Huntington Beach Man Pleads Guilty to Filing a False Tax Return That Failed to Report Over $2 Million Held in Offshore Israeli Bank Account
A Huntington Beach man pleaded guilty yesterday to filing a false tax return that failed to report millions of dollars in foreign bank accounts and the resulting income, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division.
According to court documents, Elie Waknine, of Huntington Beach, California, held millions of dollars in an offshore account in Israel at Bank Leumi Le-Israel B.M. from approximately 1994 to 2011. Despite having this account, Waknine filed a tax return for 2007 that falsely claimed he did not have financial interest in or signature authority over any foreign financial accounts. In an effort to further hide his money, Waknine instructed Bank Leumi to hold bank mail from delivery to the United States, and obtained access to his offshore funds through the use of “back-to-back” loans, which were designed to enable borrowers to tap their concealed accounts. These lending arrangements permitted Waknine to have funds issued by Leumi’s U.S. branch that were secretly secured by funds in his undeclared accounts in Israel. In 2011, Waknine closed his Bank Leumi Israel account, but used the $2.4 million he received from closing the account to open a new undisclosed foreign bank account at another bank in Israel. Over the period 1994-2015, Waknine held undisclosed foreign bank accounts in four banks in three countries, each with assets of at least $1 million.
In December 2014, Bank Leumi entered into a deferred prosecution agreement, in which the bank admitted to conspiring from at least 2000 until early 2011 to aid and assist U.S. taxpayers to prepare and present false tax returns by hiding income and assets in offshore bank accounts in Israel and other foreign locations. Under the terms of the deferred prosecution agreement, Bank Leumi paid the United States a total of $270 million and continues to cooperate with respect to civil and criminal tax investigations.
U.S. citizens, resident aliens, and permanent legal residents with a foreign financial interest in or signatory authority over a foreign financial account worth more than $10,000 are required to file an FBAR each year disclosing the account, and are required to report the account and any resulting income on their annual tax returns.
Waknine faces a maximum sentence of three years in prison, as well as a period of supervised release, restitution and monetary penalties. District Court Judge David O. Carter set Waknine’s sentencing for January 28, 2019.
Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Zuckerman commended special agents from IRS-Criminal Investigation, who investigated the case, and Tax Division Assistant Chief Elizabeth Hadden and Trial Attorney Eric Schmale, who are prosecuting the case. The Tax Division thanks the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Central District of California for its assistance.
Additional information about the Tax Division and its enforcement efforts may be found on the division’s website.