Friday, February 25, 2011

US pursuit of tax fraud scheme providers continues in Switzerland

Arrest warrants were issued following the Wednesday indictment of four bankers believed to have been hiding as much as $3 billion from the IRS.

Although all four bankers are employed by the Zurich-based Credit Suisse Group, the bank itself was not charged in the indictment. However, the indictment states that bank officials "knew and should have known that they were aiding and abetting U.S. customers in evading their U.S. income taxes."

The US government alleges that the fraud goes back to as far as 1953, and that in 2008, Credit Suisse was maintaining thousands of hidden accounts for US customers. Additionally, the indictment claims that that the fours bankers encouraged clients not to participate in President Obama’s tax amnesty program last year.

The AP notes that this is the first major criminal prosecution not involving Swiss-based UBS AG. In that landmark case, the UBS turned over thousands of names and paid a $780 million fine for helping US citizens conceal assets from the IRS.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Hunting down tax cheats in Switzerland gets easier

Switzerland has taken steps towards improving cooperation with countries seeking to pursue tax evaders hiding funds in the country.

Before the change in policy, which will take effect following Parliament’s approval, countries seeking information on tax evaders could receive administrative assistance from the Swiss government only with the full name and address of the parties of interest; the new policy will allow governments to use more varied search methods and provide less complete information.

However, the Swiss Ministry has said that it will not allow for “fishing expeditions,” whereby a government might attempt to gain information on parties that are not reasonably suspected of any wrongdoing.

The policy change comes on the heels of increased pressure from the US government to pursue tax evaders in Switzerland and other countries, including a sustained inquiry into UBS, Switzerland's biggest bank, which was recently completed.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

IRS announces new amnesty program for tax cheats

As previously indicated, the IRS has announced a new amnesty program for tax cheats who have concealed money in foreign bank accounts. The program comes on the heels of increased IRS scrutiny of foreign banking, notably UBS and Deutsch Bank AG.

The new program bears many similarities to a prior tax amnesty program which ran from March through October of 2009, and resulted in 15,000 Americans’ confession of illegal tax avoidance. The current program is less lenient, so as not to reward those who have waited, but also offers a few specific caveats for smaller accounts held by persons who can prove minimal knowledge or involvement in the offshore account. Persons to whom those specifications would have applied in the first amnesty program are invited to return now and have their fines reassessed.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the primary incentive for Americans to come forward is to avoid jail time or harsher fines. IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman stated that the program “gives people a chance to come in before we find them.” The new program is “the last, best chance for people to get back into the system,” he said. The deadline has been set for August 31, 2011.