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Tax Department loses lawyers as it looks into tax evasion cases

The latest development in the Internal Revenue Service's investigation into offshore accounts and foreign assets does not involve a new indictment or an agreement between the United States and Switzerland. Instead, it involves a shake-up within the Justice Department that may affect its short-term ability to prosecute tax evasion cases.

The Tax Division of the Justice Department is responsible for handling offshore account cases as well as tax crimes such as identity theft. At the moment, there are 95 prosecuting attorneys affiliated with the Tax Division. But according to reports, 28 of those attorneys have left. There absence may not be permanent, however. Of those leaving, 25 are only going to serve half-year stints with U.S. Attorney's offices, which are in need of attorneys after the Justice Department placed a hold on new hires.

Some believe that the timing of their departure, even if temporary, is inopportune. In addition to widespread identity theft problems on tax returns, reports indicate that the Tax Division is receiving a significant number of offshore tax evasion cases.

The attorneys in the Tax Division individually and collectively possess a great deal of knowledge about the tax laws in general and the recent investigations into offshore accounts in particular. Some private attorneys have therefore expressed doubts about whether the division could maintain its level of effectiveness after losing nearly one-third of its number.

For its part, the Justice Department said that, despite the losses, it will not let up in its investigation and prosecution of taxpayers who attempt to shelter income overseas. Of course, remaining in complete compliance with all offshore reporting laws and regulations is still of vital importance.

Source: Bloomberg, "U.S. Tax-Evasion Probes Said to Slow as Prosecutors Transfer," David Voreacos, Mar. 27, 2012.

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