Back to Back Loan Image

Money Laundering, Marital Assets & Divorce was my first Asset Search Blog post highlighting back-to-back loans (i.e. a fully collateralized loan in which the borrower and the lender are one and the same). That post mentioned a divorcing husband who hid millions from his wife and the IRS, by claiming he was indebted because of an arm’s length business loan. The husband’s claim about owing money to an arm’s length lender was false, as the loan was back-to-back. In other words, the husband hid millions by secretly arranging to be both the borrower and lender of the loan; and by pretending to be in debt.

Federal prosecutors similarly discussed back–to-back loans in their tax fraud case against Los Angeles, California businessman Masud Sarshar. According to prosecutors, Mr. Sarshar hid tens of millions of dollars from the IRS by using two back-to-back loans and offshore bank accounts in Israel and Hong Kong. Mr. Sarshar supposedly maintained the offshore bank accounts in the names of intermediaries (i.e. nominees). Prosecutors also said an Israeli banker delivered offshore bank account statements to Mr. Sarshar by smuggling them into the U.S. on a USB drive hidden in a necklace.

To avoid being flagged as an American by the offshore banks, Mr. Sarshar is believed to have used Israeli and Iranian passports to open his offshore accounts. When Mr. Sarshar mentioned his offshore accounts during conversations with his Israeli bankers, Mr. Sarshar also reportedly spoke in code. On 3/13/17 Mr. Sarshar was sentenced to 24 months in prison for conspiring to defraud the U.S. and for seeking to impair/impede administration of internal revenue laws. Mr. Sarshar’s 8/1/16 plea agreement can be read here.

Image: Ionut Catalin Parvu/Shutterstock.com

Copyright 2017 Fred L. Abrams

3 HInts About Asset Searches

A divorcing spouse; judgment creditor; bankruptcy creditor; or a beneficiary under a trust or will; may face an adversary hiding assets through nominees (i.e. intermediaries). See cf., Fourth Inv. LP v. United States, 720 F.3d 1058, 1070 (9th Cir. 2013) (six-part test for nominee ownership applied to tax lien case). An adversary can hide real estate, automobiles, jewelry; and offshore bank accounts by titling them in the names of nominees. Nominees are easily accessed through nominee incorporation services like the one at the “Anonymous Panama Corporation” webpage.

The “Anonymous Panama Corporation” webpage can be used to form a Panamanian shell company with “nominee directors.” The initial fee for this service is $1200. The webpage suggests that one can “save taxes or protect…assets” by forming a Panamanian shell company:

[Y]our personal information will not be available in any government records, but [sic] still maintain complete control over your corporation. The Nominee Directors will not have control over your corporation and can be replaced at any time.

This type of corporation is a good choice if your objective is to save taxes or protect your assets. The actual owner of this corporation is not registered in public records.

Shell companies are not the only things that can be utilized as nominees. Lawyers; accountants; bankers; financial advisors; paramours; family members and trusts can be nominees. In the criminal prosecution called USA v. James S. Faller II, Case #: 13−cr−00029, the Court discussed how a nominee trust could be part of a scheme to hide assets from the IRS. Pages 13-14 of the Court’s 4/30/15 Memorandum Opinion and Order highlighted Mr. Faller’s alleged misuse of nominees.

Mr. Faller from Russell Springs, Kentucky, relied on “nominee names” to evade taxes, an IRS Special Agent’s affidavit claimed at ¶68. Prosecutors argued Mr. Faller evaded taxes by titling his home and bank account in the name of a trust believed to be Mr. Faller’s nominee. Mr. Faller was convicted of tax fraud and on 1/29/16 Mr. Faller was sentenced to 36 months’ imprisonment. Although Mr. Faller appealed his conviction, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld the conviction at a 1/10/17 Opinion.

Image: Robert Kneschke/Shutterstock.com

Copyright 2017 Fred L. Abrams

Laundry List Post:ImageGovernmental authorities follow money trails in order to interdict assets hidden by narco-traffickers; money launderers; Ponzi schemers; tax fraudsters & other determined criminals. During your asset search, you can similarly follow a money trail to track assets which have been hidden from you. You might detect a money trail by scrutinizing data related to the person or business entity suspected of hiding assets.

You can collect this data in some situations, by issuing subpoenas; using compelled consent forms; or through additional legal tools. Below is the “Financial Investigations Checklist” & it includes a laundry list of items which contain data.¹ You may be able to collect some of the items the list mentions: bank account records; telephone records; utility company records; credit card statements & many others. Data at these kinds of items could conceivably help you follow a money trail to assets hidden from you.

(To Read The Financial Investigations Checklist, Click On The Following Image)


Financial Investigations Checklist

 

¹Financial Investigations Checklist, Courtesy of The United States Department of Justice.

