A bank at the core of a U.S. crackdown on tax scofflaws has alerted Indian-American clients it received an IRS summons seeking U.S. account-holders' names. In the letter from London-based HSBC, Sanjay Nair, the former head of the bank's services for Indians living outside of their homeland, did not address whether HSBC would to turn over the information, but urged Indian-American clients to consult with a U.S. tax adviser "if you have any concerns about your U.S. tax reporting relating to your HSBC India [accounts]," USA Today reported Monday. "You may wish to be aware of an IRS voluntary disclosure program [expiring Aug. 31], which encourages U.S. taxpayers to bring themselves voluntarily into compliance with the U.S. tax laws," said the letter, a copy of which USA Today obtained.
Martin Press, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., tax law expert who said he and his firm had been consulted by several HSBC Indian-American customers, predicted the letter indicated the bank intends to cooperate. "It basically seems to put people on notice to either take advantage of the IRS program or face possible legal consequences," Press said. HSBC spokeswoman Juanita Gutierrez declined to comment to USA Today about the letter or whether the bank was in talks with U.S. officials. Gutierrez said HSBC supports U.S. efforts to catch tax cheats and cooperates with "requests from proper authorities" while complying with national and local laws in countries in which it operates.
The IRS and U.S. Justice Department have focused on Americans with offshore accounts through at least two banks -- HSBC and Credit Suisse -- following a successful action against Swiss bank UBS. UBS agreed to a $780 million settlement to defer prosecution on charges it sent bankers into the United States to help American clients avoid taxes by hiding assets offshore.