By Mike Stetzer
This August, the United States government, the government of Switzerland and Swiss bank UBS forged an agreement to disclose nearly 4,500 Americans who have used the bank as a secret haven for money, avoiding taxes, record-keeping, and in some cases, hiding assets.
According to TIME.com's Stephen Gandel, that may just be the beginning for the suspected tax cheaters.
As UBS prepares to raise the curtain on these individuals, some ex-spouses are preparing to finally get their due. In New York City, divorce attorney Raoul Lionel Felder reports calls from clients who want to be ready to act if their suspicions—that a spouse was hiding money in Swiss bans—prove to be valid.
"You see allegations of Swiss bank accounts in divorce proceedings all the time," Felder says, who has counted Rudy Giuliani and Martin Scorsese's ex-wife among his clients. "A lot of divorces are about to get opened up."
After a year of investigating UBS for tax fraud, the government and Switzerland’s second largest bank agreed to a settlement on Aug. 19. If certain names become public, attorneys believe creditors who have been thwarted for years will likely appear out of the woodwork.
Divorce proceedings have no statute of limitations in most states, so most settlements made before the UBS disclosure could conceivably be thrown out and the "new" money factored in. These revised settlements will likely be harsher towards those individuals who are found to have used UBS to shield their assets.
However, there is no guarantee at this point that the names of UBS account holders will be publicly revealed. The Internal Revenue Service has announced that anyone on the list will be given until Sept. 23 to pay up and avoid jail time and heavier fines. Disclosures made to the IRS are confidential, so other creditors (and spouses) may not ever know who has come forward.
This clemency may not apply to those UBS clients who used the bank to defraud a bankruptcy court, but it is not clear whether or not lying in a divorce proceeding will be enough to exempt someone from clemency.
Attorney Charles Falk of Porzio, Bromberg & Newman recalls a situation a year ago in which a husband filed joint tax returns prior to his divorce. When the same client later voluntarily revealed to the IRS that he had hid money in a Swiss bank account to avoid taxes, his ex-wife was notified of the disclosure.
In this case, the ex-wife had technically run afoul of the IRS because her name was on the joint filings, though she did not know about the Swiss account. A new settlement was reached in court, with the an handing over a bigger piece of the pie.
Martin Press, an attorney representing a number of UBS clients believes a public disclosure of names will prove to be a catalyst for a whole new wave of litigation.
"People hid money in Swiss bank accounts not just to avoid the IRS, but other creditors as well," he says. "If these names become public, we are going to see a number of cases of bankruptcy fraud, corporate fraud and divorce fraud."