Monday, September 19, 2011

U.S. nets thousands in offshore tax dodge crackdown

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Major progress is being made in a crackdown on international tax evasion, the U.S. Internal Revenue Service said on Thursday.

In a program that offers leniency in exchange for volunteering information about undisclosed offshore assets and income, the IRS said that as of this month it had collected $2.7 billion from thousands of U.S. taxpayers.

"We have pierced international bank secrecy laws, and we are making a serious dent in offshore tax evasion," said IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman in a statement.

"Not only are we bringing people back into the U.S. tax system, we are bringing revenue into the U.S. Treasury."

The IRS and the U.S. Justice Department have also boosted criminal investigations of international tax evasion, he said.

The IRS in 2009 launched a disclosure effort giving taxpayers with undisclosed assets or income offshore a chance to get compliant with tax laws and avoid potential charges.

About 30,000 voluntary disclosures have resulted, involving "cases come from every corner of the world, with bank accounts covering 140 countries," the agency said.

More taxes and interest income to the government is expected to result from the latest disclosures.

"This dollar figure will grow," Shulman said. "But just as importantly, we have changed the risk calculus. Americans now understand that if they try to hide assets overseas, the chances of being caught continue to increase."

People hiding assets offshore have received jail sentences and have been ordered to pay millions of dollars.

Swiss bank UBS AG agreed in 2009 to pay $780 million in fines, penalties, interest and restitution under a deferred prosecution agreement with the U.S. government.

The program has yielded a wealth of information on banks and advisors assisting people with offshore tax evasion, which will be used in enforcement efforts, the IRS said.

(Reporting by Kevin Drawbaugh)

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