ROBERT S. STEINBERG RECEIVES TOP 1% AMERICA’S MOST HONORED PROFESSIONAL AWARD FOR 2016

Below is a copy of a press release regarding my being awarded the above honor. In my over forty years of tax practice I have endeavored to maintain my personal commitment to professionalism and have attempted to represent with compassion and respect clients who have found solutions to tax problems brought to me.

“America’s Most Honored” is a recognition program created by American Registry. American Registry is expert in business recognition evaluation. Like all professionals included in American Registry’s comprehensive database, these honorees have received multiple honors by recognized trade or professional groups, and/or acclaimed recognitions by peers, clients and/or the press.

Robert S. Steinberg has received their prestigious Top 1% Award for America’s Most Honored Professionals 2016. This award is not limited to lawyers like Robert S. Steinberg, but all professionals including CEO’s, doctors and others included the top echelon of recognition.

American Registry issues awards for “Most Honored Professional” for individuals in the top ten, top five and top one percent. The Top 1% Award is an achievement considered by American Registry to be one of the most dignified of any individual recognition. Nationally, very few lawyers are awarded the Top 1% designation.
More information on this award is available at www.Americanregistry.com.

Robert S. Steinberg is also AV rated by Martindale Hubbell. An AV rating is the highest peer reviewed rating for legal ability and ethical standards awarded by Martindale Hubbell, the world’s most trusted attorney peer-reviewed rating service and legal directory.

The American Registry and Martindale Hubbell are private organizations not affiliated with The Florida Bar and their awards are not an indication of any special status or expertise sanctioned by the Florida Bar.

Robert S. Steinberg limits his practice to taxation. For more information visit his legal website www.steinbergtaxlaw.com.

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DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE AND IRS CONTINUE TO FOCUS ON CATCHING OFFSHORE TAX CHEATS

The Department of Justice Tax Division on August 17 released a transcript of comments made by Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Caroline D. Ciraolo, who had spoken at the Panama Bankers Association Anti-Money-Laundering Conference.in Panama City, Panama.
Some take-aways from a large portion of her comments reproduced below:
• The DOJ and IRS will continue to devote formidable resources at offshore non-compliance.
• The DOJ will continue to seek court orders compelling compliance with IRS administrative summonses as it has done in the past.
• The DOJ will continue to file petitions in appropriate cases seeking court authorization to issue John Doe Summonses..
• The DOJ will continue to employ all other available and appropriate methods to obtain information regarding potential tax violations. These methods will include use of information and names the DOJ is obtaining under the Swiss Bank Settlement Program as well as information obtained pursuant to various deferred prosecution agreement entered into with a number of banks.

The text of Deputy Assistant Attorney General Ciraolo’s comments follows:

Among our highest priorities is offshore tax enforcement. When taxpayers fail to produce records related to their offshore assets and activities during a civil tax audit, the IRS can refer the matter to the Justice Department for assistance. The Justice Department’s attorneys will file petitions with federal courts seeking to enforce the IRS requests for these records. In many cases, we are seeking records that exist within the United States, but the Tax Division also can seek to compel U.S. branches of foreign banks to produce records that they control located in foreign jurisdictions, despite claims that such production would violate foreign law.

Recently, in UBS v. Hsiaw, the Tax Division filed suit to compel UBS AG (UBS) to produce account records held by a UBS branch in Singapore, after UBS refused to produce those records in response to an IRS administrative summons. The records related to a Singapore account held by a U.S. taxpayer, believed to be residing in China. UBS initially refused to produce the account records, arguing that doing so would be a violation of Singapore bank secrecy laws. After the suit was filed, UBS produced the records requested. In today’s climate, the Justice Department’s use of such tools expands the IRS’s ability to obtain information in the U.S. government’s continuing efforts to hold U.S. taxpayers accountable for reporting and paying their fair share of taxes.
The Tax Division will also file petitions with federal courts seeking authorization to issue what we call “John Doe summonses” to obtain information based on a reasonable belief that a class of individuals whose identities are unknown are engaged in conduct violating the U.S. internal revenue laws. In December 2014, a federal court in New York signed an order authorizing the IRS to issue John Doe summonses requiring Federal Express Corporation aka FedEx Express, FedEx Ground Package System Inc. aka FedEx Ground, DHL Express, United Parcel Service Inc., Western Union Financial Services Inc., the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Clearing House Payments Company LLC and HSBC Bank USA, National Association, to produce information about U.S. taxpayers who might be evading or have evaded federal taxes by using the services of Sovereign Management & Legal Ltd (Sovereign). Sovereign is a multi-jurisdictional offshore services provider that we alleged offered clients, among other things, the formation and administration of anonymous corporations and foundations. The IRS believed Sovereign’s related services included the maintenance and operation of offshore structures, mail forwarding, the availability of virtual offices, re-invoicing and the provision of professional managers who appoint themselves directors of the client’s entity while the client maintains ultimate control over the assets. Sovereign used Federal Express, UPS and DHL to correspond with U.S. clients and Western Union to transmit funds to and from clients in the United States. In addition, wire services operated by the Federal Reserve Bank and Clearing House and the U.S. correspondent bank accounts that HSBC USA held for Sovereign’s banks in Panama and Hong Kong, were believed to have records of financial transactions between Sovereign and its clients in the United States. With these records, the IRS sought to identify and gather information about Sovereign’s U.S. clients who may be avoiding or evading taxes.

