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August 23, 2011

Ninth Circuit finds Fifth Amendment (self incrimination) inapplicable to offshore banking records

M.H. v. United States; No. 11-55712 (8/19/2011)
The Ninth Circuit recently held that the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination may not be used by a taxpayer under grand jury investigation for the use of his undisclosed Swiss bank accounts.
Facts. An unamed taxpayer was the target of a grand jury investigation to determine whether he used undisclosed Swiss bank accounts to evade paying federal taxes. Records indicating that the taxpayer had transferred assets from an account at UBS AG to an account with UEB Geneva in 2002 was disclosed to the U.S. under a 2009 deferred prosecution agreement between the U.S. Department of Justice and UBS.
District Court. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California granted a motion to compel the taxpayer to provide his records pertaining to his foreign bank accounts under the Required Records Doctrine. Under the doctrine, records that are required to be maintained by law fall outside the scope of the Fifth Amendment privilege, when certain conditions are satisfied.
The taxpayer argued that the information requested could conflict with other information he may have provided to the IRS. Thus, production of the requested records would be self incriminating. Moreover, the taxpayer argued that the denial of maintaining such evidence would also be self incriminating because the failure to maintain such documentation is a felony.
Circuit Court. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower court's decision, finding that under Grosso v. U.S., 390 U.S. 62 (1968) documents that are regulatory, customarily kept and have some public aspects apply to documents that must maintained under the Bank Secrecy Act.

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