The Internal Revenue Service’s war on offshore tax evasion has shifted to the Caribbean theater. The target is Barbados-headquartered CIBC FirstCaribbean International Bank, whose branches dot the sunny islands.
From interviews with tax evaders seeking protection under the IRS’s Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, revenue agents learned that at least 129 U.S. taxpayers hid assets at the bank, which is a subsidiary of publicly traded Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.
The feds figure other cheaters with accounts at CIBC FirstCaribbean haven’t fessed up, and the hunt for them is on.
Accountholders who have done nothing illegal and are compliant with tax and other reporting requirements have nothing to fear, experts say.
But anyone hiding assets “should quickly come forward with counsel and disclose their assets using the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program before the IRS gets to them,” says attorney James M. Duggan, a founding principal of Duggan Bertsch LLC, a Chicago-based planning firm. The program lets taxpayers get square on the taxes they owe, pay penalties and avoid criminal prosecution, he explains.
“Everybody who commits tax evasion probably also commits felony money laundering as well as wire fraud or mail fraud,” points out international tax attorney Gary S. Wolfe of The Wolfe Law Group in Los Angeles.
“Let’s say you don’t pay tax on $1 million and you use it to buy a house, jewelry or art. That’s money laundering. Wiring untaxed money is wire fraud. Mailing a check of untaxed money is mail fraud,” Wolfe says. Each of these felonies carries severe penalties—more reason for coming in from the cold.
With a special order obtained from a federal court on April 29, the IRS intends to subpoena the records of CIBC FirstCaribbean’s correspondent bank account at Wells Fargo. A correspondent is a bank that is used by another bank—in this case, an American bank used by a foreign bank. Examining the correspondent account at Wells Fargo will tell the IRS the names of CIBC FirstCaribbean accountholders, their account balances and the earnings generated in the account, information about deposits, including endorsements on checks, instructions on wire-transfer records and more.
“The IRS is seeking evidence of U.S. accountholders who moved funds to CIBC FirstCaribbean then repatriated those undeclared assets to the U.S.,” says a former federal prosecutor, Charles Intriago, now president of the Miami-based Association of Certified Financial Crime Specialists.
Even though the court has issued what’s known as a John Doe summons, concerned individuals can still participate in the federal disclosure program. However, once the IRS gets the dirt on a specific taxpayer, it is generally too late for that individual to avoid criminal prosecution.