Similarly, in September 2015, a federal court in Miami granted the Justice Department’s petition for an order authorizing the issuance of a John Doe summons to Bank of America and Citibank seeking information about U.S. taxpayers who may hold offshore accounts at Belize Bank International Limited (BBIL) or Belize Bank Limited (BBL). Belize Corporate Services (BCS) is incorporated and based in Belize and offers corporate services including the purchase of “shelf” Belizean international business companies. The Justice Department established a reasonable belief that the customers in the John Doe class failed to report income, evaded income taxes, or otherwise violated U.S. internal revenue laws. The records were sought to identify U.S. taxpayers who hold or held interests in financial accounts at BBIL and BBL, as well as other financial institutions that used the same correspondent accounts.
The Justice Department will continue to enforce IRS administrative summonses, seek the issuance of John Doe summonses and employ all other available and appropriate methods to obtain information regarding potential tax violations and to assist its partners within the IRS with enforcement of the U.S. tax laws. To this end, we appreciate the prompt response and cooperation of financial institutions, both within and outside the United States, in producing the records and information requested.

As noted, the Tax Division also investigates and prosecutes U.S. taxpayers who use foreign accounts or entities in an attempt to evade tax, as well as bankers, account managers, professional service providers and other facilitators, including foreign entities, assisting or conspiring with U.S. persons in evading their tax obligations. Since 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice has charged criminally more than 160 accountholders and over 50 facilitators, many of whom reside outside the United States.
For example, on Aug. 1, Masud Sarshar, a California businessman who owns Apparel Limited Inc., a company that makes and sells clothing, was charged with conspiring to defraud the United States and corruptly endeavoring to impair and impede the due administration of the internal revenue laws. Mr. Sarshar maintained several undeclared bank accounts at Bank Leumi and two other Israeli banks, both in his name and in the names of entities that he created. For decades, with the assistance of at least two bank employees, Mr. Sarshar diverted tens of millions of dollars in untaxed gross business income to these accounts in an effort to conceal income and obstruct the IRS. The bankers frequently visited Mr. Sarshar in Los Angeles and, at his request, delivered account information in person, rather than send account statements by mail. For example, one banker loaded account statements on a USB drive, which she concealed in a necklace worn during her trips to the United States. At the suggestion of the bankers, Mr. Sarshar also used “back-to-back” loans to access his funds offshore without actually withdrawing the funds or creating a paper trail that would reveal the existence of the secret foreign accounts. The bankers also directed Mr. Sarshar to obtain Israeli and Iranian passports in an effort to avoid being flagged as a U.S. citizen by the compliance departments at both banks and later facilitated the transfer of Mr. Sarshar’s remaining funds to yet another Israeli bank.

Mr. Sarshar has agreed to plead guilty and pay more than $8.3 million in restitution to the IRS. If the court accepts the plea agreement, Mr. Sarshar will be sentenced to 24 months in prison. In addition, Mr. Sarshar stipulated to a civil penalty in the amount of 50 percent of the high balance of his undeclared accounts to resolve his civil liability for not disclosing the existence of his Israeli bank accounts.

As reflected in the Sarshar prosecution, U.S. accountholders who use foreign accounts to conceal assets and income and to evade their U.S. tax obligations rely on the assistance of third parties – foreign financial institutions, bankers, accountants and lawyers, just to name a few. Many of these third parties are unwitting participants. Others, like the bankers who assisted Mr. Sarshar, play an active role in the criminal conduct.
For example, on June 22, Michele Bergantino, a citizen of Italy and resident of Switzerland, pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the United States by assisting U.S. taxpayers to conceal foreign accounts and evade U.S. taxes during his employment as a banker working for Credit Suisse. Mr. Bergantino admitted that from 2002 to 2009, while working as a relationship manager for Credit Suisse in Switzerland, he participated in a wide-ranging conspiracy to aid and assist U.S. taxpayers in evading their income taxes by concealing assets and income in secret Swiss bank accounts. He oversaw a portfolio of accounts, largely owned by U.S. taxpayers residing on the West Coast of the United States, which grew to approximately $700 million of assets under management.

