Swiss Bank Program Penalties Bring More than $1 Billion

On December 23, 2015, as US Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it reached resolutions with Bank J. Safra Sarasin AG, Coutts & Co Ltd, Gonet & Cie and Banque Cantonal du Valais, it also announced that Swiss Bank Program Penalties reached a landmark – more than $1 Billion. At that time, in addition to Swiss Bank Program Penalties, DOJ also reached agreements with 75 Swiss Banks.

As a reminder to readers, the DOJ Swiss Bank Program was announced by DOJ on August 29, 2013 (per agreement with Swiss government). The Program provides a framework for Swiss Banks to resolve their US tax issues (or “cross-border criminal tax violations”) in exchange for information about the Banks’ US accountholders and, for Category 2 banks, Swiss Bank Program Penalties.

Moreover, according to the terms of the non-prosecution agreements signed by Swiss banks under the Program, Swiss Banks agree to cooperate in any related criminal and civil proceedings, show that the Banks implemented controls to avoid future misconduct with respect to US-held accounts.

While the percentages of Swiss Bank Program Penalties are firmly established, under the terms of the Program, the banks are allowed to mitigate their Swiss Bank Program Penalties if they can show that their US accountholders are either in compliance with their US tax obligations or they entered the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (and, later, Streamlined Procedures).

It should be noted that more Swiss banks reached resolutions with DOJ under the Program since December 23, 2015. This means that the DOJ has already collected even more Swiss Bank Program Penalties.

These resolutions under the Program concern not only Swiss Banks and Swiss Bank Program Penalties, but they also have direct relevance to US owners of undeclared Swiss bank accounts. Two major consequences arise for US taxpayers with undisclosed accounts from their Swiss Bank participation in the Program. First, there is a direct impact of information exchange between the participating Bank and the IRS which may lead to the discovery of the undisclosed accounts by US tax authorities. The subsequent IRS investigation is likely to render any future participation of the taxpayer in the OVDP impossible.

Second, if the participating bank reaches resolution and pays its Swiss Bank Program Penalties to the DOJ before the taxpayer enters OVDP (or, more precisely, files the Preclearance Request), the OVDP penalty on all (not just the taxpayer’s accounts in the participating Bank’s) of the taxpayer’s accounts will jump to 50% (from the normal 27.5%).

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