Justice Department Announces Resolution With NPB Neue Privat Bank AG
The Department of Justice announced today that NPB Neue Privat Bank (NPB) reached a resolution with the Tax Division. NPB will pay a penalty of $5 million.
“The Department of Justice is committed to ending the practice of using foreign bank accounts to evade taxes,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division. “Taxpayers and financial institutions should take notice that the Department is continuing to aggressively pursue these cases.”
According to the terms of the non-prosecution agreement signed today, NPB agrees to cooperate in any related criminal or civil proceedings, demonstrate its implementation of controls to stop misconduct involving undeclared U.S. accounts and pay a penalty in return for the Department’s agreement not to prosecute this bank for tax-related criminal offenses.
NPB is a Swiss private bank based in Zurich, Switzerland. Until 2012, NPB conducted a U.S. cross-border banking business that aided and assisted certain of its U.S. clients in opening and maintaining undeclared accounts in Switzerland and concealing the assets and income they held in these accounts from the U.S. government. NPB offered a variety of traditional Swiss banking services that it knew could assist, and did in fact assist, U.S. clients in the concealment of assets and income from the IRS, including the use of numbered accounts and hold mail services.
NPB signed agreements with individual external asset managers or external asset management firms, whereby clients of the external asset manager could open and maintain accounts at NPB, with account management services being provided by the external asset manager. Almost all of NPB’s U.S. accounts were managed by external asset managers, for whom it provided custodial and limited banking services. In such cases, NPB generally did not contact the clients directly once they had opened their account. The Bank required an external asset manager mandate, so that communication about asset management and investment decisions were done between the U.S. customer and their external asset manager(s). In a few circumstances, NPB managed U.S. customers directly without an external asset manager. In those cases, the Bank required the U.S. customer to sign a direct asset management mandate, allowing the Bank to make investment decisions for the account.
In 2001, NPB entered into a Qualified Intermediary Agreement (QI Agreement) with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The Qualified Intermediary regime provided a comprehensive framework for U.S. information reporting and tax withholding by a non-U.S. financial institution with respect to U.S. securities. The QI Agreement required NPB to obtain IRS Forms W-9 and to undertake IRS Form 1099 reporting for new and existing U.S. clients engaged in U.S. securities transactions. Notwithstanding this requirement, NPB chose to continue to service U.S. clients without disclosing their identity to the IRS. NPB’s view was that it could continue to accept and service U.S. account holders, even if it knew or had reason to believe they were engaged in tax evasion, so long as it complied with the QI Agreement, which in NPB’s view did not apply to account holders who were not trading in U.S.-based securities or to accounts that were nominally structured in the name of a non-U.S.-based entity. NPB formed this view without consulting legal counsel.
Between August 1, 2008 and December 31, 2015, NPB held a total of 353 U.S.-related accounts, which included both declared and undeclared accounts, with an aggregate peak year-end value of approximately $400 million in assets under management.
In approximately early 2009, NPB was approached by certain external asset managers who managed accounts on behalf of U.S. taxpayers and were seeking a replacement custodian bank for accounts for U.S. taxpayers that were being closed by other Swiss banks, including UBS AG. Some of these external asset managers and NPB discussed the long-term trend towards tax compliance in Switzerland and that eventually the external asset managers would only be able to manage accounts that were declared to the U.S. government. Those external asset managers told NPB that they were telling their clients to become tax compliant. However, the external asset managers also made clear to NPB that many of their clients who wished to onboard accounts at the Bank had not yet declared their accounts to the U.S. government. The external asset managers did not promise, and NPB did not require, that all accounts onboarded to NPB would become compliant within a specific period of time. In one instance, however, an external asset manager onboarded accounts from other Swiss banks that the Bank knew were undeclared with no discussion of tax compliance until 2011.
