On October 18th, the chief of the IRS’ Criminal Investigation Division, Richard Weber, stated that his 4000 special agents will continue to focus on unreported foreign bank accounts.
The requirement to file FBARs (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts) dates back to the Bank Secrecy Act in the 1970′s. No attempts were made to enforce this until until the last 4 to 5 years. Failure to report a foreign account is a felony punishable by up to 5 years in prison. Civil penalties can include the greater of $100,000 or 50% of the high account balance for each year an account is unreported. Even “innocent” violations can result in penalties of up to $10,000 per year.
The IRS has been looking at banks outside of Switzerland (where they originally began their enforcement efforts). Those banks includes several Israeli banks as well as financial institutions in the Bahamas, India, China, Australia, Hong Kong, Liechtenstein and others not yet announced.
Speaking before a New York CPA group, Weber said that the IRS and Department of Justice would soon be announcing a new round of indictments involving unreported accounts. These prosecutions will involve banks outside of Switzerland. The IRS has posted CID special agents around the world. One indication is that they now have a field office in Panama which was a popular place for US taxpayers to hide their money and income.
There is presently an amnesty program to help taxpayers with unreported accounts. This includes those with foreign hedge funds, investments, bank accounts, CD’s and the like. The program, called the 2012 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program offers greatly reduced penalties and a promise of no criminal prosecution. This program may not work for everyone. Some taxpayers may achieve lower or no penalties by negotiating directly with the IRS outside of the Disclosure program. The important part is not to wait until the IRS discovers you first because it will then be too late to avoid higher penalties and criminal prosecution.
The procedures and rules for entering the program or surfacing with the IRS outside of the program are complicated. You should speak with a tax lawyer right away if you are one of the millions with unreported accounts (and other foreign assets that require reporting on your tax return such as foreign corporations, foreign partnerships and LLCS, passive foreign investment companies, etc.)