As The Wall Street Journal reports, UBS plans to release the names of 4,450 Americans holding UBS accounts as part of its settlement with the US and Swiss governments. The initial release of 4,450 names represents only about half of the total identities the US hopes to receive from UBS. With this information, the IRS and Department of Justice can begin criminal tax-evasion proceedings against these individuals. At issue is an estimated $10 billion on which US income taxes were never paid. Simultaneously with the announcement that UBS was releasing the names, the Swiss government moved to sell shares it held in the bank. This is largely seen as a move to distance the Swiss government from UBS at a time when it is increasingly interjecting itself into the banks affairs.
While the release of names was not unexpected (see “UBS, Swiss Government Reach Settlement with IRS” and “UBS Troubles Spread to Hong Hong“), it represents a significant weakening of the once-infamous Swiss bank privacy laws. To combat this problem, the process by which the IRS will receive the names is a bit tedious. UBS will first turn the names over to the Swiss government’s tax administration for review, after which the names will be forwarded to the IRS and Department of Justice. To begin, 500 names will be released, with the remaining provided in batches in future months. For the thousands of American clients of UBS who now find themselves in the government’s crosshairs, there is a bit of hope.
Until September 23, 2009, the US government is accepting voluntary disclosure of the accounts not previously reported to the Treasury. Theoretically, those who volunteer their information will face less-stringent prosecution than those the IRS discovers on its own. Either way, many individuals are likely to face criminal prosecution for tax evasion. Given that the average size of the UBS accounts in question is approximately $1 million, the fines and penalties can be substantial. Already, the IRS has begun prosecuting some former clients of UBS and reached settlements with others.
For more detail on the settlement and more information regarding the ongoing negotiations between the US government and UBS, see the Journal’s original article, “UBS to Give 4,450 Names to US.”