Mr. Bergantino assisted clients in hiding their Swiss accounts by assuring them that Swiss bank secrecy laws would prevent Credit Suisse from disclosing their undeclared accounts to U.S. law enforcement; discussing business with clients only when they traveled to Zurich; structuring withdrawals from undeclared accounts by sending multiple checks in amounts below $10,000 to clients in the United States; facilitating the withdrawal of large sums of cash by U.S. customers from their Credit Suisse accounts at Credit Suisse offices in the Bahamas, Switzerland and particularly the Credit Suisse branch at the Zurich airport, and at a financial institution in the United Kingdom; holding clients’ mail from delivery to the United States; issuing withdrawal checks from Credit Suisse’s correspondent bank in the United States; and taking actions to remove evidence of a U.S. client’s control over an account because the U.S. client intended to file a false and fraudulent income tax return. Moreover, Mr. Bergantino understood that some of his U.S. clients concealed their ownership and control of foreign financial accounts by holding those accounts in the names of nominee tax haven entities or structures, which were frequently created in the form of foreign partnerships, trusts, corporations or foundations.

Mr. Bergantino also admitted traveling to the United States to meet with clients, taking careful steps to conceal the purpose of his visits from U.S. law enforcement. He used private couriers to send clients’ account statements to the U.S. hotels where he stayed, so that he would not be caught traveling with clients’ statements in his possession, and obtained “travel” account statements for each client he intended to visit which were devoid of Credit Suisse’s logo and account or customer identification information, and used business cards that Credit Suisse provided that contained only his name and office number. On entering the United States, Mr. Bergantino provided misleading information regarding the nature and purpose of his visit to U.S. Customs and Border Protection authorities.

Mr. Bergantino had been a fugitive since 2011, unable to travel outside of Switzerland without risking arrest. He is the third fugitive to come to the United States and plead guilty to charges in this case. Two of Mr. Bergantino’s co-defendants, Andreas Bachmann and Josef Dörig, pleaded guilty to the superseding indictment in 2014 and were sentenced on March 27, 2015.
These cases demonstrate that tax evasion knows no geographic bounds and that the Justice Department will pursue these cases wherever the money travels. Not only will those individuals involved be held responsible, but also the entities that support and facilitate their conduct. The Justice Department remains committed to holding foreign financial institutions, corporate service providers, legal and financial professional firms, insurance companies and other entities accountable for their role in assisting U.S. taxpayers in concealing accounts and evading U.S. tax obligations.
In May 2014, Credit Suisse pleaded guilty to conspiring to aid and assist U.S. taxpayers in filing false returns and was sentenced in November 2014 to pay $2.6 billion in fines and restitution.

In December 2014, Bank Leumi, an international bank based in Israel, entered into a deferred prosecution agreement after the bank admitted to conspiring from at least 2000 until early 2011 to aid and assist U.S. taxpayers to prepare and present false tax returns by hiding income and assets in offshore bank accounts in Israel and other locations around the world. Bank Leumi admitted to helping U.S. clients conceal assets by, among other things, using assumed names or number accounts, providing hold mail service, sending private bankers to the United States to meet secretly with clients at hotels, parks and coffee shops to discuss the clients’ foreign account activity and assisting U.S. clients in using nominee corporations created in the British Virgin Islands, Panama, Belize and other foreign jurisdictions to hide their foreign accounts by concealing the U.S. client as the true beneficial owner. Under the terms of the deferred prosecution agreement, Bank Leumi paid the United States a total of $270 million (in U.S. currency) and continues to cooperate with respect to civil and criminal tax investigations.

In February 2016, the Justice Department entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with Bank Julius Baer, which admitted to conspiring with and knowingly assisting U.S. accountholders to hide billions of dollars in offshore accounts and evade U.S. taxes. Julius Baer admitted that it identified certain U.S. taxpayers only by code name or number and opened accounts for U.S. taxpayer-clients in the name of non-U.S. corporations, foundations, trusts, or other legal entities or non-U.S. relatives. As part of the deferred prosecution agreement, Julius Baer agreed to pay $547 million (in U.S. currency), including restitution for tax loss arising from the undeclared U.S. related accounts, disgorgement of gross fees paid with respect to these accounts, and a fine for its illegal conduct. In addition to the deferred prosecution agreement, two Julius Baer bankers, both of whom had been fugitives since 2011, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the IRS, to evade federal income taxes and to file false federal income tax returns.

In addition to our ongoing criminal tax investigations, in August 2013, the Justice Department announced the Swiss Bank Program, which provided a path for Swiss banks to resolve potential criminal liabilities in the United States. Banks already under criminal investigation related to their Swiss-banking activities, identified as Category 1 banks and all individuals were expressly excluded from the program. Under the program, Swiss banks about which we had little or no information came forward and self-identified as having helped U.S. taxpayers to hide foreign accounts and evade their U.S. tax obligations. In exchange for a non-prosecution agreement, these institutions, identified as Category 2 banks, made a complete disclosure of their cross-border activities, provided detailed information on accounts in which U.S. taxpayers have a direct or indirect interest, are cooperating in treaty requests for account information, are providing detailed information as to other banks that transferred funds into secret accounts or that accepted funds when secret accounts were closed and must cooperate in any related criminal and civil proceedings for the life of those proceedings. The banks were also required to pay appropriate penalties.

