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First Conviction of Non-Swiss Financial Institutions For Tax Evasion Conspiracy

On March 9, 2016, the IRS announced the first conviction of Non-Swiss Financial Institutions for tax evasion conspiracy. At Sherayzen Law Office, we have been predicting now for years that the IRS would expand its prosecution of financial institutions far beyond the Swiss borders, specifically pointing to tax shelters such as Cayman Islands. Now that our strategic analysis has been confirmed, it is important to analyze this first conviction of Non-Swiss Financial Institutions and its impact on U.S. taxpayers with undisclosed foreign accounts.

Factual Background of the First Conviction of Non-Swiss Financial Institutions

The first conviction of Non-Swiss Financial Institutions concerned two Cayman Island Financial Institutions, Cayman National Securities Ltd. (CNS) and Cayman National Trust Co. Ltd. (CNT). CNS and CNT were Cayman Island affiliates of Cayman National Corporation, which provided investment brokerage and trust management services to individuals and entities within and outside the Cayman Islands, including citizens and residents of the United States (U.S. taxpayers).

According to the IRS and documents filed in Manhattan federal court, from at least 2001 through 2011, CNS and CNT assisted certain U.S. taxpayers in evading their U.S. tax obligations to the IRS and otherwise hiding accounts held at CNS and CNT from the IRS (hereinafter, undeclared accounts). CNS and CNT did so by knowingly opening and maintaining undeclared accounts for U.S. taxpayers at CNS and CNT. Specifically, and among other things, CNS and CNT opened and encouraged many U.S. taxpayer-clients to open accounts held in the name of sham Caymanian companies and trusts (collectively, structures), thereby helping U.S. taxpayers conceal their beneficial ownership of the accounts. Furthermore, CNS and CNT treated these sham Caymanian structures as the account holders and allowed the U.S. beneficial owners of the accounts to trade in U.S. securities without ever requiring these U.S. persons to submit Form W-9. CNS failed to disclose to the IRS the identities of the U.S. beneficial owners who were trading in U.S. securities, in contravention of CNS’s obligations under its Qualified Intermediary Agreement (QIA) with the IRS.

At their high-water mark in 2009, these two Non-Swiss Financial Institutions (CNS and CNT) had approximately $137 million in assets under management relating to undeclared accounts held by U.S. taxpayer-clients. From 2001 through 2011, CNS and CNT earned more than $3.4 million in gross revenues from the undeclared U.S. taxpayer accounts that they maintained.

In 2008, after learning about the investigation of Swiss bank UBS AG (UBS) for assisting U.S. taxpayers to evade their U.S. tax obligations, these two Non-Swiss Financial Institutions (i.e. CNS and CNT) continued to knowingly maintain undeclared accounts for U.S. taxpayer-clients and did not begin to engage in any significant remedial efforts with respect to those accounts until 2011 and 2012.

In or about June 2011, CNT hired a new president, who spearheaded a review of CNT’s files. In the course of that review, not a single file was found to be complete and without tax or other issues. Moreover, with respect to the structures that had U.S. beneficial owners, CNT’s files contained little, if any, evidence of tax compliance.

Guilty Pleas of these Two Non-Swiss Financial Institutions

On March 9, 2016, both Non-Swiss Financial Institutions, CNS and CNT pleaded guilty to a criminal Information charging them with conspiring with many of their U.S. taxpayer-clients to hide more than $130 million in offshore accounts from the IRS and to evade U.S. taxes on the income earned in those accounts. CNS and CNT entered their guilty pleas pursuant to plea agreements.

As part of their plea agreements, CNS and CNT have agreed to cooperate fully with the IRS investigation of the companies’ criminal conduct. The IRS states that, to date, CNS and CNT have already made substantial efforts to cooperate with that investigation, including by: (1) facilitating interviews of CNS and CNT employees, including top level executives; (2) voluntarily producing documents in response to the IRS requests; (3) providing, in response to a treaty request, unredacted client files for approximately 20 percent of the U.S. taxpayer-clients who maintained accounts at CNS and CNT; and (4) committing to assist in responding to a treaty request that is expected to result in the production of unredacted client files for approximately 90 to 95 percent of the U.S. taxpayer-clients who maintained accounts at CNS and CNT.

In connection with their guilty pleas, CNS and CNT have also agreed to pay the United States a total of $6 million, which consists of the forfeiture of gross proceeds of their illegal conduct, restitution of the outstanding unpaid taxes from U.S. taxpayers who held undeclared accounts at CNS and CNT, and a fine.

Impact of the Guilty Pleas of Non-Swiss Financial Institutions on U.S. Taxpayers with Undeclared Foreign Accounts

The impact of the guilty pleas of these two Cayman Island Non-Swiss Financial Institutions is difficult to overstate. First, it becomes clear that the IRS feels confident that it can replicate its success in Switzerland in every offshore jurisdiction and there is no limit to their ability to uncover undeclared foreign accounts of U.S. taxpayers.

“Today’s convictions make clear that our focus is not on any one bank, insurance company or asset management firm, or even any one country,” said Acting Deputy Assistant Attorney General Goldberg of the Justice Department’s Tax Division. “The Department and IRS are following the money across the globe – there are no safe havens for U.S. citizens engaged in tax evasion or those actively assisting them.”

Second, it is evident that the IRS strategy is to first force Non-Swiss Financial Institutions to reveal information about their U.S. clients and, then, using the information provided by these institutions, pursue noncompliant U.S. taxpayers. As part of their guilty pleas, CNS and CNT are required to turn over extensive materials about their U.S. clients and these noncompliant U.S. taxpayers should be preparing to face the full wrath of the IRS.

“The guilty pleas of these two Cayman Island companies today represent the first convictions of financial institutions outside Switzerland for conspiring with U.S. taxpayers to evade their lawful and legitimate taxes,” said U.S. Attorney Bharara. “The plea agreements require these Cayman entities to provide this office with the client files, because we are committed to finding and prosecuting not only banks that help U.S. taxpayers evade taxes, but also individual taxpayers who find criminal ways not to pay their fair share. We will follow them no matter how far they go to hide their accounts, whether it is Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, or some other tax haven.”

In essence, between FATCA and the constant IRS pressure on Non-Swiss Financial Institutions, the noncompliant U.S. taxpayers are in the constant danger of discovery, which now becomes more of a question of “when”, rather than “if”.

What Should U.S. Taxpayers With Undeclared Foreign Accounts Do?

In light of this development, U.S. taxpayers with undeclared foreign accounts in Non-Swiss Financial Institutions should explore their voluntary disclosure options as soon as possible. For this purpose, they should contact an experienced international tax law firm that specializes in this field.

Contact the Experienced International Tax Law Firm of Sherayzen Law Office, Ltd. for Professional Help With Your Undeclared Accounts

If you have undeclared foreign accounts, foreign income or foreign business entities, you are encouraged to contact the international tax law firm of Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible. Our team of experienced tax professionals specializes in this area of law, including the preparation of all necessary legal documents and tax forms. We have helped hundreds of U.S. taxpayers around the world and we can help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

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!