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First UBS, Now HSBC?

January 27, 2011 · 6 comments

You knew that it would be just a matter of time before the IRS set its sights on a new bank. Fresh off of victories involving UBS and Deutsche Bank related to tax fraud/tax evasion, the IRS has now targeted an “unknown British bank” for its role in a tax evasion scheme.

As before, the Justice Department isn’t naming names in the beginning. But the signs (including allusions to the size and location of branches) point to British based HSBC.

Vaibhav Dahake, of Somerset, New Jersey, is the individual taxpayer targeted in the investigation. He is thought to have conspired with a number of bankers at the as yet unnamed bank to hide assets in India from the IRS. If convicted, he could spend up to five years in prison. Whether the conviction will also affect his immigration status is unclear: Dahake became a U.S. citizen in 2006. One of the criteria for becoming a citizen is truthfully and regularly filing U.S. tax returns: Dahake allegedly filed false tax returns that failed to report his foreign accounts.

Here’s where the bank is said to be involved: when Dahake was shopping around his offshore accounts, he was advised by a New York banker that opening an account in India would mean that the income would not be reported to the IRS by the bank. No forms 1099 would be filed; when Dahake specifically asked again about the forms, he was allegedly told by another banker not to discuss them over the phone. At least five bankers are said to be involved in the scheme to divert funds to secret accounts. According to the indictment, as long as Dahake was smart about the transfers, he was told that he would “stay below the radar.”

This is the second time that HSBC has been fingered in an IRS international investigation. Last summer, HSBC was the target of an investigation into whether its clients violated banking secrecy laws; HSBC has vigorously denied the charges. Other cases involving HSBC clients have also made news.

With respect to this latest round of news, while HSBC hasn’t been publicly identified as the bank in question, it has made a statement:

HSBC does not condone tax evasion and fully supports the U.S. efforts to promote appropriate payment of taxes by U.S. taxpayers.

Of course, don’t think this is all a big coincidence. It’s not at all surprising that these cases are making news right now. The IRS is continuing to ramp up efforts to identify offshore accounts (look for more news on this in an upcoming post) and I think, at least publicly, they want taxpayers to understand that this is not just about Switzerland. And it’s not just about über-millionaires. Expect to see the IRS to use the “F” word (foreign) a lot in the weeks and months to come.

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