Paul L. Caron

Friday, July 30, 2010

Rich and Famous Stay Hidden in IRS Probe

Dow Jones, Rich and Famous Stay Hidden in IRS Probe, by Arden Dale:

The U.S. crackdown on hidden overseas bank accounts looks a little less aggressive when compared to what’s happening in some other countries.

German authorities aren’t just suing for bank-account details–they have gone right in and seized them from one Swiss bank. In France, a scandal involving secret accounts allegedly held by that country’s wealthiest woman has roiled the government.

Here at home, secret account holders are being charged or pleading guilty just about every month. What’s lacking, however, are the dramatic showdowns or high-profile suspects emerging elsewhere. At least, so far.

Bradley Birkenfeld, the whistleblower who helped expose widespread tax evasion in the Swiss banking industry and who is now serving a three-year sentence in a federal prison in Pennsylvania, said he gave big names to the government as he spilled the secrets of how his Swiss bank allegedly helped the wealthy hide their money. Among them, said Birkenfeld: celebrities and business moguls, including some Fortune 500 CEOs.

None of those names, though, has yet surfaced publicly.

That isn’t to say that the IRS and Department of Justice aren’t investigating high-profile people. Criminal investigations would be kept under wraps, and the identities of anyone famous–or not–who sought amnesty through an IRS program for voluntary disclosers would be kept confidential.

Joshua D. Blank, associate professor of the Practice of Tax Law at NYU Law, said he thinks it quite likely that some of the rich and famous have entered the IRS program. Their identities may never be known, he said. But, along with other tax attorneys, he predicted that some of the well-known will emerge in criminal actions down the line.

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