Whistleblower Behind Caterpillar Tax Headache Could Make $600 Million

Caterpillar, the world’s largest maker of bulldozers and other construction equipment, faces a $2 billion IRS bill and possible criminal charges, while the accountant who tipped off the feds may make a windfall, Bloomberg BusinessWeek reported.

Daniel Schlicksup, an accountant who had been with Caterpillar for 16 years, sent emails in 2008 to top executives with the subject line, “Ethics issues important to you, the board and Cat shareholders.” This occurred after a meeting in which he concluded that no one had passed his tax concerns on to the CEO. He had been telling his bosses that the company was engaged in an overseas tax arrangement that he figured had helped it illegally avoid more than $1 billion in taxes.

BusinessWeek reported, “He alluded to his concerns about the tax strategy and described, in emotional terms, a systematic effort to shut him down. ‘I am now an example to my colleagues, peers and others that they made the correct choice when they chose to not report ethical issues and ignore company policy,’ he wrote. Attached to the email was a 15-page memorandum describing how his superiors had retaliated against him for speaking out. The next morning he sent 137 pages of documents purporting to show how, with the help of its auditor, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Caterpillar had devised a way to shift billions in profit to Switzerland to avoid U.S. taxes.”

Since then, the IRS has demanded $2 billion in back taxes and penalties, a U.S. Senate committee has concluded Caterpillar avoided taxes on more than $8 billion in revenue, and federal agents searched the Peoria, Ill., headquarters and took away computers, documents and other evidence that could be related to false financial statements. Caterpillar executives could face jail time if criminal charges are brought.

The IRS typically pays whistleblowers 15% to 30% of what it collects. If Cat pays the full $2 billion, Schlicksup may receive $300 million to $600 million. But nothing is guaranteed. The IRS determines how much a whistleblower contributed to a case and, in turn, how much he or she is paid.

A company spokeswoman says, “Caterpillar believes its tax position is right. We are in the process of responding to the government’s concerns and hope to be in a position to bring this matter to resolution within a reasonable time frame.”

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