Swiss bank UBS will turn over the names behind 4,450 accounts as part of an agreement announced Wednesday between the U.S. and Swiss governments.

The IRS has been seeking the identities behind 52,000 accounts it suspects are held by U.S. taxpayers by issuing a series of “John Doe” summonses that have been at issue in a Miami court. Under the agreement, the IRS will submit a treaty request for administrative assistance to the Swiss Federal Tax Administration specifying the accounts on which it is seeking information, and UBS will provide approximately 4,450 accounts to the SFTA in response to the treaty request. The SFTA will then decide which of those accounts should be disclosed to the IRS, and the decisions will be subject to judicial review.

UBS has also agreed to send notices to U.S. account holders encouraging them to take advantage of the IRS’s voluntary disclosure program, and to instruct them to send their account information and documentation to the IRS. Under the agreement, the IRS will withdraw the remaining John Doe summonses on or after Jan. 1, 2010, once it has received the identities behind 10,000 UBS accounts. Those names could come from the Swiss government, UBS, or the voluntary disclosure program. They would also include the 250 to 300 names that UBS turned over in February as part of a deferred prosecution agreement.

Under the agreement, the U.S. government will withdraw the summonses for all accounts not covered by the treaty request by Dec. 31, 2009, provided that UBS has complied with its obligations, and it will withdraw the summonses for those accounts subject to the treaty request no later than Aug. 24, 2010.

UBS will pay no extra penalties besides the $780 million it paid under the deferred prosecution agreement in February. “This agreement helps resolve one of UBS’s most pressing issues,” said UBS chairman Kaspar Villiger. “I am confident that the agreement will allow the bank to continue moving forward to rebuild its reputation through solid performance and client service. UBS welcomes the fact that the information-exchange objectives of the settlement can be achieved in a lawful manner under the existing treaty framework between Switzerland and the United States.”

The Justice Department said that as a result of the agreement, the U.S. would “receive substantially all of the accounts of interest when it initiated the John Doe summons against UBS on June 30, 2008.”

IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman noted that the 52,000 accounts cited in the media included many that were held by "U.S. people  who had complied with the law and paid their taxes." UBS had reported the 52,000 as the number of accounts with any U.S. connection. At one time, these accounts held over $18 billion.

The Justice Department also noted the agreement retains the U.S. government’s right, if the results are significantly lower than expected and other measures fail, to seek appropriate judicial remedies, including resuming actions to enforce the John Doe summonses.

UBS will notify account holders that their information is included in the IRS treaty request. It is expected that the notices will be sent on a rolling basis with some being sent over the coming weeks and others over the coming months. Receipt of the notice will not by itself preclude the account holder from coming into the IRS under the voluntary disclosure program, which is due to end on Sept. 23, 2009.

In addition, the Swiss government has agreed to review and process additional requests for information from other banks regarding their account holders to the extent that the request is based on a pattern of facts and circumstances equivalent to those of the UBS case.

The Justice Department said that the information provided to the IRS through this process will be thoroughly examined for all potential civil and criminal tax violations. The IRS will assess any additional tax, interest and a number of applicable penalties. This includes the penalty for the willful failure to file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, or FBAR. The penalty can be up to 50 percent of the value of the account for each year an FBAR was not filed.

Under the voluntary disclosure program, the account holders must pay 20 percent of the amount of tax that was underpaid for the past six years and 20 percent of the highest value of the account over the past six years, in addition to all their unpaid taxes and interest due on those taxes.

The IRS will also recommend criminal prosecution in cases where the facts warrant such an action. To date, the Justice Department and the IRS have successfully prosecuted four U.S. customers of UBS whose information was provided to the IRS by the Swiss bank as part of the deferred prosecution agreement. Individuals whose information is obtained by the IRS through this process will not be eligible for the voluntary disclosure program.

"For anyone with hidden offshore assets, the IRS wants to send a clear message," said Shulman. "There is still time – although the clock is ticking – to come in and get right with the government. People with unreported offshore income should immediately contact their tax professional."

Register or login for access to this item and much more

All Accounting Today content is archived after seven days.

Community members receive:
  • All recent and archived articles
  • Conference offers and updates
  • A full menu of enewsletter options
  • Web seminars, white papers, ebooks

Don't have an account? Register for Free Unlimited Access