IRS extends amnesty program for tax cheats

WASHINGTON (AP) - September 20, 2009 More than 3,000 Americans hiding assets overseas have applied for the program, which promises no jail time and reduced penalties for tax cheats who come forward, said a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Internal Revenue Service plans to announce Monday that the program will be extended until Oct. 15, said the official, who was not authorized to speak on the record ahead of the public announcement.

The IRS long has had a policy that certain tax evaders who come forward before they are contacted by the agency usually can avoid jail time as long as they agree to pay back taxes, interest and hefty penalties. Drug dealers and money launderers need not apply. But if the money was earned legally, tax evaders can usually avoid criminal prosecution.

Fewer than 100 people apply for the program in a typical year, in part because the penalties can far exceed the value of the hidden account, depending on how long the account holder has evaded U.S. taxes.

But in March, the IRS began a six-month amnesty program that sweetened the offer with reduced penalties for people with undeclared assets.

As the initial deadline approached, the IRS was contacted by tax advisers from across the country requesting more time to prepare applications from a rush of tax cheats looking to come clean, the government official said.

The amnesty program is part of a larger effort by federal authorities to crack down on international tax evaders. In August, the U.S. and Switzerland resolved a court case in which Swiss banking giant UBS AG agreed to turn over details on 4,450 accounts suspected of holding undeclared assets from American customers.

The process of turning over that information is expected to take several months. But once the IRS obtains information about international tax dodgers, they will be ineligible for the amnesty program.

Publicity from the UBS case, even before the agreement was announced, had many wealthy Americans with offshore accounts nervously running to their tax advisers.

Lawyers and advisers from several firms have said they were swamped with calls from people hiding assets overseas. Their advice: Call the IRS before the IRS calls you.


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