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IRS offers revised plan to tax cheats

New York Times / February 9, 2011

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NEW YORK — The IRS unveiled a new initiative yesterday that’s intended to lure tax evaders, but with stiffer penalties than in a previous program.

Americans with hidden offshore accounts have until Aug. 31 to report the accounts to the Internal Revenue Service in exchange for penalties below what they would ordinarily pay.

Defense lawyers had been speculating about a possible new program after recent statements by IRS officials. The agency created the latest program amid a widening crackdown on offshore accounts sold to wealthy Americans.

Those who come forward will not face prosecution for tax evasion — something tax lawyers say was unclear under the previous program.

“When a taxpayer truthfully, timely, and completely complies with all provisions of the voluntary disclosure practice, the IRS will not recommend criminal prosecution to the Department of Justice,’’ the IRS said.

The program requires individuals to pay a penalty of 25 percent of the amount in their foreign bank accounts in the year with the highest aggregate account balance in the years 2003 to 2010. Normally, a taxpayer would pay 50 percent.

Anyone entering the program must also pay back taxes and interest for up to eight years, as well as delinquency and accuracy-related penalties.

The program is tougher than the one created in 2009, which attracted some 15,000 Americans with hidden accounts overseas. About 3,000 additional individuals had come forward since the October 2009 deadline for the previous program.

“The overall penalty structure for 2011 is higher, meaning that people who did not come in through the 2009 voluntary disclosure program will not be rewarded for waiting,’’ the IRS said.

Those with accounts holding no more than $75,000 in any year covered are eligible for a 12.5 percent penalty.

Without taking advantage of either program, those who come forward can be left owing the IRS a multiple of the account value.