Last week the U.S. Justice Department asked a federal district court in San Francisco to…
IRS expands use of Subpeonas
The U.S. Internal Revenue Service is planning to broaden the use of subpoenas of documents in cases where the name of a taxpayer under investigation is not known.
The so-called John Doe summonses were a breakthrough for the IRS in tackling offshore tax evasion when they were first addressed to banks to divulge the identity of U.S. customers suspected of maintaining undeclared offshore bank accounts. The use of the legal tool served on UBS in 2008 launched an ongoing U.S. offshore tax evasion crackdown.
The IRS is now going to target service providers that help facilitate offshore tax evasion both in the U.S. and abroad, said Brian Stiernagle, program manager of the IRS Offshore Compliance Initiative, speaking at the Offshore conference in Miami last week.
“In the next 12 to 24 months, you will see additional John Doe summonses related to parts of the world other than Switzerland, and we are going to go beyond the banks. Intermediaries, service providers and facilitators will be potential targets of John Doe summonses,” Mr. Stiernagle said.
The Offshore Compliance Initiative started 10 years ago as an investigation into offshore credit card abuses with a team of one investigator and two legal counsels. Following the UBS case, the IRS issued seven additional John Doe summonses related to private banking, which turned the initiative into a full-fledged nationwide IRS program with 16 specialists who conduct investigations.
“From those summonses we have obtained a significant amount of information, and when you couple that with what we have received from the offshore compliance initiative and the streamlined filing program, we have actually been able to secure quite a lot of intelligence related to what’s going on currently in the offshore transaction world,” Mr. Stiernagle said.
Most of the summonses related to U.S. banks that served as a gateway into the U.S. banking system for offshore banks by maintaining correspondent bank accounts for them. By granting the summonses for correspondent banking accounts, federal courts effectively extended the reach of U.S. authorities to offshore banks.
In 2013, the IRS issued John Doe summonses against Bank of New York (Mellon), Citibank, JPMorgan Chase, HSBC and Bank of America to produce information about U.S. taxpayers with undisclosed accounts at Bermuda’s Bank of Butterfield and its affiliates in the Bahamas, Barbados, the Cayman Islands, Guernsey, Hong Kong, Malta, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.
In the same year, similar orders were issued against Bank of New York (Mellon) and Citibank for the correspondent accounts of Swiss bank Zurcher Kantonalbank, against UBS for the correspondent accounts of Wegelin Bank and against Wells Fargo for the correspondent accounts of CIBC FirstCaribbean.
For a John Doe summons to be granted by a court, the IRS has to provide evidence that tax evasion by a class or group of unknown individuals may have occurred at a bank. In recent years, the information that forms a “reasonable basis” for suspecting tax evasion has come from two main sources: various offshore voluntary disclosure programs and whistleblowers.
The summonses against Butterfield and CIBC FirstCaribbean were prompted by a number of the banks’ clients who came clean and disclosed their previously undeclared offshore accounts.
With new data expected from the FATCA initiative, which forces financial institutions worldwide to report U.S. taxpayer accounts and assets to the SEC, U.S. tax authorities will get an even clearer picture of the offshore world.