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Offshore Tax Investigations: First Switzerland, Is Israel Next?

Maybe.

The strongest indication emerged last week when a superseding indictment was unsealed, charging three American tax preparers for assisting their clients with concealing assets and income in unidentified Israeli banks.

U.S. residents must report all income earned to the IRS. U.S. residents must report whether they have a financial interest in a foreign financial account worth more than $10,000 in a particular year.

According to the Department of Justice press release:

The superseding indictment alleges that the co-conspirators prepared false individual income tax returns which did not disclose the clients’ foreign financial accounts nor report the income earned from those accounts. In order to conceal the clients’ ownership and control of assets and conceal the clients’ income from the IRS, the co-conspirators incorporated offshore companies in Belize and elsewhere and helped clients open secret bank accounts at the Luxembourg locations of two Israeli banks, Bank A and Bank B. Bank A is a large financial institution headquartered in Tel-Aviv, Israel, with more than 300 branches across 18 countries worldwide. Bank B is a mid-size financial institution also headquartered in Tel-Aviv, with a worldwide presence on four continents.

The federal government has aggressively pursued offshore tax evaders since 2008, when Swiss-based financial firm UBS was accused of assisting U.S. residents with committing tax evasion by shielding assets in offshore accounts. In 2009, UBS agreed to pay $780 million to the U.S. in fines, penalties, interest and restitution.

Over the four years since then, the IRS has run three offshore voluntary disclosure programs (in 2009, 2011, and 2012) to encourage taxpayers with undisclosed financial accounts to come forward and pay stiff penalties.

A benefit to participating in the program, if eligible, is that criminal charges will not be pursued against taxpayers making complete and truthful disclosures. Read more about the pros and cons of a voluntary disclosure here.

Undoubtedly the IRS and DOJ have collected a lot of information from these programs. “Enablers” such as those indicted above have not been eligible for the programs, however. It’s very possible these enablers were discovered through disclosures of their own clients.

CNBC is reporting the recent indictment may be the first of a series involving U.S. tax evasion by shielding assets in Israeli banks via “cash-transfer banking,” by which an offshore banker is set up with an American taxpayer seeking to withdraw and deposit the same amount of cash with the foreign bank:

The bankers appear in the U.S., typically at a hotel, and arrange for couriers to bring the cash to the hotel from the depositing customer, and later turn it over to the withdrawing customer, only later crediting each account for the transaction back in the foreign bank offices.

In somewhat related news, yesterday Israeli authorities arrested nine individuals and questioned fifteen more in connection with the possibly largest tax fraud scheme in Israeli history. I don’t see any connections aside from the nature and location of the crimes, however.

Hat tip: Federal Tax Crimes

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