Tuesday, May 7, 2019
Court Authorizes Service of John Doe Summonses Seeking Information About Finnish Residents Using Bank of America, Charles Schwab, and TD Bank Payment Cards Linked to Non-Finnish Bank Accounts
A federal court in North Carolina authorized the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to serve John Doe summonses on Bank of America, Charles Schwab, and TD Bank in an order that was unsealed yesterday, the Justice Department announced. The John Doe summonses seek information about persons residing in Finland that have Bank of America, Charles Schwab, or TD Bank payment cards linked to bank accounts located outside of Finland. The summonses are referred to as “John Doe” summonses because the IRS does not know the identity of the persons being investigated.
“The Department of Justice and the IRS are committed to working with the United States’ international treaty partners to identify and stop individuals using hidden offshore accounts to evade tax laws,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division. “The United States does not tolerate offshore tax evasion, nor does it sanction tax evasion committed through U.S. financial institutions.”
“Our continued success in combatting offshore tax noncompliance has been helped by the assistance we receive through the network of tax treaties around the globe,” said IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig. “Yesterday’s effort reflects that the U.S. will return this help by working under the law with tax administrators in other nations to help them in their fight against tax evasion and avoidance. A global economy should not be allowed to serve as a possible vehicle for tax evasion in any country.”
The United States petitioned the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina to authorize the summons at the request of the government of Finland under the tax treaty between Finland and the United States. That treaty allows the two countries to cooperate in exchanging information that is necessary for carrying out each country’s tax laws. The IRS summons seeks the identities of Finnish residents who have payment cards linked to bank accounts located outside of Finland so that the Finnish government can determine if those persons have complied with Finnish tax laws. Finland has advised the IRS that, in circumstances where the payment cards are used only at ATMs or in other transactions where authorization is by PIN code, and the cardholder need not identify himself or herself to the merchant, the cardholders cannot be identified from sources in Finland.
The filing does not allege that Bank of America, Charles Schwab, or TD Bank violated any U.S. or Finnish laws with respect to these accounts.
As described in the petition and supporting documents filed by the United States, the request is part of a foreign payment project being conducted by the Finnish Tax Administration (FTA), in which information on the use of payment cards issued by foreign financial institutions is used to identify non‑compliant Finnish taxpayers. Earlier FTA investigations of approximately 120 to 150 Finnish taxpayers who used foreign payment cards in a similar manner have yielded extremely high rates of tax non-compliance, as noted in the United States’ memo in support of the petition, which indicates that it is likely that the John Does sought by the summons are Finnish residents who are failing to report these foreign accounts and associated income.
The court order in this case authorizing this enforcement action is part of ongoing international efforts by the United States and its treaty partners to stop persons from using foreign financial accounts to evade taxes. Courts have previously approvedJohn Doe summonses allowing the IRS to identify individuals using offshore accounts to evade their U.S. obligations, and have also approved John Doe summonses to be used to identify individuals using U.S. financial institutions or accounts to evade foreign tax obligations.