U.S. IRS widens offshore tax amnesty program, raises fines

WASHINGTON, June 18 Wed Jun 18, 2014 6:44pm EDT

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WASHINGTON, June 18 (Reuters) - The U.S. Internal Revenue Service on Wednesday said it was expanding a program for U.S. taxpayers with offshore assets to voluntarily straighten out any problems with the agency, while hitting willful tax dodgers with higher penalties.

The IRS has had a tax amnesty process available since 2009 for Americans with tax issues related to unreported assets overseas. The Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program lets them disclose unpaid taxes, pay a reduced fine and avoid prosecution.

Effective July 1, the program will no longer cap eligibility for participation at $1,500 of unpaid taxes per year for people who are not considered to be willfully evading taxes.

"A compliance regime that is too harsh won't net the desired result," IRS Commissioner John Koskinen said in a statement.

The IRS also has opened the program for the first time to certain citizens living in the United States. Additionally, the IRS said it is increasing penalties for individuals who are considered to be willfully avoiding taxes.

Individuals "aggressively" evading taxes "will pay a higher price for that non-compliance," Koskinen said.

Since the program was launched, more than 45,000 taxpayers have come into compliance voluntarily, paying about $6.5 billion in taxes, interest and penalties, the IRS said in a statement. (Reporting by Patrick Temple-West; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Andrew Hay)

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