First image: Picsfive/Shutterstock.com

Copyright 2016 Fred L. Abrams

Trade-Based Laundering Photo

If your adversary is using a business entity to conceal assets from you, one thing to look for is trade-based money laundering. A June 2006 report by the Financial Action Task Force explains that trade-based laundering schemes can include: the over or under-invoicing of goods or services; the over or under-shipping of goods; falsely describing goods or services; or multiple invoicing.¹ You can search for assets hidden via trade-based laundering by spotting the red flags. Page 24 of the June 2006 report describes the red flags and some of them are:

  • a disparity between a shipped commodity’s bill of lading and its invoice.
  • a disparity between a commodity’s value as recorded on its invoice and fair market value.
  • the shipping of goods although there is no profit/economic benefit.
  • a shipment with a nexus to shell companies.
  • letters of credit related to a shipment that have been amended or extended repeatedly.
  • the type of shipped commodity is inconsistent with the importer’s/exporter’s ordinary business activities.
  • shipping to or from a high-risk geographical location (i.e. a jurisdiction especially vulnerable to money laundering).

Pages 9-20 of the June 2006 report also provide 12 case studies showing how trade-based money laundering can be used to conceal one’s assets. The August 24, 2007 plea agreement of Gene Haas might describe another case of trade-based money laundering. Mr. Haas entered this plea agreement after his arrest on June 19, 2006 for suspected tax fraud. Attachment A at the plea agreement says the Enmark Aerospace and Supermill companies had provided Mr. Haas with invoices for fictitious purchases.

According to Attachment A, Mr. Haas paid Enmark & Supermill millions of dollars pursuant to these invoices; and Mr. Haas then took business deductions for “cost of goods sold.” Attachment A also indicates that Enmark and Supermill eventually returned the millions, (less a 2% kick back fee), to Mr. Haas through Mr. Haas’ intermediary, CNC Associates, Inc. Stated differently, it seems that Enmark, Supermill and CNC Associates could have been employed as laundering links in a money laundering circuit. After Mr. Haas’ plea agreement, Mr. Haas was sentenced on November 5, 2007 to two years in prison for violating 18 U.S.C § 371. Mr. Haas additionally paid a $5 million dollar fine and over $70 million dollars in back taxes owed for 2000 and 2001.

¹ See p.4 at “Trade-Based Money Laundering,” Copyright © FATF/OECD. All rights reserved.

Image: Nomad_Soul/Shutterstock.com

Copyright 2007-2016 Fred L. Abrams

Your Search For Assets Hidden Offshore

When naming offshore havens for opening secret bank accounts, people usually mention Switzerland, the Cayman Islands, Liechtenstein, etc.  Meanwhile, bank accounts in almost any country can be put to work to hide & place assets out of reach. “Using Multiple Jurisdictions To Launder Money” discussed a suspected scheme to bribe judges in Italy.  According to prosecutors, illicit proceeds from this offshore scheme were hidden in bank accounts located in the U.S. & elsewhere. “Money Laundering, Marital Assets & Divorce” outlines another scheme which relied on cross-border elements to conceal assets. The scheme involved a divorcing spouse in the U.S. who hid undeclared revenue in a Swiss bank & then “washed” it through a bank in Germany.¹

As the above essentially suggests, tracking assets offshore can become a critically important part of your asset search. How do you search for assets hidden offshore? One way is by employing legal tools. The following article discusses the tools federal prosecutors may use to collect evidence from witnesses residing offshore.² Two of the tools the article mentions are compelled consent forms & letters rogatory.  These two tools are not just for use by prosecutors. They are sometimes used by divorcing spouses, judgment creditors & others searching for offshore bank accounts/assets hidden offshore:

Click On The Image To Read The Entire Article

¹The fact pattern supplied at “Money Laundering, Marital Assets & Divorce,” has been changed & sanitized for privacy reasons.

²“Obtaining Foreign Evidence Outside of The Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty Process,” U.S. Attorneys’ Bulletin March 2007, is supplied courtesy of the Executive Office for United States Attorneys.

Image of offshore banking & tax haven concept: ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock.com

Copyright 2016 Fred L. Abrams

4 28 16 Post

This post was written by Leila A. Amineddoleh, Esq., of Amineddoleh & Associates LLC. Ms. Amineddoleh has been published extensively on issues related to art, cultural heritage, and intellectual property, and has appeared in major news outlets, including the New York Times, Forbes Magazine, TIME Magazine, and the Wall Street Journal. Ms. Amineddoleh’s post discusses how art assets may be hidden from divorcing spouses, creditors & others. It is also the 29th post at the Asset Search Blog’s “Divorce & Hidden Money” series:

In an entry that was published on this blog, I discussed the ways in which art collectors use undisclosed art holdings and valuation uncertainties to evade legal responsibilities (such as payment of tax bills of alimony to divorced spouses). Just as Audrey Hepburn’s character discovered that her husband hid his wealth in three valuable stamps in the 1963 film “Charade,” art collectors have been using their collections to hide value for years. Difficulties related to valuation arise, particularly when it becomes impossible to locate the artwork or determine the identity of the actual owner. But with breaking news about the “Panama Papers,” suspicion about art’s role in the obstruction of justice and concealment of funds has been confirmed again. Wealthy individuals are using artwork as an investment tool and they are shielding these holdings through shell companies and misleading tools. In light of these facts, the art world is once again coming under scrutiny.

