IRS Teams With Australia, U.K. to Expose Tax Cheats

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The U.S. is teaming up with Australia and the U.K. in an effort to expose tax cheats from around the world.

Tax agencies from the three countries have acquired "a substantial amount of data" about potential tax cheats from many countries hiding assets in Singapore, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, and the Cook Islands, the Internal Revenue Service said Thursday.

The agencies are offering to share the information with other countries, so they can prosecute their citizens.

"This is part of a wider effort by the IRS and other tax administrations to pursue international tax evasion," said acting IRS Commissioner Steven T. Miller. "Our cooperative work with the United Kingdom and Australia reflects a bigger goal of leaving no safe haven for people trying to illegally evade taxes."

Taxpayers can hold offshore accounts for a number of legitimate reasons, even in known tax havens. They may want to diversify their investments, facilitate international business transactions or get easier access to money while living or working overseas. But, the IRS notes, many people hide money in countries that don't share banking information to evade taxes.

The data obtained by the tax agencies identifies potential tax cheats as well as the tax advisers who are helping them, the IRS said. The agency declined to say where it got the information.

The IRS stepped up its efforts to go after international tax cheats in 2009, when Swiss banking giant UBS (NYSE: UBS  ) agreed to pay a $780 million fine and turn over details on thousands of accounts suspected of holding undeclared assets from American customers.

Since then, the agency has conducted three voluntary disclosure programs in which tax cheats can come clean in exchange for reduced penalties and no jail time. A total of 38,000 people have come clean under the programs and the IRS says it has recouped more than $5.5 billion in penalties and interest.

The IRS is using information from people who have come forward to target banks and financial advisers, but an agency spokesman declined to say whether the disclosure program produced the information being shared by the U.S., Australia, and the U.K.

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