CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Last week, a former Swiss banker pleaded guilty in Florida to helping 150 rich Americans evade income taxes by hiding about $500 million of their wealth overseas. The plea by Christos Bagios -- and his agreement to help U.S. prosecutors -- is expected to boost the Obama administration's war on millionaire cheats.
It's disgusting that many among America's elite 1 percent funnel cash to the Cayman Islands, Switzerland and other tax havens to duck obligations to the homeland that made them rich.
The White House has scored successes against the eluders. The administration indicted a giant Swiss bank, UBS AG, on criminal charges. UBS pleaded guilty, paid a $780 million fine and gave federal prosecutors the names of more than 4,500 American clients.
The U.S. Justice Department offered amnesty, letting U.S. millionaires pay back taxes and penalties voluntarily to avoid prosecution. So far, more than $5 billion has been recouped.
Bizarrely, a shady UBS banker, Bradley Birkenfeld, was sent to prison for helping the tax-avoidance -- then he was paid a $104 million "whistleblower" reward for helping U.S. agents catch his old clients. The Justice Department said he helped crack open Swiss secrecy and gained billions for the U.S. government.
Various Washington insiders speculate that former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney may have been among amnesty-takers. During the Democratic National Convention, former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland told delegates:
"Mitt has so little economic patriotism that even his money needs a passport. It summers on the beaches of the Cayman Islands and winters on the slopes of the Swiss Alps."
Romney's refusal to reveal all his income tax returns, or discuss his offshoring, soured some voters in the 2012 campaign. The Wall Street Journal's
"MarketWatch" said last week that the election might have turned out differently "if Mitt Romney had bothered putting his personal finances and taxes in order before running for president, or had just closed down his Cayman Islands trusts."
Citizenship requires Americans to help support their nation. When millionaires use foreign hideaways to evade this obligation, it's contemptible.