Having spoken to hundreds of individuals who have offshore bank accounts, or who have clients with offshore bank accounts, or relatives with offshore bank accounts, or even a “friend” with an offshore bank account there are certain questions which continue to recur. I thought it would be helpful to answer a few of them today, and a few more over the next week.
A: The short answer is: Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but the consequences of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) finding out are very severe, and you have to decide whether you can live with that. Non-reporting of foreign bank or foreign financial accounts can result in criminal prosecution resulting in 5 years in jail, and a $250,000 fine.
A: Many people engaged in tax evasion get caught when their ex-spouse, or a disgruntled employee turns them in. It never ceases to amaze me how two people who once loved each other have absolutely no qualms of seeing their ex go to jail. Others get caught by random tax audits. Then of course there was the case of LGT bank where the German government bribed a Liechtenstein bank official to turn over the names of hundreds of its clients. The names of a number of U.S. citizens on that list made its way to the IRS; and who would have guessed even two years ago that UBS in cooperation with the Swiss government would have been handing over almost 5,000 names of supposedly secret Swiss bank accounts?
Q: Does the IRS really put people in jail for not filing Foreign Bank Account Reports TD F 90-22.1 (FBARs)?
A: Up until recently there have been very few prosecutions related to offshore bank accounts. In the last few months the IRS has stepped up the number of cases with four guilty pleas. The IRS says it has about 150 cases of offshore tax evasion involving UBS Swiss bank accounts being looked into by its Criminal Investigation Division. I expect that many of those cases will end with criminal tax prosecutions.