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Florida man must pay $2.2 million penalty for Swiss bank account

By Joseph Ax

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Florida man must pay more than $2.2 million in civil penalties for failing to file the required forms for his Swiss bank account, a federal jury said on Wednesday.

After a trial that began May 19, the jury found Carl Zwerner liable for failing to report the account to the U.S. Treasury Department from 2004 to 2006, though it found that he does not owe a penalty for 2007, court filings show.

U.S. tax regulations require all American taxpayers with at least $10,000 in a foreign bank account to file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, known as a FBAR, in order to assess the proper taxes.

The Justice Department, which brought the lawsuit against Zwerner, sought to penalize him 50 percent of the value of the account in each of the four years he allegedly failed to file the reports.

The Swiss account, held at Dutch bank ABN AMRO, was worth about $1.5 million during the period in question, according to court documents.

Zwerner's lawyer, Martin Press, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday evening.

According to defense filings, Zwerner filed FBARs and amended tax returns for the years in question several years ago after learning of his obligation but was denied admission to a voluntary disclosure program that would have capped his potential maximum penalties.

The U.S. government has intensified its pursuit of offshore tax dodgers in recent years, pressing banks in Switzerland to turn over information about American account holders and allowing some taxpayers to avoid prosecution by voluntarily disclosing their assets and paying a penalty.

On Tuesday, a former UBS AG banker who pleaded guilty to helping wealthy Americans escape taxes and agreed to cooperate with investigators was sentenced to five years of probation.

Last week, Credit Suisse pleaded guilty to one criminal charge and agreed to pay more than $2.5 billion in penalties for helping Americans evade taxes, becoming the largest bank to plead guilty in the United States in decades.

The case is U.S. v. Zwerner, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, No. 13-cv-22082.

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Richard Chang)

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