Justice News

Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo Delivers Remarks at the American Bar Association’s Tax Section Midyear Meeting
Los Angeles, CA
United States
Friday, January 29, 2016

Remarks as prepared for delivery

Thank you for that kind introduction.  Let me begin by saying how nice it is to return to the American Bar Association (ABA) Tax Section meetings.  I’d like to focus my remarks this afternoon on the Justice Department Tax Division’s offshore enforcement efforts.  As you know, it has been a very busy year for the Tax Division, and I’m happy to report on our accomplishments and discuss what lays ahead in 2016.

First, a bit of history for those of you who may not have spent your summer in Switzerland or encouraging countless numbers of clients to participate in the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) offshore voluntary disclosure programs.  Offshore tax enforcement has been and remains among the department’s top priorities.  Since 2008, the department has publicly charged more than 100 accountholders and nearly 50 individuals who have aided and assisted U.S. taxpayers in concealing foreign accounts and evading their U.S. tax obligations.  We also reached final criminal resolutions with six foreign financial institutions, including Credit Suisse, which pleaded guilty in May 2014 and agreed to pay $2.6 billion for its role in assisting U.S. taxpayers to evade their U.S. reporting and tax obligations.

On Aug. 29, 2013, the department announced the Swiss Bank Program, which provided a path for Swiss banks to resolve potential criminal liabilities in the United States.  Banks already under criminal investigation related to their Swiss-banking activities, identified as Category 1 banks, and all individuals were expressly excluded from the program.

Under the program, Swiss banks about which we had little or no information came forward and self-identified as having helped U.S. taxpayers to hide foreign accounts and evade their U.S. tax obligations.  In exchange for a non-prosecution agreement, these institutions, identified as Category 2 banks, made a complete disclosure of their cross-border activities, provided detailed information on accounts in which U.S. taxpayers have a direct or indirect interest, are cooperating in treaty requests for account information, are providing detailed information as to other banks that transferred funds into secret accounts or that accepted funds when secret accounts were closed and must cooperate in any related criminal and civil proceedings for the life of those proceedings.  Additionally, the Category 2 banks have paid appropriate penalties, which were mitigated with proof that the U.S. taxpayer declared the account, the account was reported by the bank or the U.S. taxpayer came into a voluntary disclosure program at the bank’s urging.

On March 30, 2015, the department signed the first non-prosecution agreement with BSI SA and announced its goal to complete the Category 2 bank agreements by year end.  I’m very proud to announce that earlier this week, the department signed the final Category 2 bank non-prosecution agreement with HSZH, imposing a penalty in excess of $49 million.  For those who are counting, in the last 10 months, the department executed 78 agreements with 80 banks and imposed more than $1.3 billion in Swiss Bank Program penalties. 

The department also signed a non-prosecution agreement with Finacor, a Swiss asset management firm, reflecting the department’s willingness to reach fair and appropriate resolutions with entities that come forward in a timely manner, disclose all relevant information regarding their illegal activities and cooperate fully and completely, including naming the individuals engaged in criminal conduct.

The conclusion of the Category 2 agreements is a significant milestone in our continuing effort to shut down offshore tax evasion.  Swiss banks have revealed the names of thousands of U.S. accountholders, a substantial number of whom have voluntarily disclosed their accounts to the IRS, and are providing information for treaty requests to obtain the names and account records of those individuals who have refused to waive Swiss bank secrecy.  The program has driven thousands of taxpayers into the IRS voluntary disclosure programs.  In October 2015, the IRS reported more than 54,000 voluntary offshore disclosures and the collection of more than $8 billion in taxes, penalties and interest.  These figures have substantially increased since the program was announced in August 2013, due in part to the pressure applied by the Swiss banks on their accountholders to come into compliance.

Critical to the success of the program, in addition to the unwavering support of the department’s leadership, was the substantial assistance of IRS-Criminal Investigation and the Large Business & International Division.  Special agents, revenue agents and analysts have been dedicated to the program for two years, working side by side with the Tax Division’s civil trial attorneys, prosecutors and support staff to carefully review and consider the tremendous volume of information produced by the Category 2 banks.  I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am of those involved in this program and the rest of the Tax Division, which stepped up to the plate to handle more work and larger dockets, while their colleagues continued this pursuit. 

While I am pleased that we have completed the agreements with the Category 2 banks, it is important to note that our work is far from done, and we do not rest on our laurels.  Tax Division attorneys and IRS personnel are reviewing the information received from Swiss banks that, under Category 3 and Category 4 of the program, maintain that they did not commit any violations of U.S. law, but seek a non-target letter after providing information required by the program.  We are also reviewing the information provided by the Category 2 banks, responses to our treaty requests and information from whistleblowers and cooperators to pursue criminal investigations and work with our colleagues at the IRS on civil enforcement efforts. 

Outside the program, we continue to pursue pending Category 1 bank investigations.  We are looking well beyond Switzerland, to jurisdictions that many of you have added to your passports – for example: Belize, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the Cook Islands, India, Israel, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, the Marshall Islands and Panama, just to name a few.  We encourage this outreach by practitioners and encourage financial institutions and individuals who have engaged in criminal conduct to contact the department to discuss their options.

