The Department of Justice issued a release on April 30, 2013 that a federal court in San Francisco has entered an order authorizing the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to serve a “John Doe” summons seeking information about U.S. taxpayers who may hold offshore accounts at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce FirstCaribbean International Bank (FCIB) through their correspondent account at Wells Fargo N.A. A John Doe summons enables the IRS to obtain information about possible violations of US tax laws by U.S. taxpayers whose identities are unknown. This specific summons directs Wells Fargo to produce records identifying U.S. taxpayers who have accounts at FCIB and other banks that used FCIB’s correspondent account.
The order was signed by Senior District Judge Thelton E. Henderson, and allows the IRS to identify U.S. taxpayers who hold or held interests in financial accounts at FCIB and other financial institutions that used the Wells Fargo correspondent account.
This article will briefly explain the IRS John Doe summons. It is not intended to constitute tax or legal advice
According to the DOJ, “A correspondent account is a bank deposit account maintained by one bank for another bank. Financial transactions involving U.S. dollars flow through U.S. banks. Therefore, foreign banks that do business in U.S. dollars, but have no office in the U.S., obtain a correspondent account at a U.S. bank in order to engage in such transactions. These transactions leave a trail in the U.S. that the IRS can access through the records of the correspondent bank accounts. These correspondent bank accounts have records of money deposited, money paid out through checks and money moved through the correspondent account by wire transfers.” The IRS can obtain all of this desired information through a John Doe summons issued to the U.S. bank holding the correspondent account.
Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce’s FirstCaribbean International Bank
FCIB is based in Barbados and has branches in 18 Caribbean countries, according to the declaration of IRS Revenue Agent Cheryl R. Kiger, filed in support of the court petition. These countries include the British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Cayman Islands, Bahamas, and Barbados, among others. FCIB does not have any U.S. branches; however, it does maintain a U.S. correspondent account at Wells Fargo Bank N.A. Wells Fargo, headquartered in San Francisco, CA is the fourth largest bank in the U.S. by assets, and the largest bank when ranked by market capitalization, according to Wikipedia.
Per Agent Kiger’s declaration, the IRS discovered that U.S. taxpayers were using FCIB to help them escape detection of their offshore accounts by the IRS and to not pay U.S. federal income tax on money held in such offshore accounts. According to the DOJ release, after reviewing information submitted by more than 120 FCIB customers who enrolled in the IRS’s Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, the IRS determined that many FCIB customers in the John Doe summons class, “[M]ay have been under-reporting income, evading income taxes, or otherwise violating the internal revenue laws of the United States.”
Latest Example of How Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Programs Help IRS Identify Other Non-Compliant US Taxpayers
Since 2009, Sherayzen Law Office has predicted that the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Programs (now closed) will produce a wealth of information that the IRS will use to identify other targets for investigation and prosecution. We further predicted the more widespread use of John Doe summons. Finally, since the Wegelin bank case began, we have repeatedly advised our clients that the IRS is likely to use the correspondent accounts opened with U.S. banks to identify non-compliant taxpayers with undisclosed foreign accounts.
Over the past four years, we have seen all of our predictions come true, and the latest move by the IRS against the FirstCaribbean International Bank is just the latest example of it.
According to Kathryn Keneally, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Tax Division, “The Department of Justice and the IRS are committed to global enforcement to stop the use of foreign bank accounts to evade U.S. taxes. This John Doe summons is a visible indication of how we are using the many tools available to us to pursue this activity wherever it is occurring. Those who are still hiding should get right with their country and their fellow taxpayers before it is too late.” Acting IRS Commissioner Steven T. Miller added, “This summons marks another milestone in international tax enforcement. Our work here shows our resolve to pursue these cases in all parts of the world, regardless of whether the person hiding money overseas chooses a bank with no offices on U.S. soil.”
Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help With the Voluntary Disclosure of Your Foreign Bank Accounts
If you are a US taxpayer who is using foreign bank accounts to attempt to under-report US income or evade US tax laws, this summons should serve as a warning to you. The IRS will likely increase their use of enforcement mechanisms such as the John Doe summons in the near future, so you are highly advised to seek an experienced attorney in these matters.
For the U.S. taxpayers with have undisclosed financial accounts in FirstCaribbean International Bank, the time to act is now – before the IRS finds them.
This is why it’s a good idea to contact Sherayzen Law Office an experienced law firm in Offshore Voluntary Disclosures. Our international tax team can assist you in all of your tax and legal needs concerning undisclosed foreign accounts and income and help you avoid making costly mistakes.