The US is seeking an order from a San Francisco federal court authorising the Internal Revenue Service to request information from HSBC Bank about US residents who may be using accounts in HSBC India to evade federal income taxes, the Justice Department said Thursday.
"The ability to hide accounts in foreign countries is rapidly dwindling. "We will continue working hand-in-hand with the IRS to enforce the tax laws against those who are using offshore accounts -- wherever they are located -- to evade taxes," said John DiCicco, the principal deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's tax division.
On Thursday, the government filed a petition with the court to allow the IRS to serve what is known as a 'John Doe' summons on the bank.
The IRS uses a John Doe summons to obtain information about possible tax fraud by people whose identities are unknown.
If approved, the John Doe summons would direct HSBC USA to produce records identifying US taxpayers with accounts at HSBC India, many of whom are believed by the government to have hidden their accounts from the IRS.
According to documents filed with the government's petition, on January 26, 2011, a grand jury in Newark, New Jersey, indicted Vaibhav Dahake of Somerset, New Jersey, charging him with conspiracy to defraud the US by using undeclared accounts in the British Virgin Islands and at HSBC India to evade his income taxes.
According to those documents, employees of HSBC Holdings Plc and its affiliates operating in the United States assured Dahake that accounts maintained in India would not be reported to the IRS.
In its court filing, the US government alleged that, according to HSBCs website, in 2002, HSBC India opened a 'representative office' at an HSBC USA office in New York City to enable non-resident Indians living in the United States to open accounts in India.
In 2007, HSBC India allegedly opened a second representative office at an HSBC USA office in Fremont, California, purportedly 'to make banking transactions more convenient for the NRI community based in California.'
Although HSBC India closed those offices in June, 2010, the government alleges that NRI clients may still access their accounts at HSBC India from the United States.
According to the petition documents, NRI clients have told IRS investigators that NRI representatives in the US assured the clients that they could invest in accounts at HSBC India without paying US income tax on interest earned on the accounts and that HSBC would not report the income earned on the HSBC India accounts to the IRS.
"The IRS continues to focus its attention on international tax evasion," said IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman.
"This summons request is focused on obtaining more information to help us determine if additional actions are needed.
As I've said all along, our international efforts are not about just one country or one bank -- it's about our wider effort to ensure compliance with the nation's tax laws," Shulman sadi.
Federal law requires US taxpayers to pay federal income taxes on all income earned worldwide.
US taxpayers must also report foreign financial accounts if the total value of the accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the calendar year.
A willful failure to report a foreign account can result in a penalty of up to 50 per cent of the amount in the account at the time of the violation.