While much attention has been paid to our criminal enforcement efforts, we are also using civil enforcement tools to pursue those who continue to conceal foreign accounts and assets and evade their U.S. tax obligations.  For example, we will continue to work with our colleagues at the IRS with respect to the examination and assessment of penalties for violations of the Foreign Bank and Financial Account (FBAR) reporting requirements, file suits to collect outstanding FBAR penalties and defend against complaints for refund of FBAR penalties paid. 

We are also working closely with the IRS in its efforts to obtain foreign account records.  Under the Required Records Doctrine, the department has successfully challenged motions to quash grand jury subpoenas in criminal cases and obtained orders enforcing summonses in civil cases.  At this point, the message is clear: taxpayers are required to maintain foreign records and produce them upon request.

Where the IRS is aware of possible violations of the internal revenue laws by individuals whose identities are unknown, the department has sought and will continue to seek orders authorizing the issuance of “John Doe” summonses.  For instance, this past September, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida authorized the issuance of summonses to Citibank and Bank of America to produce records identifying U.S. taxpayers with accounts at Belize Bank International Limited, Belize Bank Limited or their affiliates, including other foreign banks that used these two banks’ correspondent accounts to service U.S. clients.  The court also granted the IRS permission to seek records related to Citibank’s and Bank of America’s correspondent accounts for Belize Corporate Services and information related to its deposit accounts at Bank of America.  Belize Corporate Services is incorporated and based in Belize and offers, among other things, the purchase of “shelf” Belizean international business companies.

The government’s offshore enforcement arsenal also includes Bank of Nova Scotia summonses and grand jury subpoenas, which seek to compel a domestic financial institution to produce records located in a foreign country.  These summonses or grand jury subpoenas have been utilized and upheld by courts despite the fact that producing the records in the United States would cause the financial institution to violate the laws of a foreign country.  In appropriate circumstances the department will use – and enforce – such subpoenas and summonses. 

We also stand ready to assist our treaty partners in their own tax enforcement efforts, as evidenced in Dileng v. Commissioner.  Mr. Dileng has unpaid tax liabilities in excess of $2.5 million in Denmark, which he has challenged in Danish courts.  Like many tax treaties, the U.S.-Denmark Tax Treaty contains a provision allowing a treaty partner to request that the counterpart assist in pursuing collection of domestic taxes in the counterpart jurisdiction.  Pursuant to a collection assistance provision in the U.S.-Denmark Tax Treaty, the Danish taxing authority submitted a collection assistance request and a revenue claim to the IRS, requesting that the IRS assist in collecting Mr. Dileng’s Danish liabilities.  Mr. Dileng filed suit, seeking to enjoin collection efforts by the IRS.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia dismissed the suit, finding that an accepted revenue claim must be treated like a U.S. tax assessment for collection purposes within the United States, even though Mr. Dileng is prohibited from challenging those liabilities in U.S. courts.  The court found that the Anti-Injunction Act and the tax exception to the Declaratory Judgment Act barred him from bringing his claim to stop the IRS from collecting and that the United States had not waived sovereign immunity for his suit.  The court further found that collection under the circumstances did not implicate Mr. Dileng’s due process rights because he is indeed challenging his tax liabilities in Danish courts. 

The Dileng case, like similar orders obtained from seven federal courts in 2013 authorizing the IRS to serve John Doe summonses on certain U.S. banks and financial institutions seeking information about persons who used specific credit or debit cards in Norway, demonstrate that the IRS and the department take the United States’ treaty responsibilities seriously.  We will continue to use the collection assistance provisions in our tax treaties to ensure U.S. taxpayers abide by their tax obligations in the United States, and we will continue to do our best to uphold our reciprocal obligations to our treaty partners.

So what can you expect in 2016?  Additional civil enforcement actions and ongoing and new criminal investigations and prosecutions.  Taxpayers who have participated in the IRS voluntary disclosure programs may be contacted and interviewed by the IRS and the department as part of their ongoing cooperation.  Taxpayers who filed returns and FBARs pursuant to the streamlined filing procedures or the Delinquent International Information Return or FBAR submission procedures should be very concerned if they falsely claimed to have engaged in non-willful conduct or acted with reasonable cause.  And financial institutions and individuals who have facilitated the concealment of offshore accounts and the evasion of U.S. tax obligations would be well advised to anticipate an investigation and consider voluntarily disclosing any criminal activity to the department before they become the subject of an investigation.

In the past year, the Tax Division has hired more than 80 new attorneys.  We currently have more than 200 civil trial attorneys, more than 100 prosecutors and approximately 50 appellate attorneys working hard in support of the Tax Division’s mission to enforce the nation’s tax laws fully, fairly and consistently, through both criminal and civil litigation.  We have established an international training series to ensure that our attorneys are familiar with the relevant issues and available tools in offshore enforcement and are working very closely with our partners at the IRS to identify those U.S. taxpayers failing to comply with their tax obligations.  Those who underestimate the ability of the United States to pursue offshore tax evasion do so at their own peril.

In closing, it’s an honor to serve as Acting Assistant Attorney General of the Tax Division, and it’s a great time to be involved in tax enforcement.  I anticipate a very busy 2016, and I’m looking forward to continuing to work with each of you to bring your clients into compliance.  Thank you again for your time, and I hope each of you enjoys the rest of the meeting.

Updated February 8, 2016