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Romney revising disclosures for overseas accounts

Mitt Romney could face new questions about his overseas investments after a campaign official acknowledged to NBC News that his campaign is revising his federal ethics forms to report more than a half dozen offshore holdings, including income from a multi-million dollar Swiss bank account that was not disclosed last year.

The tax returns released by the Romney campaign this week showed that the Ann Romney Blind Trust had reported $1,783 in interest income from a bank account held at UBS in Switzerland in 2010. But interest from the Swiss bank account -- as well as holdings in other offshore investments in the Cayman Islands, Bermudas and Ireland that appear in the trust fund's tax returns -- were not disclosed in Romney’s financial disclosure form filed with the Office of Government Ethics last August.

A Romney campaign official emailed Thursday afternoon that Romney’s financial disclosure form is now being amended with the government ethics office “to address this minor discrepancy” and “to deal with some other minor issues.” The Romney campaign’s decision to amend the forms, and additional details about the failure to report the overseas holdings, was also reported Thursday by Los Angeles Times.

The number and size of Romneys’ offshore investments have lately emerged as a major campaign issue, putting the former Massachusetts governor on the defensive over his wealth (estimated at up to $250 million) and forcing his campaign to release his 2010 tax returns this week. When the campaign released the returns on Monday, it arranged for R. Bradford Malt, a longtime lawyer for the Romneys, to brief reporters in a conference call about them.

But while the returns have produced no revelations about any improper dealings on Romneys’ part, they have continued to raise questions about how and why some of his multiple overseas investments were made in the first place, and why there were not more fully reported on Romney’s financial disclosure forms. 

Malt said he opened up the Swiss bank account, holdings in which are valued at between $1 million and $5 million, in 2003 on behalf the Ann Romney trust in order to provide “international currency diversification” for the trust's holdings. He then shut it down in early 2010, he said, and transferred the assets to the United States, noting that Romney was preparing to run for president at the time and he did not want to have it become an issue in the presidential campaign.

“I was worried that people would write stories not understanding this,” said Malt, who administers the blind trust on behalf of the Romneys.

But Malt apparently did not act quickly enough, given that the interest income had to be reported on the trust's tax returns for 2010. (He would not say when in 2010 the account was closed.)

The account was first disclosed as one of Romney's holdings when he filed a financial disclosure form in 2007 after he launched his first campaign for president. Malt acknowledged today that it should have actually been reported as a holding of the Ann Romney blind trust and that Romney’s 2007 financial disclosure form is also being amended to correct what he described as a "clerical error."

The campaign had no immediate explanation for why the  $1,783 in interest income from the UBS account had not been included in the 2011 financial disclosure, an omission noted by political rivals. The Democratic National Committee hastily organized a conference call Thursday afternoon to seize on the revelation.

Malt initially insisted in an interview that the amount was below the threshold that needed to be reported. But one category on the standard government financial disclosure form specifically asks candidates to report assets valued at between $1,000 and $5,000 as well as income from any holdings of between “$1,001 and $2,500.”  A campaign official later said Malt had been misunderstood, acknowledging that both the 2007 and the 2011 financial disclosures the campaign filed are being revised.

But the inclusion of the Swiss bank account is apparently not the only revision. The Ann Romney blind trust also reported income from shares in offshore companies such as Barricuda Investments Ltd. in Ireland, Castle Garden Funding in the Cayman Islands, and Sankaty High Yield Assets Investors Ltd. in Bermuda. Those holdings also were not included in the financial disclosure form that Romney filed last August. The form requires presidential candidates to report all assets and income for them and their spouses for the full calendar prior to the year of the filing.   

But Malt said there had been no attempt by the Romneys to conceal these investments, and all taxes on their earnings were fully paid. Malt stressed that the Ann Romney trust fund was simply a passive shareholder in the investments funds, which in turn owned shares in the offshore companies. He said the investing entities were like “mutual funds.”