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IRS says thousands have disclosed their overseas tax havens

Thursday is the deadline for taxpayers with foreign bank accounts to come forward under an amnesty program that allows them to avoid prosecution if they fess up and pay back taxes and penalties.

October 15, 2009|Stuart Pfeifer

Fueled by a crackdown on the use of overseas bank accounts as tax havens, about 7,500 people have voluntarily disclosed such accounts to the Internal Revenue Service and agreed to pay back taxes and penalties, IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said Wednesday. Today is the deadline for taxpayers with overseas accounts to come forward under an IRS tax amnesty program.

The tax agency agreed not to pursue criminal charges against those people who apply for the amnesty program and voluntarily disclose their overseas accounts. Those taxpayers still face substantial financial penalties.

Interest in the amnesty program intensified in recent months after Switzerland's largest bank, UBS, agreed to disclose the names of about 4,450 U.S. account holders as part of an agreement to resolve a criminal investigation by the U.S. government.

Combined with the voluntary disclosures, the IRS could soon have as many as 11,000 open investigations of individuals with overseas accounts.

Shulman said those who voluntarily stepped forward had accounts in 70 countries and "on every continent except Antarctica." He declined to estimate how much money the U.S. Treasury stood to recover, but he said the balances of newly disclosed accounts range from about $10,000 to more than $100 million.

Many of the people who applied for the program also provided information about overseas investment advisors who marketed their banks as avenues to avoid paying taxes in the United States and helped individuals set up overseas corporations to further insulate their wealth from the IRS, Shulman said.

The IRS intends to investigate and pursue criminal charges against those advisors, Shulman said.

"In the coming months and next several years we are going to move aggressively," Shulman said.

He said agents have noticed funds flowing out of Europe and into Asia, Central America and the Caribbean.

As part of the crackdown, the IRS is establishing criminal investigation offices in Beijing, Panama City and Sydney, Australia, the commissioner said. It already has offices in eight cities overseas, including London, Hong Kong and Frankfurt, Germany.

The Obama administration's 2010 budget proposal includes funding for 800 additional IRS agents, attorneys and economists to assist in the crackdown on overseas tax havens, Shulman said.

The original deadline to apply for tax amnesty was Sept. 23, but the IRS -- acting at the request of overwhelmed tax attorneys -- extended it until today.

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stuart.pfeifer@latimes.com

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