US taxman gets after Indian-Americans
US taxman gets after Indian-Americans - The Times of India
When you do a good deed, get a receipt, just in case heaven is like the IRS, goes the sagely tax advice in America. Some 9000 Indian-Americans are about to discover that tales of the dreaded Internal Revenue Service's omnipresence are not entirely exaggerated.
While millions of Americans are sweating it out to file their tax returns before the April 15 deadline, Uncle Sam's taxman has zeroed in wealthy Indian-Americans suspected of using their native land to stash away undeclared money and evade taxes. Yes; while India has long believed its wealthy has stashed away money abroad, the wheel has turned a full circle. The US now says its Indian-American citizens are using India as a tax haven.
In a surprising move that takes the American hunt for hidden money beyond the usual Swiss and Caribbean tax havens, the US Justice Department's civil tax division on Thursday asked a Federal Court's permission to force the London-based HSBC Bank to disclose names of thousands of wealthy Indian-American clients who it says maintain accounts with more than $ 100,000 in the bank's India branches -- ostensibly to hide it from the IRS taxman.
In a 47-page statement filed before a San Francisco court, the IRS said there were 9,000 US residents of Indian-origin who had $100,000-minimum-balance accounts at HSBC India but that fewer than 1,400 had disclosed existence of their accounts. US laws require citizens to disclose any foreign account containing $10,000 or more.
The US hunt for Indian-American tax evaders follows a case early this year when federal prosecutors nailed Vaibhav Dahake, a US citizen and an HSBC client for tax evasion by stashing money in India. According to documents filed with the government's petition, on Jan. 26, 2011, a grand jury in Newark, New Jersey, indicted Dahake, charging him with conspiracy to defraud the United States by using undeclared accounts in the British Virgin Islands and at HSBC India.
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.
US authorities, attributing the information to HSBC's website, say that in 2002 HSBC India opened a "representative office" at an HSBC USA office in New York City to enable ''Non-Resident Indians'' (NRIs) 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, Calif., 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 HSBC's NRI representatives in the United States assured them 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 Department of Justice is committed to ensuring that all US taxpayers meet their obligations to declare and pay taxes on foreign bank accounts," John A. DiCicco, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Tax Division, said in a statement. "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."
The IRS focus on India and Indian-Americans follows a campaign against undeclared offshore accounts held by US taxpayers, primarily in tax havens such as Switzerland and the Caribbean. In a landmark case in 2009, the IRS went after UBS AG for allowing U.S citizens hide their assets and evade taxes. UBS coughed up $780 million in fines, and more importantly, turned over some 4000 names in a precedent-setting case.
"The IRS continues to focus its attention on international tax evasion," IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman said on Thrusday about the HSBC India case. ''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."
Meanwhile, an HSBC spokesperson in New York told wire services that the bank has been engaged in a "constructive dialogue" with US authorities and hoped the issue can be resolved expeditiously. "HSBC does not condone tax evasion and fully supports the US efforts to promote appropriate payment of taxes by US taxpayers," spokeswoman Juanita Gutierrez said, adding that the bank complies with the law in all the jurisdictions and cooperates with requests from US authorities.