Zurich Life Insurance Company Ltd (Zurich Life), headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland, and Zurich International Life Limited (Zurich International Life), headquartered in the Isle of Man (collectively Zurich) reached a resolution with the United States Department of Justice yesterday, announced Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Department of Justice’s Tax Division. As part of the agreement, Zurich will pay a penalty of $5,115,000 to the United States.
According to the terms of the non-prosecution agreement, Zurich agrees to cooperate in any related criminal or civil proceedings, to implement controls to stop misconduct involving undeclared U.S. accounts, and to pay a penalty in return for the Department’s agreement not to prosecute the insurance providers for tax-related criminal offenses.
“The Tax Division remains steadfast in its goal of ending the use of offshore banking and insurance products when used to commit tax evasion,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Zuckerman. “This resolution with Zurich should serve as a strong message to those who use offshore bank accounts and insurance products to evade taxation that the Department of Justice is committed to stopping such fraud.”
Zurich Life was founded in 1922 and operates in Switzerland as an insurance carrier offering life insurance and investment products. As of 2016, Zurich Life had approximately $21.3 billion in assets under management and over 300,000 policies in force. Zurich International Life is based in the Isle of Man and operates as an insurance carrier offering life insurance and investment products. Zurich International Life focuses its business on the international expatriate market. As of 2016, Zurich International Life had approximately $10.6 billion in assets under management and approximately 300,000 policies in force. Zurich Life and Zurich International Life are indirectly owned subsidiaries of Zurich Insurance Group Ltd, a Swiss holding company headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland.
From Jan. 1, 2008, through June 30, 2014, Zurich issued or had certain insurance policies and accounts of U.S. taxpayer customers, who used their policies to evade U.S. taxes and reporting requirements. In particular, Zurich had approximately 420 U.S. related policies, 127 with Zurich Life and 293 with Zurich International Life, with an aggregate maximum value of approximately $102 million, for which the U.S. taxpayer customers did not provide evidence that they had declared their policies to U.S. tax authorities.
To qualify for favorable tax treatment under the U.S. tax code, insurance must meet certain minimal requirements. The policies offered by Zurich Life and Zurich International Life did not meet these requirements. The increase of the principal in these policies was therefore subject to taxation, and the policies were required to be disclosed to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on FinCEN Form 114 Foreign Bank Account Report, commonly referred to as an FBAR. In issuing or having undeclared U.S. related policies, Zurich knew or should have known that they were helping U.S. taxpayers conceal from the IRS ownership of undeclared assets, maintained as insurance policies or accounts.
Zurich International Life, in particular, sold insurance products to U.S. taxpayers that were “unit linked,” meaning the cash surrender value and death benefit amount were linked to the value of specified investments. With such policies, the U.S. taxpayer had a suite of specialized investment options, allowing them to access potentially higher returns by taking on the market risk associated with the policies. Some of these unit-linked policies offered a base death benefit that was nearly equivalent to the cost of the policy itself, and in some instances was fully funded by transfers from offshore bank accounts. Upon redemption, the U.S. taxpayer would receive the premium amount plus any investment earnings on the policy less a very small percentage for putative risk and fees.
Despite knowing that some of these policies, which had minimal-to-no risk mitigation function and specialized investment options, were held by U.S. taxpayers, Zurich International Life failed to act appropriately to ensure timely compliance by the policyholders with U.S. tax laws. In at least one instance, uncovered during the course of Zurich Life’s internal review, a former U.S. citizen, who pled guilty to a federal fraud offense after purchasing a Zurich International Life policy, used that insurance policy to hide substantial assets, despite owing approximately $900,000 in restitution to his victims.
Following the commencement of the Department’s Swiss Bank Program, the Zurich Group initiated a global review of the life insurance, savings and pension business sold by all of its non-U.S. operating companies to identify policies or accounts with U.S. indicia. This review prompted an extensive customer outreach to current and former customers with a possible nexus to the United States to confirm the customers’ status as U.S. taxpayers, assess their compliance with applicable U.S. tax and reporting rules, and encourage participation in an IRS voluntary disclosure program.
In July 2015, Zurich contacted the Department to inform it of the initial findings of the self-review. Prior to the self-reporting, Zurich was neither a subject nor a target of any investigation being conducted by the Tax Division. Since this self-disclosure, Zurich has conducted a thorough investigation and reported substantial findings to the Tax Division, including dozens of detailed summaries of account information and comprehensive reports for the U.S. related policies.
In addition to these efforts, the Companies have worked closely with non-U.S. regulators to ensure full disclosure to the Department. For instance, in 2016, Zurich Life applied to the Swiss Federal Department of Finance and received approval to waive Article 271 of the Swiss Criminal Code, which restricted the disclosures that Zurich Life could make to the Department, thereby facilitating Zurich Life’s production of certain information that would have otherwise been prohibited.
Principal Assistant Attorney General Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division thanked Senior Litigation Counsel Nanette Davis and Trial Attorney Jack Morgan of the Tax Division for their substantial assistance. The Tax Division also thanks the Internal Revenue Service for its assistance.