From March 30, 2015, through Jan. 27, 2016, the Justice Department executed 78 agreements with 80 Category 2 banks and imposed more than $1.3 billion in penalties. The Justice Department also signed a non-prosecution agreement with Finacor, a Swiss asset management firm, reflecting the Justice Department’s willingness to reach fair and appropriate resolutions with entities that come forward in a timely manner, disclose all relevant information regarding their illegal activities and cooperate fully and completely, including naming the individuals engaged in criminal conduct.

The banks participating in the program have revealed the names of thousands of U.S. accountholders, a substantial number of whom have voluntarily disclosed their accounts to the IRS and are providing information for treaty requests to obtain the names and account records of those individuals who have refused to waive Swiss bank secrecy. The program has driven thousands of taxpayers into the IRS voluntary disclosure programs. In October 2015, the IRS reported more than 54,000 voluntary offshore disclosures and the collection of more than $8 billion in taxes, penalties and interest. These figures have substantially increased since the program was announced in August 2013, due in part to the pressure applied by the Swiss banks on their accountholders to come into compliance. In addition, the number of Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts filed by U.S. taxpayers increased from just over 332,000 for calendar year 2007 to more than 1.1 million for calendar year 2015.

Tax Division attorneys and IRS agents are reviewing the tremendous volume of information received from banks participating in the Swiss Bank Program and those cooperating pursuant to the terms of other resolutions, as well as information received in response to our treaty requests and from whistleblowers, to pursue ongoing and new criminal tax investigations and to support civil enforcement efforts.

RSS COMMENTS
I’ve included these lengthy comments by Ms. Ciraolo because they emphasize that offshore non-compliance issues will not go away. Moreover, anyone thinking that they will wait out the Statute of Limitations on criminal and FBAR charges should become familiar with 18 USC 3287, the perhaps indefinite SOL extender so long as the War on Terrorism remains unconcluded. I intend to blog on this issue in the near future.

Although it is late in the game, there is still time for many taxpayers, whose names may not have been acquired by IRS or the DOJ, to come into compliance through an OVDP submission and thereby avoid criminal charges and the maximum possible FBAR penalties. For some who fall on the lower rungs of the tax-culpability ladder it may still be possible to employ the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures. A tax attorney experience in these matters should be consulted about which path a particular taxpayer should use to safely come into compliance.

Robert S. Steinberg, Esquire
http://www.steinbergtaxlaw.com

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STREAMIINED FILING COMPLIANCE PROCEDURES FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ADDRESS ONE CONCERN AND CREATE ANOTHER

The IRS occasionally posts updates to its Frequently Asked Questions for the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures, both for taxpayers residing in and outside of the United States. The last update of the FAQs was made by IRS on July 18, 2016.The post highlights two question and answers that are notable for taxpayers seeking Streamlined penalty relief.

QUESTION 9 – I realized that I made a mistake in my submission to the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures. How do I correct my mistake?

ANSWER: If you made a mistake in your submission to the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures and your returns previously submitted are not under examination, you may correct the error by providing amended returns and/or an amended Form 14653. On the top of the certification form, write “amended” in red ink, and on the top of the first page of each corrected amended tax return write “Amended Streamlined Foreign Offshore” in red ink. Explain all facts and circumstances concerning the error in the original Streamlined submission. See SFO FAQ 6 for relevant information to provide.
Mail the amended submission to:

IRS
3651 S. IH 35
MS 6063 AUSC
Attn.: Streamlined Procedures
Austin, TX 78741

Example 1 (amended tax returns and amended Form 14653):
The taxpayer made an SFO submission on February 1, 2016, and she just realized she failed to address a foreign financial asset in the narrative statement of facts on Form 14653. Additionally, she failed to include income from that foreign financial asset on her Forms 1040 for the tax periods in her Streamlined submission, tax years 2012, 2013, and 2014. She must provide amended income tax returns for tax years 2012, 2013, and 2014, an amended Streamlined Certification on Form 14653, and payment for increases in tax and interest. The amended Form 14653 must include all facts and circumstances concerning the error in the original Streamlined submission. Additionally, if the taxpayer made a mistake in filing her FBARs with FinCEN, she must efile amended FBARs with FinCEN.

Example 2 (amended Form 14653 only):
The taxpayer made an SFO submission on February 1, 2016, and she just realized she failed to address a foreign financial asset in the narrative statement of facts on Form 14653. She fully reported all income from the foreign financial asset on her income tax returns in her original Streamlined submission. She must provide an amended Streamlined Certification on Form 14653 including all facts and circumstances concerning the error in the original Streamlined submission. Additionally, if the taxpayer made a mistake in filing her FBARs with FinCEN, she must efile amended FBARs with FinCEN.
Note: This question and answer also appear as FAQ 15 in FAQs for Persons Residing in the U.S.

