Justice Department Announces Two Banks Reach Resolutions under Swiss Bank Program
Banque Pasche SA Will Pay $7.229 Million Penalty and ARVEST Privatbank AG Will Pay $1.044 Million Penalty; Both Continue to Cooperate With Department of Justice
The Department of Justice announced today that two banks, Banque Pasche SA and ARVEST Privatbank AG, have reached resolutions under the department’s Swiss Bank Program.
“Banque Pasche and ARVEST have provided detailed information regarding the ways in which Swiss banks helped U.S. taxpayers conceal foreign accounts and evade their U.S. tax obligations, including through the use of numbered and coded accounts and sham offshore entities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Department of Justice’s Tax Division. “As required under the program, these banks will continue to cooperate as we aggressively pursue those individuals and the professionals who facilitated their criminal conduct.”
The Swiss Bank Program, which was announced on Aug. 29, 2013, provides a path for Swiss banks to resolve potential criminal liabilities in the United States. Swiss banks eligible to enter the program were required to advise the department by Dec. 31, 2013, that they had reason to believe that they had committed tax-related criminal offenses in connection with undeclared U.S.-related accounts. Banks already under criminal investigation related to their Swiss-banking activities and all individuals were expressly excluded from the program.
Under the program, banks are required to:
Make a complete disclosure of their cross-border activities;
Provide detailed information on an account-by-account basis for accounts in which U.S. taxpayers have a direct or indirect interest;
Cooperate in treaty requests for account information;
Provide detailed information as to other banks that transferred funds into secret accounts or that accepted funds when secret accounts were closed;
Agree to close accounts of accountholders who fail to come into compliance with U.S. reporting obligations; and
Pay appropriate penalties.
Swiss banks meeting all of the above requirements are eligible for a non-prosecution agreement.
According to the terms of the non-prosecution agreements signed today, each bank 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 penalties in return for the department’s agreement not to prosecute these banks for tax-related criminal offenses.
Banque Pasche SA is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, and owns and controls a group of companies in various jurisdictions, including Monaco and the Bahamas. From at least August 2008 to August 2013, Banque Pasche assisted certain U.S. taxpayers in evading their U.S. taxes and filing obligations, filing false income tax returns with the IRS and hiding offshore assets from the IRS.
Banque Pasche offered a variety of traditional Swiss banking services that it knew could and did assist U.S. taxpayers in concealing assets and income from the IRS. For example, Banque Pasche offered hold mail service, as well as code name or numbered account services. These services allowed certain U.S. taxpayers to minimize the paper trail associated with their undeclared assets and income.
Banque Pasche also permitted certain U.S. taxpayers to open accounts held in the name of sham, conduit or nominee offshore structures where the U.S. taxpayer’s interest in the account was not reported to the IRS. With respect to these accounts, Banque Pasche would obtain from the entity’s directors an IRS Form W-8BEN (or equivalent bank document) that falsely declared that the beneficial owner was not a U.S. taxpayer. As of Dec. 31, 2008, Banque Pasche had U.S.-related accounts held by entities created in Panama or the British Virgin Islands with U.S. beneficial owners. The majority of these accounts had false IRS Forms W-8BEN in the file.
Banque Pasche also opened accounts for U.S. taxpayers who had left other Swiss banks that were being investigated by the department, including UBS and Credit Suisse. Banque Pasche knew or should have known that the beneficial owners of the majority of these accounts were attempting to evade U.S. tax and foreign account reporting requirements. Many of these accounts were held by Panamanian corporations with U.S. beneficial owners. Some of these accounts were managed by a particular Geneva-based attorney who held a power of attorney over them. When these accounts were subsequently closed, the assets were transferred to banks located in Israel and Hong Kong in an attempt to further escape detection from U.S. authorities.
Banque Pasche has fully cooperated with the department during its participation in the Swiss Bank Program. For example, it described in detail the structure of its business with U.S. persons, which included the policies concerning U.S. accountholders. Banque Pasche also provided the names of members of its management committee and information about its relationships with external asset managers.
Since Aug. 1, 2008, Banque Pasche had 186 U.S.-related accounts, as defined under the Swiss Bank Program, with an aggregate maximum balance of approximately $655 million. Of these 186 accounts, 110 had U.S. beneficial owners and an aggregate maximum balance of approximately $111 million. Banque Pasche will pay a penalty of $7.229 million.
ARVEST Privatbank AG was a private bank headquartered in Pfaffikon, Switzerland. It provided portfolio management and related private banking services primarily to high net worth clients. On April 15, 2015, it ceased being a licensed Swiss bank.
ARVEST opened, maintained and serviced accounts for U.S. persons that it knew or had reason to know were likely not declared to the IRS or the U.S. Department of the Treasury, as required by U.S. law. The bank helped clients set up entities, including trusts and foundations, in Liechtenstein, St. Kitts and other jurisdictions, with bank representatives serving as officers of certain of these entities, and opened ARVEST accounts in the names of these entities.
For several U.S. customers, ARVEST gave the accountholders a travel debit card, which did not have a name imprinted on the card. These cards were tied to accounts that the accountholders held in their names at a third-party Swiss Bank specializing in this service.
Since Aug. 1, 2008, ARVEST had 52 U.S.-related accounts, with a maximum aggregate asset value of over $134 million. ARVEST will pay a penalty of $1.044 million.
In accordance with the terms of the Swiss Bank Program, each bank mitigated its penalty by encouraging U.S. accountholders to come into compliance with their U.S. tax and disclosure obligations. While U.S. accountholders at these banks 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 these non-prosecution agreements, noncompliant U.S. accountholders at these banks must now pay that 50 percent penalty to the IRS if they wish to enter the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.
“The growing number of non-prosecution agreements for the Swiss Bank Program demonstrates the DOJ and IRS resolve to make it increasingly difficult for taxpayers to leave offshore accounts undeclared,” said Deputy Commissioner Douglas O’Donnell of the IRS Large Business and International Division. “Two additional agreements by ARVEST and Banque Pasche highlight the momentum of resolving these potential criminal liabilities and eliminating institutions holding undeclared funds for U.S. account holders.”
“Today’s agreements are significant both individually and in conjunction with the previous Swiss Bank Program agreements,” said Chief Richard Weber of IRS-Criminal Investigation. “Individually, each bank agreement provides additional information to the IRS to assist us in going after illegally concealed offshore accounts and the financial professionals who helped U.S. taxpayers hide assets abroad. Collectively, the bank agreements are a testament to the progress of the Swiss Bank Program and our commitment to the ongoing work with Swiss banks still in the process.”
Acting Assistant Attorney General Ciraolo thanked the IRS, in particular, IRS-Criminal Investigation and the IRS Large Business and International Division for their substantial assistance, as well as John E. Sullivan, Thomas G. Voracek, and Brian D. Bailey, who served as counsel on these matters, Senior Litigation Counsel Nanette L. Davis, and Senior Counsel for International Tax Matters and Coordinator of the Swiss Bank Program Thomas J. Sawyer of the Tax Division.
Additional information about the Tax Division and its enforcement efforts may be found on the division’s website.