IRS Increases Use of John Doe Summons for Unreported Offshore Bank Accounts

Some time ago, in a joint statement before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs of the United States Senate for a hearing on “Offshore Tax Evasion: The Effort to Collect Unpaid Taxes on Billions in Offshore Accounts”, Deputy US Attorney General James M. Cole and Assistant Attorney General, Tax Division, Kathryn Keneally detailed a number of enforcement actions targeting US taxpayers with undisclosed foreign bank accounts and the foreign banks in question.

The Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Department of Justice utilize various tools to track and hold accountable individuals who evade their taxes and reporting obligations by sheltering money in undisclosed foreign bank accounts. One important law enforcement mechanism that has led to much success in gathering information about foreign accounts has been the use of John Doe summons. The IRS defines a John Doe summons as “[A]ny summons where the name of the taxpayer under investigation is unknown and therefore not specifically identified.” A John Doe summons, if authorized, allows the IRS request the identities of U.S. taxpayers who may have offshore bank accounts.

If you are an individual subject to U.S. taxes and you have an undisclosed foreign bank account, you should be aware that the odds are increasing each year that the IRS will eventually determine your identity. The penalties for not disclosing a foreign bank account are severe; if you have such an account you should seek the advice of a tax attorney. The experienced international tax law firm of Sherayzen Law Office, Ltd. can assist you in these important matters.

John Doe Summons and Other Enforcement Mechanisms

In a previous article, we covered the IRS John Doe summons seeking records of the correspondent account at Wells Fargo for Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce FirstCaribbean International Bank (FCIB), a Barbados-based bank with branches in eighteen Caribbean countries. The IRS has been utilizing John Doe summons frequently and will likely increase its use in the future. For example, in a recent high-profile case, the federal district court for the Southern District of New York entered an order authorizing the IRS to issue a John Doe summons seeking records for Wegelin Bank’s U.S. correspondent account at the Swiss bank, UBS.

According to the joint statement, on November 13, 2013, the same court, “[E]ntered an order authorizing the IRS to issue John Doe summonses seeking records of the Zurcher Kantonalbank and its affiliates (collectively ZKB) correspondent accounts at Bank of New York Mellon and Citibank NA for information relating to U.S. taxpayers holding undisclosed accounts in ZKB.” Several days later the court also issued an order that authorized the IRS to issue John Doe summonses seeking correspondent account records held by the Bank of N.T. Butterfield & Son Limited and its affiliates in the Bahamas, Barbados, Cayman Islands, Guernsey, Hong Kong, Malta, Switzerland and the United Kingdom at Bank of New York Mellon, Citibank NA, HSBC Bank NA, JPMorgan Chase Bank NA, and Bank of America NA.

In the joint statement, it was also noted that the DOJ has also “[E]nforced summonses and subpoenas for records that account holders are required to maintain concerning their foreign banking activities through the successful litigation of the applicability of the ‘required record’ exception to the production privilege under the Fifth Amendment.” The statement notes that every appellate court that has reviewed the issue has, “[R]ejected the argument that witnesses can refuse to comply with a subpoena for the bank records that are required by law to be kept and presented for inspection as a condition of maintaining an offshore account.”

Impact on U.S. Taxpayers with Undisclosed Foreign Accounts

John Doe Summons constitute a very useful technique for the IRS to find non-complying U.S. taxpayers with undisclosed foreign accounts. It is important to keep in mind that the enforcement mechanisms detailed in this article are in addition to other programs, such as the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program and the US-Switzerland Bank Disclosure program, among others. Moreover, with the continuous expansion of FATCA enforcement, the non-complying U.S. taxpayers are now running a very high risk of detection by the IRS.

The consequences for these non-complying U.S. taxpayers can be very grave. There are extremely high civil penalties as well as potential criminal penalties that may be applied in such cases.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with Your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure

The analysis above means that, if you are a U.S. taxpayer with an undisclosed offshore bank account, you need to consider your voluntary disclosure options as soon as possible.

We can help you. At Sherayzen Law Office, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen an experienced international tax attorney will thoroughly analyze your case, estimate your potential FBAR exposure, create a plan for your voluntary disclosure and implement it (i.e. we will prepare all of the tax forms and legal documents that you need for the voluntary disclosure). We will guide you every step of the way and offer rigorous ethical representation before the IRS.

Contact Us to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation Now!