Monday, January 4, 2016
Guest Blogger - Dmitriy Kamensky, Fulbright Faculty Development Fellow, Stetson University College of Law; Professor of Law, Berdyansk State University, Ukraine.
On Dec. 30, just as corporate and the rest of America was getting ready to celebrate the New Year, one of the top-tier Swiss banks, Julius Baer Group, announced (see here) that it had reached an agreement in principle with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, related to a long and extensive investigation into aiding American customers to evade millions of tax dollars. The bank said it set aside $ 547 million to settle the matter with the Justice Department and expects to enter a final settlement in the first quarter of 2016.
This final development of the Julius Baer case is the latest of about a dozen Swiss financial institutions that came under DOJ scrutiny for allegedly providing American customers (and taxpayers) with numbered accounts that were protected by Swiss bank-secrecy laws, thus effectively helping U.S. taxpayers underreport their taxes.
In February of 2009, UBS AG, the largest Swiss bank worth over $ 1 trillion in assets, entered into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) with the Department of Justice for $780 million (see here). The bank has acknowledged that between 2000 and 2007 it has participated in a cross-border scheme with the purpose of defrauding the United States and the Internal Revenue Service. The scheme was designed to aid American customers in evading federal taxes, by dodging their money to numbered UBS accounts. Under growing pressure from the U.S. authorities, the bank and later the Swiss government agreed to cooperate, by granting access to American accounts and later relaxing bank secrecy laws altogether.
Then in 2014 another larger Swiss lender, Credit Suisse Group AG, moved to settle a similar criminal probe by pleading guilty to conspiracy to aid its American clients in filing false income tax returns with the IRS. The bank agreed to pay $ 2.6 billion in criminal fine, restitution and other penalties (see here).
With the case of Julius Baer outlining the final part of multiyear aggressive probes by DOJ into the Swiss banking industry and tax dodging operations, it becomes clear that bankers across the globe are being given a serious (and quite expensive) warning: do not mess with American tax laws; federal prosecutors and tax agents have long arms.