by Brian Mahany
Many Americans think they will not get caught with secret, unreported foreign bank accounts. During the 2009 IRS offshore amnesty program, less than 20,000 people came forward. Many more did not. Since that time, however, government prosecutors have been filing record numbers of criminal charges against those who failed to inform the government of their offshore accounts.
The IRS has filed criminal charges against Switzerland’s largest bank, UBS, as well as four former bankers, over twenty UBS account holders, a lawyer, two advisers and a US client of Europe’s largest bank, HSBC.
In 2009, Swiss bank UBS agreed to pay $780 million to settle criminal charges accusing the bank of helping Americans evade US taxes.
Bradley Birkenfeld was convicted in the Southern District of Florida with helping wealthy Americans evade taxes. Birkenfeld was an officer with UBS. According to prosecutors, Birkenfeld told US clients to destroy records and helped clients falsify tax returns. Birkenfeld was sentenced to 3 ½ years in prison for his conduct. As part of his plea, he agreed to assist prosecutors in there cases against account holders.
Like many of these cases, prosecutors will seek to prosecute the bank or bank officers. As part of a plea deal, the government often requires the bankers to disclose the identities of their U.S clients in return for a recommendation of leniency.
One case often snowballs into many cases. And that makes beating the odds increasingly difficult.
If you have an unreported offshore account, now is the time to come into compliance. Through August, the government is conducting an offshore voluntary disclosure program (also known as a tax amnesty).
The amnesty plan allows taxpayers to avoid prosecution and offers some break on penalties and the audit look back period.
If you have a tax problem – reported or unreported – call us. We can help with a wide range of tax problems including U.S. tax court litigation, collections, audit defense, welfare benefit plans and criminal tax defense (failure to file returns, evasion, etc.)