US-Switzerland Bank Program: Migros Bank, Bank Coop, Linth Bank, Berner Kantonalbank and Vontobel Holding

Several weeks ago, in another article, I detailed some of the recent developments in the US-Switzerland Bank Program, officially called The Program for Non-Prosecution Agreements or Non-Target Letters for Swiss Banks (the “US-Switzerland Bank Program”) between the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the government of Switzerland, and noted that Valiant Holdings AG had officially entered the Program. Since December 9th, the deadline imposed by Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (“FINMA”) for Swiss banks to notify that authority whether they intended to enroll in the Program or not, more Swiss banks have announced that they will participate: Linth Bank, Migros Bank, Bank Coop, Berner Kantonalbank, and Vontobel Holding AG are among them.

Most Swiss banks are not listed on the stock exchange, so they not obliged to publicly disclose their intentions regarding the Program. This article will detail the further developments involving Swiss banks that have chosen to enter the US-Switzerland Bank Program, and is not intended to convey legal or tax advice. U.S. taxpayers holding Swiss accounts in any of the banks involved should pay close attention to these developments and seek the advice of professional, competent tax attorneys in these matters. The international tax expertise of Sherayzen Law Office, PLLC can assist you in all of your tax and legal needs.

Migros Bank, Bank Coop, Linth Bank, and Berner Kantonalbank

According to various news sources, Migros Bank announced it would most likely enter the Program in Category 2. Migros Bank noted that just a small portion of its 800,000 customers are U.S. persons (and most of the U.S. persons either have dual U.S.-Switzerland citizenship or have U.S. residence permits). Because of the compliance difficulties in knowing whether such persons have paid all of their U.S. taxes (a requirement), they have decided to enter the US-Switzerland Bank Program. Migros Bank also noted that it might be approved under Category 4. The bank also claimed that it never actively sought out U.S. clients.

Bank Coop (majority-owned by Basler Kantonalbank, a bank that is already under investigation by the U.S.) also stated that it would enter the US-Switzerland Bank Program in Category 2. Bank Coop noted that accounts held by U.S. persons amounted to less than 0.3% of its total managed-accounts. Like Bank Migros, Bank Coop also claimed that it did not actively seek U.S. clients.

Linth Bank also announced it was entering the US-Switzerland Bank Program to attempt to bring a swift resolution the US-Switzerland dispute.

Like Migros Bank and Bank Coop, Berner Kantonalbank AG will enter the US-Switzerland Bank Program in Category 2. Berner Kantonalbank noted that a small portion (0.2%) of its managed accounts was held by U.S. persons. Its CEO, Hanspeter Ruefenacht, was quoted in one news report stating that the bank, “never sought to do business with American clients”.

Vontobel Holding AG

Vontobel Holding AG will also enroll in the US-Switzerland Bank Program, but under a different rational than the banks mentioned above. Vontobel Holding announced it will enter the US-Switzerland Bank Program under the DOJ’s category for Swiss banks that have not committed U.S. tax-related offenses (i.e. a Category 3 bank), and are thereby exempt from penalties under the Program. The bank stated that in 2008 it proactively instituted various measures to transfer its U.S. clients to its Swiss Wealth Advisors unit (which is registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission). American clients who decided not to move their assets to the advisors unit were made to leave the bank.

Impact on US Taxpayers

U.S. taxpayers who either hold or previously held undisclosed bank accounts at any of the Swiss banks eligible for the US-Switzerland Bank Program are advised to seek competent and experienced legal assistance. U.S. taxpayers will likely face substantial civil and potential criminal penalties if they continue to hold undisclosed accounts or if their cases are not handled properly.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help With Undisclosed Swiss Accounts

The experienced international tax law firm of Sherayzen Law Office, PLLC can help with your all of your voluntary disclosure issues, including undisclosed accounts and other assets in Switzerland.