On May 8, 2015, Vadian Bank AG (Vadian) became the second bank to sign a Non-Prosecution Agreement with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) pursuant to the DOJ Program for Swiss Banks.
Program for Swiss Banks: Background Information
On August 29, 2013, the DOJ announced the creation of the “The Program for Non-Prosecution Agreements or Non-Target Letters for Swiss Banks (Program)”. The basic goal of the program was to allow Swiss banks to purge themselves of the prior US tax non-compliance (or complicity with such non-compliance) in exchange for providing DOJ with detailed description of their illegal activities, bank accounts owned by US persons and, in many cases, the payment of monetary penalties.
The Program is a really a version of the 2014 OVDP for foreign banks. However, it was not open to all banks. The banks already under criminal investigation related to their Swiss-banking activities and all individuals were expressly excluded from the program.
As of the time of this writing, the application process has already been completed for the great majority of the Swiss banks, and the Program has entered into the resolution phase (i.e. the review of the banks’ disclosure and penalty calculation).
Vadian bank’s case was the second such case that completed the resolution phase (BSI SA was the first bank to do so).
Vadian Bank Background
Vadian has one office and 26 employees. Prior to 2008, Vadian’s business predominantly consisted of savings accounts, residential mortgage lending and small business loans. In 2007, Vadian hired a marketing firm to assist with its planned growth into private banking, and focused its efforts on attracting external asset managers. In 2008, after it became publicly known that UBS was a target of a criminal investigation, Vadian accepted accounts from U.S. persons who were forced out of other Swiss banks. At this time, Vadian’s management was aware that the U.S. authorities were pursuing Swiss banks that facilitated tax evasion for U.S. accountholders in Switzerland, but was not deterred because Vadian had no U.S. presence. As a result of its efforts, after August 2008, Vadian attracted cross-border private banking business and increased its U.S. related accounts from two to more than 70, with $76 million in assets under management.
Through its managers, employees and/or other individuals, Vadian knew or believed that many of its U.S. accountholders were not complying with their U.S. tax obligations, and Vadian would and did assist those clients to conceal assets and income from the IRS. Vadian’s services included: “hold mail” services; numbered accounts, where the client was known to most bank employees only by a number or code name; opening and maintaining accounts for U.S. taxpayers through non-U.S. entities such as corporations, trusts or foundations; and accepting instructions from U.S.-based accountholders to prevent investments from being made in U.S.-based securities that would require disclosure to U.S. tax authorities.
Vadian Bank: Terms the DOJ Non-Prosecution Agreement
According to the terms of the non-prosecution agreement that was signed on May 20, 2015, Vadian 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 a $4.253 million penalty in return for the department’s agreement not to prosecute Vadian for tax-related criminal offenses.
In resolving its criminal liabilities under the program, Vadian also provided extensive cooperation and encouraged U.S. accountholders to come into compliance.
Consequences of Vadian Non-Prosecution Agreement for Vadian US Accountholders
If you have (or had at any point since the year 2008) undeclared foreign accounts at Vadian, you may still be eligible to participate in the OVDP (assuming that you can pass the IRS-CI Preclearance process). However, the price of participating in the OVDP has almost doubled from the pre-Agreement 27.5% to the current 50% of the highest value of your undisclosed foreign assets.
Of course, if the behavior was non-willful, Streamlined options remain available at the same penalty rates.
What Should Vadian US Accountholders Do?
If you are a US person and an accountholder at Vadian, please contact the experienced international tax law firm of Sherayzen Law Office to explore your voluntary disclosure options as soon as possible.