accounts at other Swiss banks, and Bank Sparhafen knew or had reason to know that most of these accounts were likely not declared to the IRS. Moreover, 22 of the U.S.-related accounts opened during this period were funded by transfers from banks that were or are the targets of Justice Department criminal investigation.

Two relationship managers at Bank Sparhafen were responsible for managing most of its U.S.-related accounts in the period since August 1, 2008, and one of those managers directly reported to Bank Sparhafen’s chief executive officer. Bank Sparhafen relationship managers assisted U.S. persons in executing waiver forms that directed the bank not to acquire U.S. securities in their accounts. Bank Sparhafen knew that the purpose and effect of these forms was to avoid disclosing the identities of the U.S. persons to the IRS.

Until 2012, Bank Sparhafen provided its U.S. clients with an option for hold-mail agreements, even though it understood that providing these agreements upon request could allow U.S. persons to keep evidence of their accounts outside of the United States in order to conceal assets and income from the IRS. One U.S. client told his Bank Sparhafen relationship manager by email that the hold-mail fee was “cheap insurance against having my dealings with you come to the attention of the government revenue authorities.”

Bank Sparhafen also offered travel cash cards to its clients, including U.S. persons. A client could instruct Bank Sparhafen to load up to 10,000 Swiss francs, U.S. dollars or euros from his or her Bank Sparhafen bank account onto a travel cash card. The client could then use the card for purchases or remit unused balances back to the Bank Sparhafen account. U.S. persons’ use of these cards facilitated access to or use of undeclared funds on deposit at Bank Sparhafen. One Bank Sparhafen relationship manager sent a brochure about travel cash cards to a U.S. client who did not wish to transfer money to the United States because of “surveillance” concerns.

Bank Sparhafen’s Participation in the Swiss Program for Banks and DOJ Non-Prosecution Agreement

In accordance with the terms of the Swiss Bank Program, Bank Sparhafen described in detail the structure, operation and supervision of its U.S. cross-border business, including the names of relevant individuals and entities. It also encouraged existing and prior holders of U.S.-related accounts to disclose their accounts to the IRS through the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.

According to the terms of the non-prosecution agreements signed on June 19, 2015, Bank Sparhafen 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 penalties in return for the department’s agreement not to prosecute these banks for tax-related criminal offenses.

Since August 1, 2008, Bank Sparhafen held 91 U.S.-related accounts, with over $25 million in assets. Bank Sparhafen will pay a penalty of $1.81 million. In accordance with the terms of the Swiss Bank Program, Bank Sparhafen mitigated its penalty by encouraging U.S. accountholders to come into compliance with their U.S. tax and disclosure obligations.

Consequences for US Taxpayers with Undisclosed Accounts at Bank Sparhafen

On August 4, 2014, the IRS increased the OVDP penalty to 50 percent from 27.5 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. This means that, starting June 19, 2015, noncompliant Bank Sparhafen’s U.S. accountholders are likely to now pay a 50 percent penalty to the IRS if they wish to enter the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.