NPB viewed the taking of clients from other banks that were exiting U.S. taxpayers as a business opportunity. During a board of directors meeting held on March 9, 2009, the board unanimously resolved that it would allow U.S. taxpayers to open accounts at NPB, including customers who were forced to exit other banks. Prior to 2009, NPB had few U.S. clients. At the close of 2008, U.S. Related Accounts held approximately 8 million Swiss francs in assets. By the end of 2009, NPB had approximately 450 million Swiss francs under management in accounts owned or beneficially owned by U.S. taxpayers, an influx of approximately 442 million Swiss Francs. Approximately 69% of the U.S.-related assets held by the Bank at the end of 2009 were reported to the U.S. government by the account holder in or before the 2009 tax year.
NPB’s executives hoped that their U.S. customers would eventually fully declare their accounts and keep their money at the Bank after becoming compliant. However, NPB created no written or formal policies to encourage or mandate tax compliance and, in fact, continued to acquire and service non-compliant U.S. taxpayers.
According to NPB executives, beginning in August 2010, NPB decided not to open any new accounts for U.S. customers who were not tax-compliant. NPB did not memorialize this decision in any written policy nor in any executive board or management board meeting minutes. NPB knew in August 2010 that some of its existing U.S. customers were not tax-compliant, but continued to service those accounts.
Until at least August 2010, NPB did not require a Form W-9 from U.S. clients to open an account. NPB did not require the completion of Forms W-9 for existing U.S. customers until approximately summer of 2011.
NPB serviced some U.S. customers who structured their accounts so that they appeared as if they were held by a non-U.S. legal structure, such as an offshore corporation or trust, which aided and abetted the clients’ ability to conceal their undeclared accounts from the IRS. At least 89 of NPB’s U.S. Related Accounts, both declared and undeclared, were held in the name of offshore structures, including trusts or corporations purportedly domiciled in Panama, Liechtenstein, the British Virgin Islands, Hong Kong, and Belize. NPB never assisted customers in setting up such offshore structures. For accounts held in non-U.S. legal structures opened in 2009 and prior to Summer 2010, NPB did not require the signing of either a Form W-9 or Form W-8BEN.
NPB increased its efforts to obtain tax compliance from its U.S. customers in 2010 and 2011, but continued to service undeclared accounts. NPB first requested tax compliance evidence from its external asset managers for U.S. clients in August 2011. NPB serviced the declared and undeclared clients of two external asset managers after their respective indictments in the United States.
NPB has cooperated with the Department of Justice in this investigation, including by producing information relating to the U.S. taxpayer clients who maintained assets overseas, including the identities of the account holders and/or beneficial owners of more than 88% of assets, and by making multiple executives available for interview by the Department of Justice.
While U.S. accountholders at NPB who have not yet declared their accounts to the IRS may still be eligible to participate in the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, the price of such disclosure has increased. Most U.S. taxpayers who enter the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program to resolve undeclared offshore accounts will pay a penalty equal to 27.5 percent of the high value of the accounts. On Aug. 4, 2014, the IRS increased the penalty to 50 percent if, at the time the taxpayer initiated their disclosure, either a foreign financial institution at which the taxpayer had an account or a facilitator who helped the taxpayer establish or maintain an offshore arrangement had been publicly identified as being under investigation, the recipient of a John Doe summons or cooperating with a government investigation, including the execution of a deferred prosecution agreement or non-prosecution agreement. With today’s announcement of this non-prosecution agreement, noncompliant U.S. accountholders at NPB must now pay that 50 percent penalty to the IRS if they wish to enter the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program. The IRS recently announced that the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program will close on September 28, 2018.
“The non-prosecution agreement with NPB should signal that IRS CI continues its fight against offshore tax evasion,” said Don Fort, Chief IRS-Criminal Investigation. “The IRS devotes considerable resources in the U.S. and abroad to hold accountable those individuals and institutions that seek to cheat the U.S. tax system. I urge anyone not compliant with their tax obligations to consider the offshore voluntary disclosure program before it closes on September 28, 2018.”
Principal Assistant Attorney General Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division thanked Senior Litigation Counsel Nanette Davis of the Tax Division and Assistant United States Attorneys Michelle Petersen and Patrick King of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois and IRS-Criminal Investigation, in particular IRS Special Agent Michael Leach, for their substantial assistance.
Additional information about the Tax Division and its enforcement efforts may be found on the division’s website.