On August 12, the U.S. government and Swiss banking giant UBS announced that they had reached an agreement settling the dispute over whether the Internal Revenue Service can enforce a "John Doe summons" against the bank. The summons would have required UBS to turn over information on its 52,000 U.S. customers.
In a statement issued the same day, IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman said that the details of the agreement would not be available until after the Swiss government has signed the agreement, possibly as early as next week. But rumors have it that the IRS will get only a fraction of the information sought, perhaps on just 8,000 to 10,000 accounts.
Anything less than full disclosure of all U.S. customers is unacceptable. A federal court agreed with the IRS that there was a reasonable basis for concluding that the 52,000 includes people evading their U.S. taxes. The case against UBS exposed especially egregious behavior by the bank's employees. They came to the U.S. soliciting illegal business from U.S. citizens, and helped Americans hide their income and assets from the IRS by setting up accounts in the name of foreign shell companies. These private bankers committed crimes on U.S. soil, with the full knowledge and support of the bank's management. UBS should not be allowed to hide behind arguments about Swiss sovereignty or the country's bank secrecy rules.
If the agreement does not provide for full disclosure, it sets a terrible precedent for future investigations. Some Americans will continue to evade taxes by using offshore financial institutions and hope that, when the bank gets prosecuted, their names will be among the 80% that aren't turned over to the IRS.
Foreign governments and financial institutions should not be able to facilitate the evasion of U.S. taxes by its citizens.