QUESTION 10 – I am eligible for a Social Security Number (SSN) but do not have one at this time. May I make a submission to the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures without an SSN? If I make a submission without an SSN, what are the consequences?

ANSWER: If you are eligible for an SSN but do not have one, you may not use the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures. The terms of the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures require a valid Taxpayer Identification Number (TIN). For U.S. citizens, resident aliens, and certain other individuals, the proper TIN is a valid SSN. If you make a submission to the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures without a valid SSN, then the IRS may process your returns after assigning an IRSN. See IRM 3.13.5.70 and 3.13.5.71. But taxpayers that make submissions to the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures without valid SSNs are not eligible for the favorable penalty provisions of the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures. The IRS will process such returns subject to penalties applicable outside of the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures.
Note: This answer also appears as Question 16 in FAQs for Persons Residing in the U.S.

RSS COMMENTS:
1. Obviously, it is far better to be careful the first time around and not omit income on the Streamlined amended returns, foreign accounts in the Form 14653 or important facts in the Non-willful Certification. But, if inadvertently an error is discovered following one’s Streamlined filling, all is not lost and FAQ 9 provides a procedure for corrections.

2. Regarding the inability to use Streamlined procedures absent a Social Security Number, the IRS position seems unnecessarily harsh for expats who may for many reasons not have obtained an SSN. IRS should be able to come up with a procedure for affected expats to submit Streamlined fillings for example with a temporary taxpayer ID number. The problem with the IRS posture is that it is difficult and time-consuming for an expatriate to obtain a Social Security Number. Not all countries have embassies or consulates that can assist and the process can take many months. In the meanwhile, an audit letter from IRS will make the expatriate ineligible for Streamlined penalty relief. This seems unfair, especially since expatriates frequently fall on the lower rungs of the tax-culpability ladder. Of course, if not negligent, they can obtain penalty relief under the reasonable cause exception rules; but, most would prefer the comfort and greater certainty in qualifying as non-willful, a more lenient standard than “reasonable cause, that the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures offer.

Robert S. Steinberg, Esquire
www.steinbergtaxlaw.com

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THE DANGER OF RELYING ON MEMORY IN STREAMLINED NONWILLFUL CERTIFICATIONS

A Wall Street Journal article of July 27, 2016, “How Inaccurate Memories Can Be Good for You,” by Sue Shelenbarger, discusses a number of studies that found benefits to people from even inaccurate memories. More important that accuracy is that fact that recalled events from the past help define ourselves and create plans for the future.

But, these benefits do not change the well-established fact that our belief in the reliability of our ability to recall events accurately is highly overrated. The studies show, writes the author, that “memories are not just a storehouse for facts, but a creative blend of fact and fiction.” The author cites numerous examples of how we distort memories. These unconscious distortions can slip into the narrative that clients will tell attorneys assisting with streamlined filings. Here are some examples.

• The client may fictionalize a past event or just imagine something that never actually happened.
• The client may confuse when the recalled event occurred.
• The client may accentuate the helpful details and ignore or diminish in importance other details.
• The client may change the memory to conform to what is helpful.
• The client may change the memory based on information gleaned from recent sources like the internet.

In fact, we alter a memory a bit every time we recall the happening from our memory banks. The attorney must be attuned to the fact that memory is inherently unreliable. In relating their stories about offshore accounts clients may infer positive facts and ignore inconvenient facts. These distortions may be unconscious tricks of memory or intentional misstatements. The internet, including this blog, contains much information about what facts will likely establish non-willfulness and what acts will likely be viewed by IRS as indicative of willful conduct. People facing a tax noncompliance problem may unconsciously weave these published facts into their own story.

Thus, absolute, unclarified statements of fact based solely on memory may turn out to be false statements. The non-willful certification is signed under penalties of perjury. Material misstatements could lead to a perjury charge. Thus, statements based solely on memory should be preceded by a clarification or disclaimer phrase, “to the best of my recollection and belief.”

Still, the attorney should carefully interview the client to try to prod and probe his or her memory, to challenge inconsistencies, to seek the truth about how the offshore account came to be opened and how it was operated, from where funds came and to what other accounts funds were transferred; and, to establish the real beneficial owners of the accounts.

To the maximum extent possible statements of fact should be based on documentary evidence such as the account opening documents, withdrawal and deposit slips, bank statements, correspondence and emails. The foreign financial institution will likely have these documents and may also have recordings of telephone discussions. Do not assume that the truth will not be uncovered.

