Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Amnesty offer on overseas bank accounts attracts nearly 15,000 takers

U.S. tax authorities say publicity about a settlement with a giant European bank has at least helped inspire nearly 15,000 U.S. owners of overseas bank accounts that have been off the books for years to come forward and pay taxes on their holdings. Tuesday's announcement by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, reported by the New York Times, attributes the response to the Oct. 15 end of an amnesty program under which U.S. taxpayers who declared their holdings were eligible for reduced penalties and avoid tax evasion charges. The catalyst was the future release of the identifies of more than 4,000 U.S. residents with offshore accounts with UBS, a Swiss megabank that offered anonymity to depositors. But UBS agreed in February to reveal names of 4,500 depositors with accounts totalling more than $18 billion as part of a settlement of a U.S. government lawsuit charging the bank with selling offshore financial products intended to enable tax evasion, the Times said. Under the terms of the deal, UBS also must admit criminal wrongdoing and pay $780 million in fines. and admit to criminal wrongdoing. “We are talking about billions of dollars coming into the U.S. Treasury,” said IRS chief Douglas Shulman, the Times said. head of the Mr. Shulman said. “We have now gained access to thousands of taxpayers and bank accounts that we have never had before.” More than half of the depositors revealed their holdings in the month before the deadline. "We had a flood at the end," Shulman said. Many of the accounts belonged to UBS customers but many did not, the Times said. The IRS said it was expanding its investigation of offshore tax havens around the world. But not a word was said about holding the Swiss banking industry to account for the billions of dollars stolen from Europeans during World War II by the Nazi government of Germany and deposited in Switzerland, where it presumably remains.

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