The art market is one of the least regulated markets in the world, as transactions are completed without oversight, due to the nature of the trade. It is particularly shocking as the value of the art market is astronomically high. According to Art Market Report, sales of art exceeded $63.8 billion in 2015.[1]

However, there are valid reasons for anonymity in the art world. First and foremost, secrecy is guarded due to security concerns. Whereas tens of millions of dollars in cash are difficult to walk off with, artworks are usually portable.  A single lightweight canvas may be worth over $100 million, making the object vulnerable to theft. It is important to protect information about the works in private collections to limit the information available to thieves fixated on the objects.

Another reason to hide information is more personal. Collectors may not want to admit to selling works due to poor cash flow. Some owners are forced to sell works when facing financial hardships. Those individuals do not want this information to become public. At the same time, buyers may not want competing buyers to procure an overabundance of information about their purchases. Art is a personal passion, and something that some collectors do not want made public.

However, art is also used to hide assets, evade taxes, and unfairly withhold value from deserving parties (like creditors or divorcing spouses). This regrettable use of art was confirmed after the leak of the “Panama Papers.” In April, a Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, experienced a security breach and had over 11 million documents from internal files become public. Although illegal to assist someone in tax evasion, Mossack Fonseca specializes in establishing corporate structures to hide assets. The information in the leak confirmed the suspicion that wealthy individuals use shell companies to hide assets in contemplation of impending divorces or litigation. Continue Reading Hiding Art Assets, Anonymity & The Panama Papers

Image For Article About Panama Papers

2008 was the first time I wrote an article mentioning hiding assets via a lawyer in Panama. The article was called “Bearer Shares & An Asset Search.” Although the facts at the article were sanitized & changed for privacy reasons, it described a divorcing husband in the U.S hiding assets from both his wife & the I.R.S. through: a Panamanian lawyer, bearer shares, a shell company & other offshore elements.

Meanwhile, there have been many articles this week discussing the Mossack Fonseca Law Firm headquartered in Panama City, Panama. These articles arise out of the investigation of Mossack Fonseca which is detailed at the “Panama Papers” website published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. Among other things, the website has a page of graphs, with one graph called “The hunt for bearer shares.” This particular graph seems to suggest that Mossack Fonseca employed bearer shares to help clients hide assets offshore.

At its own website, Mossack Fonseca says they are “Offshore Specialists since 1977.”  In this role, Mossack Fonseca is thought to have helped a large number of law-abiding clients transfer assets offshore for legitimate purposes. Mossack Fonseca could however, have also helped a large number of criminals seeking to conceal illicit assets. These criminals might have been tax cheats hiding undeclared revenue; corrupt government officials; & others seeking to conceal money by laundering it offshore.

Any criminals hiding assets through Mossack Fonseca will soon become known, since over 11 million documents at Mossack Fonseca were apparently hacked & leaked to the press. I suspect the hacked documents will show that assets were hidden offshore through elements commonly used to wash vast sums of money. Some of these elements are listed below & they should always be considered by anyone searching for valuable assets hidden from them.

Panama Papers Image: catwalker/Shutterstock.com

Copyright 2016 Fred L. Abrams

Compartments 1

How do you hamper an asset search while hiding vast sums of money across the globe? You may be able to do this by compartmentalizing your actions. Using compartmentalization to fly under the radar is nothing new. For example, terrorists in Paris compartmentalized what they did before their heinous November 13, 2015 attack. This is discussed by former FBI Special Agent Steve Cocco, at “Paris Attackers Displayed Strict OpSec, Planning and Compartmentalization.”

Ponzi schemers; high net worth divorcing spouses; money launderers; tax fraudsters & others can similarly compartmentalize their actions in schemes for hiding assets. The schemes can be as basic as parking money in a secret offshore bank account & directing the offshore bank to mail monthly bank account statements to an offshore post office box. By keeping the money & its monthly bank account statements offshore, they are compartmentalized & out of the spotlight. This makes it harder for domestic tax authorities; a divorcing spouse; a judgment creditor; & anyone else to detect the hidden money.

