IRS Loses Two Offshore Tax Cases: Weil & Baravarian

Last month, a federal jury in Fort Lauderdale, Florida acquitted Raoul Weil, a former top UBS Swiss banking executive, of tax evasion charges. Weil was indicted in 2008 under 18 U.S.C. § 371 (“Conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud United States”) and it was alleged that he helped nearly 17,000 wealthy US persons hide $20 Billion in Swiss bank accounts from the IRS. Weil had been extradited to the US to stand trial after being arrested by Interpol while vacationing in Italy in 2013. He would have faced up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, if found guilty. Weil did not testify in the case.

From 2002 through 2007, Weil was head of Swiss Bank’s wealth management business, which included US cross-border business and other businesses. In July of 2007, he became the CEO a division that oversaw the United States cross-border business and world-wide private banking. The verdict for the trial (which began on October 14), was quickly reached in less than an hour and a half of deliberation. According to a news report, Weil’s attorney told the jury that Weil was not culpable because, “There’s no evidence in this case that Mr. Weil knew and much less participated in activities by low-level bankers who were violating the bank’s own policies.” In response, a former DOJ tax division assistant attorney general, Nathan Hochman, was quoted after the verdict stating, “The verdict shows you the difficulty of going after senior management who can at times blame the bank’s customers and lower-level employees for the bank’s mistakes.” Prosecutors also failed to show that “a single overall conspiracy” existed under the law.

Weil was the highest-ranking foreign banker to be charged by the US during its lengthy probe of offshore tax evasion cases. The failure by the IRS and DOJ to obtain a conviction in this case represents a significant setback as they have been very successful in prosecuting such cases (and UBS itself had previously paid a $780 million fine in 2009 and admitted to assisting clients evade US taxes in exchange for non-prosecution).

The jury verdict in Weil’s case comes on the heels of another case in which a retired senior vice president at the Los Angeles branch of a bank headquartered in Tel Aviv, Israel Mizrahi Tefahot Bank Ltd., Shokrollah Baravarian, was acquitted in a federal court of charges of conspiring to defraud the U.S. government and of helping clients prepare false tax returns. Baravarian was alleged to have conspired to conceal the existence of undeclared offshore accounts owned and controlled by U.S. customers by opening them under pseudonyms, code names and the names of nominee entities set up in the British Virgin Islands and the island of Nevis. Like Weil, he also would have faced a potential maximum prison term of five years and a maximum fine of $250,000, if convicted.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help with Your Offshore-Related US Tax Compliance Issues

As can be seen from the two acquittals highlighted above, legal challenges to the IRS and DOJ in offshore tax cases can be successful. Certain US persons who reported foreign accounts through the OVDP may also find that they wish to challenge their FBAR determinations in court. If you have any questions regarding OVDP-related litigation or compliance, please contact our experienced tax practice at Sherayzen Law Office, Ltd.