Relying on memory alone in making statements in the streamlined non-willful certification is dangerous.  As previously stated, the attorney should add a clarification or disclaimer statement for any facts included in the non-willful certification that are based solely on the client’s memory.

The first rule for any attorney assisting clients out of compliance is “Do no harm.” Do not make things worse than they are already by filing an inaccurate non-willful certification. The non-willful certification is an affidavit that should be given the respect any document signed under penalties of perjury deserves. Caution should be the watchword. Make sure that the non-willful certification is truthful, detailed and completely transparent, stating both good and bad facts.

Robert S. Steinberg, Esquire
http://www.rss@steinbergtaxlaw.com

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MORE ON INHERENT RISK IN STREAMLINED NON-WILLFUL CERTIFICATIONS

I have posted often about the risk of using the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures, specifically about the risk of making a statement under penalties of perjury of the reasons the taxpayer believes his or her conduct in failing to comply with the filing and reporting obligations was non-willful. For example, see post of 3/12/16“For Whom the Bell Tolls on Streamlined Filings”).

These non-willful affidavits must be included in both Form 14653 for persons qualifying as residing outside of the U.S. and Form 14654 for persons not so qualifying and considered to be residing inside the U.S.

The IRS and Department of Justice continue to emphasize that they are mining the data received from third-party sources and will compare such information with the information included in Non-willful Certifications submitted with streamlined filings.

For example David Voreacos in “Justice Department examining declarations of innocence,” (Bloomberg Law, 7/1/16) quoted Department of Justice Tax Division trial attorney Nanette Davis from her comments at the NYU Tax Controversy Forum, “We’re taking all that data and scrubbing it for leads.” She is said to have also noted that some of the data received could lead to prompt indictments.

The data she is referring to relates mainly to that received from Swiss banks under the Swiss Bank Settlement Program. These banks who had entered into non-prosecution agreements with the DOJ were permitted under altered Swiss bank secrecy rules to hand over account information including communications and recordings of conversations. Thus, taxpayers who had accounts with any of these Swiss Banks or with Swiss banks under criminal investigation by the DOJ (Category 1 banks) who attempt to make streamlined filings are at great risk. But, this warning also applies to taxpayers who had accounts at any bank or financial organization on the IRS list of enabling banks that subject an OVDP participant to the higher 50% miscellaneous offshore penalty (See OVDP FAQ 7.2). These individuals probably should be entering the OVDP if they still qualify, that is, if IRS or DOJ still does not have their names).

As for streamlined filings, the lynchpin to a successful effort, continues to be a non-willful certification that is complete, truthful and accurate, and, which states both the helpful facts as well as facts that are not helpful or which tend to imply willfulness. One can and should explain the bad facts but trying to cherry-pick facts may get the taxpayer into a heap of trouble. That troubles-heap could include criminal sanctions, substantial civil FBAR penalties, and income tax assessments, interest and penalties for all years open under statutes of limitations provided for in the Internal Revenue Code, Bank Secrecy Act and general federal criminal code (Title 18 of the United States Code). For an extensive discussion of the impact of statutes of limitation see post of 8/10/15, “Statutes of Limitation and Streamlined Filings or File Forward Strategies.”

Robert S. Steinberg, Esquire
http://www.steinbergtaxlaw.com

 

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COMPARISON CHART – OVDP VS. STREAMLINED FILING COMPLIANCE PROCEDURES

COMPARISON CHART – OVDP VERSUS STREAMLINED

© 2016 by Robert S. Steinberg, Esquire. All rights reserved

http://www.steinbergtaxlaw.com

 

CHARACTERISTIC OVDP STREAMLNED
Up Front Qualification? Yes -Names clearance (30 days) & Provisional acceptance after OVDP letter (45 days) – CI reviews for specific info received about taxpayer & reviews OVDP letter for completeness. No – Not told up-front

if qualifying

 

 

 

 

 

Eligibility requirements

Individuals, estates, or entities – E.G, corps, partnerships, trusts (FAQ 13)

Offshore but can include Domestic

 

 

 

Generally, Unreported income

Not presently under examination – civil or criminal

• Civil exam start – receipt of audit letter (i.e., 2202, 2202B, 2205A

• Exam end – signed 4549 & IRS acceptance letter 987 (agreed) received

• No open NOD

Individuals or estates – not entities

(U.S. Citizen, Green Card, SPT.

For offshore but can include domestic

Generally, Unreported income (see FAQ 7 for persons living in US)

 

 

Not presently under examination – same meaning as for OVDP

Source of income test

 

 

Non-willful certification

 

 

No residency test

 

 

 

 

 

Must cooperate

 

 

Make good faith arrangements to pay

 

Meet requirements of IRM 9.5.11.9 which encompasses the above.

 

.

 

Legal source

 

 

 

N/A – but if op-out must support reasonable cause or non-willful or mitigation

 

Residency test – 2 groups

·         Outside US – No US abode (where live) & 330 days out.in any look back yr.

