U.S. Starts New Offshore Amnesty for Tax Cheats

Wealthy tax evaders with assets stashed offshore can come clean with U.S. authorities under a new amnesty program with reduced penalties, the government said on Tuesday.

"It gives people a chance to come in before we find them," Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Doug Shulman said.

The new effort follows a 2009 amnesty program, which lured 15,000 new taxpayers with hidden accounts.

Under the new program, participants face a 25 percent penalty for the year with the highest balance, compared with the usual penalty of 50 percent.

The U.S. has been stepping up efforts to combat offshore tax evasion since UBS AG settled fraud cases with the government while admitting it helped U.S. citizens avoid taxes.

Shulman said a "number of other banks" were under investigation, with some cases at "quite advanced" stages.

The IRS has been culling through data from these probes, the UBS case and the earlier "voluntary disclosure" program for clues leading to other tax cheats, including additional banks and other corporate offenders.

Last year, the Department of Justice sent letters to clients of HSBC notifying them they are targets of a criminal probe. HSBC has maintained it is fully compliant with the law.

Taxpayers whose accounts or assets total less than $75,000 in a calendar year may pay a lower penalty of 12.5 percent.

The closing date is August 31.