* IRS gets court order for 'John Doe' summons -Justice Dept.
* Summons to go to Wells Fargo on correspondent account
* CIBC FirstCaribbean is focus of U.S. government interest
By Nanette Byrnes
April 30 The U.S. Justice Department said on
Tuesday that a federal court had authorized the Internal Revenue
Service to seek information on U.S. taxpayers who may have
accounts at Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce FirstCaribbean
International Bank (FCIB).
In a move resembling a recent IRS inquiry into Americans
with Swiss bank accounts, the Justice Department said a court
order would let the IRS serve a 'John Doe' summons seeking
records of FCIB's U.S. correspondent account at Wells Fargo & Co
. A correspondent account is a bank deposit account
maintained by one bank for another bank.
The order would allow the IRS to identify U.S. taxpayers
with "interests in financial accounts at FCIB and other
financial institutions that used FCIB's Wells Fargo
correspondent account," the Justice Department said in a
"Our work here shows our resolve to pursue these cases in
all parts of the world, regardless of whether the person hiding
money overseas chooses a bank with no offices on U.S. soil," IRS
Acting Commissioner Steven Miller said in a statement.
A spokesman for Wells Fargo said the bank would "review the
summons and respond as legally required."
An FCIB spokeswoman said the bank intended to "cooperate
with authorities in accordance with the respective laws of all
jurisdictions involved" and to comply with legal and regulatory
requirements. The bank was working with Wells Fargo to
understand the court order, she said in a prepared statement.
FCIB, based in Barbados, has branches in 18 Caribbean
countries. According to its website, the bank was formed in 2002
by Britain's Barclays Bank and Canadian Imperial Bank
of Commerce (CIBC). In 2006, CIBC became the bank's
majority shareholder, according to the website.
CIBC did not immediately reply to requests for comment.
FCIB does not have U.S. branches but it has a correspondent
account in the United States at Wells Fargo, Justice said.
The IRS uses 'John Doe' summonses to get information on
possible tax law breakers whose identities are unknown. "This
John Doe summons directs Wells Fargo to produce records
identifying U.S. taxpayers with accounts at FCIB and other banks
that used FCIB's correspondent account," the statement said.
In a declaration filed to the court, a senior IRS revenue
agent said many FCIB customers in the John Doe class may have
been under-reporting income, evading income taxes, or otherwise
violating the internal revenue laws of the United States.
The FCIB case stemmed from information from 129 customers of
the Barbados bank and its predecessor banks who took part in an
IRS voluntary disclosure program, the Justice Department said.
In a similar case in January 2013, a federal court allowed
the IRS to serve a 'John Doe' summons on Switzerland's UBS AG
, seeking records of Swiss bank Wegelin & Co.'s U.S.
correspondent account at UBS.
That action was part of a wide-ranging U.S. government
effort to crack down on tax avoidance by Americans.
Wegelin, Switzerland's oldest bank, in March agreed to pay
nearly $58 million in penalties and said it would shut its doors
after admitting to helping wealthy Americans evade taxes.
The serving of 'John Doe' summons on correspondent accounts
is likely to become more common as the government widens its tax
inquiries beyond Switzerland, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein, said
William Sharp, a lawyer who represents taxpayers.