The DoJ announced on Friday, July 27, 2018today that Swiss-based Mirelis Holding S.A. reached a resolution with the Tax Division.
“The agreement reached today demonstrates the Department’s resolve toward ending the practice of using Swiss bank accounts to evade one’s taxes,”
said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman DoJ Tax Division.
“The Department will continue to pursue culpable banks and asset management and investment advisory firms that assist U.S. clients in their concealment of assets and the evasion of their U.S. tax obligations.”
According to the terms of the non-prosecution agreement, Mirelis Holding S.A. (formerly known as Mirelis InvestTrust S.A.) agrees to cooperate in any related criminal or civil proceedings, demonstrate its implementation of controls to stop misconduct involving undeclared U.S. accounts, and pay $10.245 million to the United States, in return for the Department’s agreement not to prosecute this entity for tax-related criminal offenses.
Mirelis operated as a Geneva-based securities trading institution licensed by the Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority (“FINMA”). Mirelis was established in 1997 to provide independent portfolio and asset management services following the sale of a minority ownership interest held by Mirelis’s controlling family and associates in Société Bancaire Julius Baer S.A.
During the Applicable Period, August 1, 2008, through December 31, 2014, the aggregate maximum balance of the assets under management of Mirelis’s U.S. taxpayer-clients was in 2008 and was approximately $315 million, consisting of both assets held in custody at Mirelis and assets held at third-party depository institutions. Mirelis provided custodial account services for approximately 177 U.S. Related Accounts and portfolio and asset management services to an additional approximately 95 U.S. Related Accounts that were custodied at third-party banks.
Since it began its operations, Mirelis was aware that its U.S. taxpayer-clients had a legal duty to report to the IRS, pay taxes on the basis of, all of the income, including income earned in accounts at Mirelis. Despite being aware of the obligations of its U.S. taxpayer-clients to report to the IRS and pay taxes on income earned in accounts maintained outside of the United States, Mirelis opened, maintained, and serviced accounts for U.S. taxpayer-clients where Mirelis knew or had reason to know that the U.S. taxpayer-clients were not complying with these obligations or were using their accounts outside of the United States to evade U.S. taxes and reporting requirements, filing false tax returns with the IRS, and/or concealing assets maintained outside of the United States from the IRS (hereinafter, “undeclared assets”).
On at least four occasions, in or about 2011 or 2012, Mirelis facilitated the introduction of U.S. taxpayer-clients to the Singapore-based representatives of a trust company, who advised the U.S. taxpayer-clients to create non-U.S. trusts and fund non-U.S. life insurance policies. Mirelis agreed to accept and effect the transfer of the funds held in the U.S. taxpayer-clients’ accounts pursuant to instructions despite knowing or having reason to know that these U.S. taxpayer-clients were likely to use the advice received from the trust company to conceal their ownership of undeclared assets.
In order to reduce the chances of undeclared accounts being discovered, Mirelis opened and falsely designated at least one account as a non-U.S. account when it knew the account holder was in fact a U.S. person. Prior to August 2008, Mirelis opened an account using the client’s U.S. passport. When this account was closed in 2009, the account holder withdrew all funds in cash. In 2010, Mirelis opened another account for the same client, but this time used the client’s non-U.S. passport. The account documents were completed without mention of the client’s U.S. citizenship, which was then known to Mirelis.
On at least five occasions, Mirelis effected the transfer of funds from one U.S. Related Account owned or beneficially owned by individual U.S. taxpayer-clients to other U.S. Related Accounts maintained at Mirelis owned by U.S. limited liability companies, which in turn were owned by U.S. trusts with U.S. beneficiaries. The accounts owned by the limited liability companies were all later closed and the custody of their funds transferred to another Swiss bank (a so-called Category 1 bank) while the independent portfolio and asset management services were provided by Mirelis Advisors, a wholly owned subsidiary that is a registered investment adviser with the SEC. Mirelis effected these transfers without knowing or checking whether the U.S. taxpayer-clients of the original accounts were compliant with their U.S. tax and reporting obligations.
Mirelis also assisted in the establishment of trusts and entities (collectively, “structures”) for U.S. taxpayer-clients with both accounts maintained at Mirelis and accounts maintained at third-party depository financial institutions, in particular at a Category 1 Bank, by making referrals to known purveyors of such structures both within and outside of Switzerland. Mirelis knew or had reason to know that these purveyors often operated structures in contravention of corporate formalities and/or Mirelis’s own policies and procedures and that one purpose of these structures was to add an additional layer of nominal ownership to conceal the U.S. taxpayer-clients’ ownership of undeclared accounts.
With respect to at least 24 U.S. Related Accounts maintained by Mirelis, Mirelis obtained or accepted IRS Forms W-8BEN (or substitute self-certification forms) from these entity account holders that falsely indicated the beneficial owner of the undeclared account was the non-U.S. entity itself and not the U.S. taxpayer-client. These false Forms W-8BEN directly contradicted the Swiss Forms A that Mirelis obtained identifying the U.S. taxpayer-clients as the true beneficial owners of the accounts.
Mirelis submitted a letter of intent to participate as a Category 2 bank in the Department’s Swiss Bank Program in December 2013. Although it was ultimately determined that Mirelis was not eligible for the Swiss Bank Program due to its structure as both an asset management firm and a bank, Mirelis is required under today’s agreement to fully comply with the obligations imposed under the terms of that program.
Mirelis has fully cooperated with the Department of Justice in this investigation, including undertaking a separate and thorough review of the provision of independent portfolio and asset management services to U.S. taxpayer-clients with accounts maintained at third-party depository financial institutions and encouraging a significant number of its remaining non-compliant U.S. taxpayer-clients to participate, or provide proof of prior participation, in OVDP covering many of the U.S. Related Accounts maintained by Mirelis during the Applicable Period.
While U.S. account holders at Mirelis who have not yet declared their accounts to the IRS may still be eligible to participate in the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, the price of such disclosure has increased. Most U.S. taxpayers who enter the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program to resolve undeclared offshore accounts will pay a penalty equal to 27.5 percent of the high value of the accounts. With today’s announcement of this non-prosecution agreement, noncompliant U.S. clients of Mirelis must now pay that 50 percent penalty to the IRS if they wish to enter the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program. The IRS recently announced that the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program will close on September 28, 2018.
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