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Offshore-account enforcement as a spy novel: the latest chapter

There is undeniably a cloak-and-dagger aspect to offshore account tax issues.

The stepped-up effort by U.S. authorities to investigate and prosecute possible tax evasion through foreign accounts, particularly in Switzerland, provides a compelling story line. The twists and turns of the real-life plot would do honor to the best fiction of John le Carre, Len Deighton or Robert Ludlum.

In this post, we will discuss a recent report of alleged tax evasion by a major Swiss bank that supposedly included incidents that might make a movie script.

U.S. prosecutors say they have evidence, for example, of things like someone stuffing $250,000 in cash into pantyhose on an international flight, in order to elude authorities and stash the cash in secretive Swiss accounts.

Overall, U.S. investigators suspect Credit Suisse Group of facilitating tax evasion by U.S. taxpayers on $4 billion or more in undisclosed assets.

A key subcommittee in the U.S. Senate has scheduled a hearing next week that apparently will focus on the role of Credit Suisse bankers in questionable offshore transactions. The hearing will be held by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

Credit Suisse could be facing huge tax penalties if U.S. authorities can prove their allegations. After all, there is precedent for very large fines in such cases; in 2009, UBS paid $780 million to resolve tax evasion charges. UBS was also forced to give up the name of hundreds of U.S. taxpayers who may have failed to fully comply with reporting requirement for their offshore assets.

As we discussed in our January 24 post, Credit Suisse has been unable to benefit from a U.S. program to resolve tax evasion issues. It has been unable to benefit because the investigation of Credit Suisse was well underway before the program was announced.

And so, next week, the Senate subcommittee hearing will mark another chapter in the ongoing offshore story. Though it is likely to be an important one, it will surely not be the last.

Source: CNN Money, "$250,000 stuffed in pantyhouse...and other Credit Suisse tax evasion tricks," Evan Perez, Feb. 20, 2014

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