At earlier Asset Search Blog posts I wrote about the sham loan depicted by the link chart featured below.¹ I mention the loan again because it shows how strict compartmentalization can be employed to hide assets. As set forth at Money Laundering, Marital Assets & Divorce, the loan was used by a divorcing husband to launder both marital assets and undeclared revenue. Prior to the equitable distribution hearing in his divorce proceeding, the husband alleged he had a liability of $29 million owed to a prime bank in Germany because of an arm’s length business loan.

According to the husband, he was indebted to the German bank & had defaulted/failed to repay the loan. The supposed arm’s length loan was however, back-to-back , (i.e. a fully collateralized loan in which the borrower and the lender are one and the same). As a consequence of strict compartmentalization, the divorcing wife would not ordinarily be able to recognize that the divorcing husband was both the borrower and lender of the loan:

(Click On The Link Chart To Enlarge)

 

¹For privacy reasons, some of the facts at the link chart have been changed from the original legal matter.

Copyright 2007-2016 Fred L. Abrams

 

Schemes to hide assets can involve bulk-cash smuggling combined with other methods.
A scheme to hide assets from you may be carried out by combining bulk-cash smuggling with other concealment methods.

A divorcing spouse; judgment debtor; tax cheat; etc. may use several methods to conceal assets. “Red Flags For An Asset Search” listed 18 of these methods.  The methods for hiding assets included: bulk-cash smuggling; shell companies; multiple jurisdictions; foreign bank accounts; & nominees.  These methods might have been combined by Mr. Victor Lipukhin to conceal more than $10 million dollars in secret Swiss bank accounts. The press release “Former President of Russian Steel Producer’s U.S. Subsidiary Indicted for Hiding Assets in Secret Swiss Bank Accounts,” talked about Mr. Lipukhin’s alleged scheme to hide assets from the IRS.

Mr. Lipukhin was indicted on 3/20/2014 because of the suspected scheme.  The indictment suggests Mr. Lipukhin may have employed bulk-cash smuggling; multiple jurisdictions; shell companies; & other methods to conceal his alleged beneficial ownership of Swiss bank accounts. Mr. Lipukhin is thought to have initially formed shell companies in the Bahamas which he allegedly used to open the Swiss bank accounts. Mr. Lipukhin might have hired a nominee director for the shell companies, who could have acted as a bank signatory on the Swiss bank accounts.

If Mr. Lipukhin used a nominee director, it would have helped hide his suspected beneficial ownership of the Swiss accounts. According to the indictment, Mr. Lipukhin supposedly relied on real estate transactions; mortgages & a Canadian lawyer to hide assets.  Mr. Lipukhin also reportedly bought an automobile by paying approximately $24,539 in cash.  Although the seller of the automobile was required to notify the IRS by filing a Form 8300, Mr. Lipukhin allegedly tried to persuade the seller to keep quiet about the sale.  If this actually happened, it would have been a red flag that Mr. Lipukhin might have engaged in bulk-cash smuggling or money laundering.  The criminal case against Mr. Lipukhin is still pending at the prosecutor’s office, as the Court’s docket report reveals.

Image: Gorich/Shutterstock.com

Copyright 2016 Fred L. Abrams

12 29 15 post

Favorite Asset Search Blog posts from 2015 include:

 

ERR Rembrandt111-SC-374664Recovering Art Assets & Cultural Heritage Propertycovers how divorcing spouses; terrorists & others may employ art to hide their assets.  This post was written by Leila A. Amineddoleh, Esq. who is an art and cultural heritage lawyer and an adjunct professor at Fordham University School of Law.

 

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 Private Investigators: A Surreptitious Search For Money Hidden In Divorce & Other Cases— discusses what might possibly go wrong during a search for hidden assets. It mentions searching for assets by using wiretaps; bank searches; law enforcement databases & physical surveillance.

 

FTC video sharing infoData Brokers Searching For Your Assets, Bank Accounts & Other Personal Information?explains that data brokers mine data & harvest your private information.  The information can consist of “where and when you open a bank account; estimated household income; the assets you own; loan history; credit card use and tax return transcripts.”

Screen Shot 2015-12-28 at 5.34.06 PMRed Flags & The IRS Search For Attorney Memmott’s Assets—analyzes a tax fraud prosecution.  In this case, prosecutors claimed Attorney Orion Douglas Memmott concealed assets through nominees (i.e. intermediaries), back-dated promissory notes & a business bank account.

 

First Image: macbrianmun/Shutterstock.com

Second Image: National Archives and Records Administration

Third Image courtesy of Flickr (Licensed) by Byung Kyu Park

Fourth Image: Courtesy of U.S. Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement

Fifth Image courtesy of Flickr (Licensed) by DonkeyHotey

Copyright 2015 Fred L. Abrams