On April 13, 2011, another U.S. taxpayer with an offshore HSBC bank account, Josephine Bhasin…
Latest Guilty Plea for an Another HSBC Offshore Bank Accountholder
Last week a Boston venture capitalist and director at a Boston bank was charged with failing to report his foreign bank account and income to the US Department of the Treasury.
It is noteworthy that relatively small amounts of income, tax, and offshore assets were involved. The offshore accounts ranged from about $65,000 to $150,000. The nature of the offshore asset disclosure and the government’s reaction is extraordinary. I attended a national tax law conference last week in Washington DC, where US government officials stated that voluntary disclosures outside of an OVDI (amnesty) program rarely or never lead to criminal prosecutions. This case is clearly contrary to such statements.
According to the criminal information and plea agreement, from 2003 to 2008, Michael Schiavo, 53, of Westford, Mass., held an account in his name at HSBC Bank Bermuda (formerly the Bank of Bermuda, but not an NRI bank). In 2006, with the assistance of his business partner Peter Schober, Schiavo arranged to have income from a venture capital investment directed to Schober’s secret account at UBS AG in Switzerland. From there, Schiavo’s share of the investment, $99,273, was wired to his HSBC Bank Bermuda account. Schiavo knew that this payment was taxable income in the United States, but deliberately chose not to report it, or the interest income that accrued in the HSBC Bank Bermuda account, to the IRS. In so doing, Schiavo deprived the IRS out of $40,624 in taxes.
U.S. citizens and resident aliens have an obligation to report to the IRS on the Schedule B of a U.S. Individual Income Tax Return, Form 1040, whether that individual has a financial interest in, or signature authority over, a financial account in a foreign country in a particular year by checking “Yes” or “No” in the appropriate box and identifying the country where the account was maintained. U.S. citizens and resident aliens have an obligation to report all income earned from foreign bank accounts on the tax return and to pay the taxes due on that income. These same taxpayers who have a financial interest in, or signature authority over, one or more financial accounts in a foreign country with an aggregate value of more than $10,000 at any time during a particular year are required to file with the Department of the Treasury a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, Form TD F 90-22.1 (the FBAR). The FBAR for the applicable year is due by June 30 of the following year.
Shiavo appears to have tried to make a “quiet” disclosure, meaning that he simply filed past due FBAR forms and amended his prior Form 1040 tax returns to report the account. What is problematic is that a quiet disclosure flies in the face of the OVDI. The OVDI is supposed to serve as a vehicle for avoiding criminal prosecution. Mr. Schiavo could have come forward but chose not to, instead silently filing his forms.
According to the criminal information and plea agreement, on Oct. 6, 2009, following widespread media coverage of UBS’s disclosure to the IRS of account records for undeclared accounts held by U.S. taxpayers and the IRS’s Voluntary Disclosure Program, Schiavo made a “silent disclosure” by preparing and filing FBARs and amended Forms 1040 for tax years 2003 to 2008, in which he reported the existence of his previously undeclared account at HSBC Bank Bermuda. He made such filings notwithstanding the availability of the IRS’s Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program. The Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program was a program administered by the IRS that was intended to serve as a vehicle for U.S. taxpayers to attempt to avoid criminal prosecution by disclosing their previously undeclared offshore accounts and paying tax on the income earned in those accounts. On its website, the IRS strongly encourages taxpayers to come forward under the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program and warns them that taxpayers who instead make silent disclosures risk being criminally prosecuted for all applicable years.
According to the criminal information and plea agreement, Schiavo also admitted that for tax years 2003 through 2008, he willfully failed to file FBARs with the Department of the Treasury and failed to disclose that he had an interest in a financial account in HSBC Bank Bermuda. He further admitted that for tax years 2003 through 2008, he prepared, signed under penalties of perjury, and filed false individual income tax returns with the IRS that falsely represented that he did not have an interest in any foreign financial accounts. According to the plea agreement, Schiavo agreed to pay a civil money penalty of $76,283, half the value of high balance of the HSBC Bank of Bermuda account, for failing to file the FBAR.
Schiavo faces up to five years in prison, followed by three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine. Schober was charged separately with failing to disclose his secret UBS AG bank account and is awaiting sentencing.
This case should persuade offshore accountholders who cannot decide whether to disclose past foreign account noncompliance to the IRS via the OVDI amnesty program. Quiet or no disclosures are not viable options for such individuals.
Patel Law Offices is a law firm dedicated to helping clients resolve complicated tax, criminal tax, and international tax problems. Our firm assists (and defends) clients and their advisors to legally disclose (and legitimize) foreign accounts.