Court Authorizes Internal Revenue Service to Issue Summonses For Records Relating To U.S. Taxpayers Who Used Services of Sovereign Management & Legal Ltd. to Conceal Offshore Accounts, Assets or Entities
Deputy Assistant Attorney General David Hubbert for the Justice Department’s Tax Division Civil Trial Matters, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara for the Southern District of New York, Commissioner John Koskinen of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), and Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) Los Angeles Field Division announced that U.S. District Judge Vernon S. Broderick entered an order yesterday authorizing the IRS to issue summonses requiring Federal Express Corporation, doing business as FedEx Express, FedEx Ground Package System Inc., aka FedEx Ground, DHL Express (DHL), United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS), Western Union Financial Services Inc., the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (the FRBNY), Clearing House Payments Company LLC, and HSBC Bank USA National Association (HSBC USA) to produce information about U.S. taxpayers who may be evading or have evaded federal taxes by using the services of Sovereign Management & Legal Ltd. (Sovereign) to establish, maintain or conceal foreign accounts, assets and entities.
In this action, the court granted the IRS permission to serve what are known as “John Doe” summonses on FedEx Express, FedEx Ground, DHL, UPS, Western Union, the FRBNY, Clearing House and HSBC USA. The IRS uses John Doe summonses to obtain information about possible tax fraud by individuals whose identities are unknown. The John Doe summonses direct these eight entities to produce records that will assist the IRS in identifying U.S. taxpayers who, from 2005 through 2013, used Sovereign’s services to establish, maintain, operate or control any foreign financial account or other assets; any foreign corporation, company, trust, foundation or other legal entity; or any foreign or domestic financial account in the name of such foreign entity.
“This summons action is but the latest step in the Department of Justice’s efforts to identify and hold fully accountable U.S. taxpayers who have sidestepped their tax obligations by hiding money overseas,” said Deputy Assistant Attorney General Hubbert. “The world is getting smaller for tax cheats, and we will work with our partners at the IRS to vigorously enforce the nation’s tax laws against those who seek to avoid paying their fair share.”
“This action demonstrates our Office’s commitment to pursuing tax evaders who use offshore service providers to avoid their U.S. tax obligations,” said U.S. Attorney Bharara. “By issuing these John Doe summonses, we continue our joint efforts with the IRS to identify and hold accountable those who conceal their foreign assets in order to dodge their legal responsibility to pay taxes.”
“The IRS remains committed to continuing our priority efforts to stop offshore tax evasion wherever it is found,” said Commissioner Koskinen. “We have made tremendous progress in this area, working cooperatively with other agencies. The John Doe summons remains an important tool in our efforts to find international tax evaders and those who help them.”
“The DEA has a longstanding commitment to sharing information with our federal, state, and local partners,” said Special Agent in Charge Anthony D. Williams. “Issuance of these summonses exemplifies how outstanding investigative results can be derived from a culture of interagency cooperation.”
According to the allegations set forth in the documents filed in support of the petition, and other information in the public record:
Sovereign is a multi-jurisdictional offshore services provider that offers clients, among other things, the formation and administration of anonymous corporations and foundations in Panama as well as offshore entities. Related services provided by Sovereign include the maintenance and operation of offshore structures, mail forwarding, the availability of virtual offices, re-invoicing, and the provision of professional managers who appoint themselves directors of the client’s entity while the client maintains ultimate control over the assets.
As a result of a DEA investigation of online narcotics trafficking known as Operation Adam Bomb, the IRS learned that Sovereign was involved in assisting U.S. clients evade their taxes. During the IRS investigation that led to today’s action, one taxpayer, making a voluntary disclosure of tax non-compliance to avoid prosecution, reported that Sovereign helped the taxpayer form an anonymous corporation in Panama that the taxpayer used to control assets without appearing to own them.
The IRS investigation also determined that Sovereign uses Federal Express, UPS and DHL to correspond with U.S. clients, and Western Union to transmit funds to and from clients in the United States. In addition, the IRS learned that the wire services operated by the FRBNY and Clearing House, and the U.S. correspondent bank accounts that HSBC USA holds for Sovereign’s banks in Panama and Hong Kong, are likely to have records of financial transactions between Sovereign and its clients in the United States. By obtaining information from these entities through John Doe summonses, the IRS expects to be able to identify Sovereign’s U.S. clients who may be avoiding or evading taxes.
Federal law requires U.S. taxpayers to pay taxes on all income earned worldwide. U.S. taxpayers must also report foreign financial accounts if the total value of the accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the calendar year. Willful failure to report a foreign account can result in a fine of up to 50 percent of the amount in the account at the time of the violation.
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This case is being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York Tax and Bankruptcy Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph N. Cordaro is in charge of the case.