The IRS has a “deal” for approximately 20,000 wealthy tax cheats who have hidden income with the help of Swiss bank giant UBS: come clean now and you won’t go to prison. In June, UBS private banker, Bradley Birkenfeld, plead guilty to helping California real estate developer Igor Olenicoff hide $200 Million offshore.
During the trial, Birkinfeld revealed that UBS held “undeclared" U.S. accounts totaling $20 Billion. Olenicoff plead guilty and is now paying $52 Million in back taxes, interest and penalties. Now the IRS is on the hunt for more, sending up a “warning shot” with the issue of a “John Doe” summons, and offering to let tax cheats off the hook for criminal charges if they’ll turn themselves in.
Willfully failing to file taxes is a felony, regardless if the money is in a U.S. bank account or an offshore account. If a person has more than $10,000 in a foreign bank account, they must file a Foreign Bank and Financial Account (FBAR) report with the treasury by June 30th. If a person willfully does not file the FBAR, if prosecuted, it’s punishable criminally by up to five years in jail and civilly by a penalty of $100,000 or 50% of what's in the unreported foreign accounts, whichever is greater.
However, under the IRS “voluntary disclosure practice”, if a tax evader voluntarily comes forward, corrects his returns and pays the tax before the IRS begins an audit or a criminal investigation, chances are good he will not be prosecuted. It’s a lot easier for the IRS to prove that a person hasn’t filed a FBAR than to prove tax evasion. This would be a good time for a person to come forward. If the IRS has to hunt them down, they will not be so forgiving.
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