·         Living inside US.- Fail to meet living outside test

No cooperation required but see IRM Vol. Disclosure rules

 

Must pay with filing –   Probably could request installments – Call OVDP Hotline.

Streamlined filing might meet IRM Vol Disclosure test if complies with IRM 9.5.11.9

Legal source

 

 

Legal source

 

Must submit under penalties of perjury – see below

Non-willful = Negligence •

• Inadvertence • Mistake

• Conduct resulting from good faith misunderstanding of requirements of law.

Joint of separate returns? Spouses may submit jointly or separately or only one may submit Joint original return – must file joint amended return.

Spouse won’t sign – submit joint return with one signature if return shows net increase in tax due.

 

 Returns eligible

 

 

Due diligence required?

Filed or unfiled

 

 

Yes

Only filed 1040s or 1041s if living in U.S.

File & unfiled if outside U.S.

 

Yes

Years included Eight for which due date of 1040 passed

FBAR inclusion linked to 1040 years included. (due 90 days following provisional acceptance)

3 for which due date of 1040 passed; 6 for which due date of FBAR passed.

Exclude compliant years from submission.

Criminal amnesty? Yes No, but perhaps Vol Disclosure
Income tax penalty 20% accuracy related, FTF (if delinquent returns filed), FTP Outside US

None for amended or delinquent returns.

• Living inside US

None – for amended returns.

• If audited

None for reported assets or income as long as original return not fraudulent & FBAR not willful.

Any additional deficiency subject to all penalties.

• Previously assessed penalties – not abated.

 

Misc. Offshore Penalty 27.5% to 50% if any account with enabler bank at any time during OVDP period. Living out of U.S. – none

Living in U.S. – 5% (if non-willful)

(audit – as for income. Tax)

Asset Base for Offshore Penalty

 

 

 

Valuation

 

All assets connected to non-compliance – FAQ 35

But, not assets for which income was reported – FAQ 45

Any reasonable method

Foreign Financial Assets not correctly reported on FBAR or 8938 or income on such assets not reported even if asset on FBAR or 8938.

Year-end balances.

Amount penalty applied to Highest aggregate value for year in OVDP 8-year period Highest year-end aggregate balance in Streamlined six-year period
Certainty of result – civil?

 

 

Certainty of result – criminal?

Yes as to foreign issues – unless opt-out. No as to domestic issues.

Yes

No

 

 

No

SOLs Applied?

 

 

872 Required to be signed?

No – unless opt-out as to foreign issues.

Yes – domestic issues if audit

• Yes & FBAR extension

Yes – In theory IRS can audit back more than 3 years – but

would frustrate stated goal.

• No 872 or FBAR extension

Time to complete 1 ½ year to 2 years Usually 1-3 months to filing
Automatic audit? No (open only as to domestic issues) No (but all issues fair game)

Penalties – see above

Public disclosure? No No
Suggested for

 

 

 

 

Tax criminal, or

Civilly willful

Non-willful or reasonable cause but wanting to cut risks of non-willful FBAR penalty & income tax penalties if quiet filing.
Special PFIC rules available? Yes, FAQ 10 No
Document production scope Large – FAQ 25 Non-willful certification
Cost Extremely expensive Expensive
Phases Five: (1)names clearance (2) OVDP Letter.(3) Package submission (4) Agent review (5) Closing agreement One: File returns with Non-Willful Certification (Form 14653 or 14654)
Concluded by Signing Form 906, Closing Agreement on Final Determination Covering Specific Matters No document signed – No acknowledgement – Must wait out SOLs.
Payment due With package submission but not being strictly enforced With Streamlined Filing
Foreign entity reporting relief? Yes – For nominee entities – if Statement of Abandoned Entities filed.(FAQ 29) No- all required foreign reporting forms must be filed.
Relief for Canadian Registered Retirement Income Fund – failure to elect Treaty deferral? Yes – under Rev. Proc. 2014-55 (FAQs 54.2-54.4) Yes – under Rev. Proc. 2014-55 (FAQs 8 – 12 for persons living in US & FAQs 2 – 5 for persons living outside the US)
Last 3 years compliant – but FBARS not filed for years 4-6 going back N/A – if not criminal or civilly willful If no reasonable cause – file Streamlined using FAQ 7 for per persons living in US).
Posted in OFFSHORE VOLUNTARY DISCLOSURE PROGRAM, STREAMLINED FILING COMPLIANCE PROCEDURES | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

WAITING IS A DANGEROUS GAME FOR THOSE STILL NOT IN COMPLIANCE WITH FOREIGN REPORTING RULES

Over 55,000 taxpayers have come into compliance by entering the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program. An untold number of less culpable non-willful taxpayers have come into compliance under the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures.  Some with reasonable cause have used the delinquent FBAR procedures or delinquent foreign reporting form procedures or have made “quiet disclosures.”   But, many more are still out of compliance with U.S. tax law.  Those still out in the cold, so to speak, run the gamut of culpability ranging from not negligent (reasonable cause) to non-willful (streamlined eligible) to civilly willful but not criminal to criminal conduct.

