Martin Naville, chief executive officer of the Swiss-American Chamber of Commerce, said the settlement process has been difficult for many firms, with some feeling they’ve been “slighted and not treated very well.” But he said the penalties were smaller than what many banks had budgeted for.
That’s due in part to an unusual aspect of the amnesty program. Penalties are pegged to how many clients banks successfully pushed to reveal secret accounts and the firms that aided them. The more individuals who came forward, the less banks had to pay.
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U.S. agents interviewed taxpayers who used a Singapore money management firm to hide assets from the IRS, said Bryan Skarlatos and Scott Michel, lawyers who separately represent some of those Americans. They wouldn’t identify the firm, and Ciraolo wouldn’t discuss it.
“Certainly, Singapore would be one of the jurisdictions that we’re looking at,” Ciraolo said.
Societe Generale SA’s Swiss private banking unit admitted in its settlement that it transferred assets of U.S. customers to “corporate and individual accounts at other banks in Switzerland, Hong Kong, Israel, Lebanon, Liechtenstein and Cyprus,” according to its statement of facts. The unit paid a $17.8 million fine. A bank spokesman declined to comment.
In its settlement document, Banque Pasche SA said that client money was transferred to banks located in Israel and Hong Kong “in an attempt to further escape detection.” An e-mail and phone call to the bank weren't returned.
Israeli banks have drawn special focus from the Justice Department. Last year then-Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole cited “an ongoing and extensive investigation” into hidden bank accounts in Israel. Bank Leumi Le-Israel Ltd. agreed to pay $400 million to resolve its criminal case.
The data coming directly from Swiss banks are supplementing a separate trove the IRS gathered from 50,000 U.S. taxpayers who disclosed their offshore accounts and paid $7 billion in back taxes, fines and penalties since 2009.
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Many clients disguised their money in entities set up in tax havens outside of Switzerland. Of 41 banks that settled, 18 held assets in corporations, foundations or trusts in Liechtenstein; 15 in Panama; 11 in the British Virgin Islands, and four in Hong Kong.
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Michel, whose firm Caplin & Drysdale represents both banks and customers, said the “creative component” of the amnesty program was to deputize banks to police current and former account holders. It also placed a “huge burden” on banks to produce information about employees and intermediaries who aided tax evasion, said Thierry Boitelle, a lawyer at Bonnard Lawson in Geneva.