Whatever the reasons for not having come into compliance the time is growing very late for taking action that will avoid the most severe FBAR civil penalty or criminal indictment. Said simply, it is becoming more difficult to find how someone would not have known about the FBAR and foreign reporting requirements as more and more is written about these matters in the press.  That is not to say, however, that it has become, as the one Department of Justice Tax Division senior official has recently indicated, inconceivable that one failing to file a 2015 FBAR would not have known about the filing obligation.  But, it is definitely more difficult to establish facts that explain how a person would not have known.

Not only is it becoming continuously more difficult to establish non-willfulness for the Streamlined Program, but it is becoming increasingly more likely that one’s non-compliance will be discovered or made public. A taxpayer becomes ineligible for the OVDP if the IRS or DOJ have identified him or her as being connected to offshore non-compliance. Taxpayers under examination (received an audit letter) are ineligible for the Streamlined Program.  Thus, sticking your head in the sand can have disastrous results. You are virtually a letter away from a much more expensive proposition to come into compliance or, even worse, possible incarceration.

Think you have a good hiding place? Think your bank or advisors keep secrets?  It the so called “Panama Papers” proves anything it is that the expectation of complete secrecy and privacy are fantasy.  Somebody always knows, governments are always snooping, criminals always obtain and sell information and hackers always breach security systems for the satisfaction of revealing private information.  Those who still think otherwise are deluding themselves. The Swiss veil of secrecy was pierced and other walls of secrecy are crumbling all over the globe.  And the news will get worse, not better.  Just a few developments:

  • Already, some 100 countries have adopted the OECD Common Reporting Standard (CRS) for sharing information aimed at deterring tax evasion.
  • Beginning in 2017 some 60 early adopters of the CRS will begin to automatically exchange 2016 financial information (AEI) for financial institutions including banks, brokers, custodians, etc. The information reported will include information such as the account holder name, address, country of residence, date of birth, account number, account balances and, gross earnings
  • The G-20 countries are considering further sanctions on tax havens that refuse to adopt the OECD information sharing regime.
  • The DOJ is marshalling information gleaned from 100 banks through the Swiss Bank Settlement Program. The DOJ and IRS will be carefully reviewing information obtained from these banks and under treaty requests. They also have information from whistleblowers and cooperating witnesses.
  • The U.S. Treasury is considering rules that will require the disclosure of beneficial owners of shell entities formed in the U.S.
  • The IRS has amassed a large data-base from OVDP submissions that enables it to cross reference and cross check names in search, countries, banks, enablers in search of other tax evaders.
  • The DOJ and IRS are extending their investigatory tentacles beyond Switzerland to the Caribbean, Middle East, Asia and Central America. The net is being cast farther and wider.
  • FATCA coming online has resulted in foreign banks implementing due diligence practices with regard to depositors. U.S. citizens are being asked to complete Form W-9.
  • The DOJ has opened a criminal investigation regarding matters pertainig to the Panama Papers.  This development should come as no surprise to anyone.

Moreover, the IRS continues to stress that the OVDP and Streamlined Programs are not permanent programs and may be ended or changed at any time. Recall that the Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty has already been increased four times going from 20% (2009) to 25% (2011) to 27.5% (2012) and to 50% for those with accounts at listed enabler foreign financial institutions (2014).

The net is tightening around those who are still out of compliance. When someone has dug himself or herself into a hole, the first step to solving the problem is to stop digging. Fleeing from one bank to another or one country to another digs the hole deeper.  Those who engage in funds-flight are simply creating evidence of wilfulness.

Stop digging the hole deeper. Consult with a tax attorney experienced in these matters. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.  The OVDP may be appropriate for one taxpayer and may be overkill for another.  Similarly, the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures may be safe, if handled properly, for one taxpayer but very risky for another.  Filing quietly based on reasonable cause may also still be appropriate for some who can clearly establish that their actions in not filing did not amount to negligence.

Deliberations about which course has the best chance of arriving at a safe harbor for a particular taxpayer is a matter for the experienced tax attorney. CPAs and other non-lawyers, or, even lawyers who lack experience in this practice area, should not advise taxpayers about whether they should enter the OVDP or employ another means by which to come into compliance.. Further, whatever path is chosen, the execution of the plan should be overseen by the tax attorney.  Filing returns under these programs should never simply be handed over the return preparer, however competent a return preparer he or she may be.  The entire process, whether OVDP, Streamlined or quiet disclosure, is definitively legal in nature, with criminal possibilities tottering about if not handled properly.

Robert S. Steinberg, Esquire
www.steinbergtaxlaw.com

 

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