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IRS to end Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program in September

The IRS has announced that it will begin winding down its Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) on September 28, 2018. Under the OVDP, a taxpayer with undisclosed foreign assets or income could come forward to pay tax, interest and reduced penalties in exchange for immunity from criminal prosecution. The IRS will continue its separate Streamlined OVDP, which is only available to certain taxpayers unaware of their international reporting obligations.

The IRS made the announcement now in order to give taxpayers who may still want to come forward time to do so. “Taxpayers have had several years to come into compliance with U.S. tax laws under this program,” said Acting IRS Commissioner David Kautter in a statement. “All along, we have been clear that we would close the program at the appropriate time, and we have reached that point. Those who still wish to come forward have time to do so.”

The program has been very successful, collecting more than US$11 billion in tax, interest and penalties from more than 50,000 taxpayers. With advances in international reporting and information-sharing regimes, the IRS has also aggressive pursued taxpayers who have tried to hide assets abroad. Since 2009, it has indicted 1,545 taxpayers for criminal violations related to international activities with 671 indicted specifically on international criminal tax violations.

Even with the OVDP ending, the IRS will not stop vigorously pursuing international tax evaders. Any US taxpayer who may have unreported assets or income abroad should come forward now and take advantage of the OVDP while it is still available. Otherwise, come September, such taxpayers could face huge penalties and potentially even prison.

About Denton’s Tax Controversy

Dentons’ Tax Controversy team has successfully represented over 100 clients in various OVPD and streamlined OVPD proceedings, addressing a wide variety of tax compliance issues from taxpayers all across the globe. In addition, Dentons is one of few firms that has experience litigating Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR) penalties under the Bank Secrecy Act, which are almost always at issue in OVDP proceedings.

If you would like to discuss the above further, please contact any of the members of the Dentons Tax Controversy team.

Update on Tax Reform

The more-or-less final version of the tax reform bill is here and Congress is expected to vote on it this week.

Dentons has done an extensive write-up of the provisions of the bill, which can be found here.

 

 

Tax Reform is Here

Dentons is covering all of the latest news on the various tax reform plans that the United States Congress is currently considering.

The latest about the Senate’s plan can be found here.

Check back for more updates.

The Streamline Program Turns Two

The Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedure (SFCP) is now two years old. The SFCP was designed for taxpayers whose failure to disclose their offshore accounts was “non-willful,” due to a lack of understanding or knowledge of reporting requirements for U.S. persons. Unlike the full blown Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”), the SFCP places the burden of proving that the taxpayer’s noncompliance was willful on the IRS once the taxpayer has asserted that their non-compliance was not willful. Taxpayers who’s tax returns and informational filing requirements satisfy the SFCP are only required to file tax returns for the previous 3 years and FBAR’s for the previous 6 years while taxpayers in the OVDP must file tax and information returns and FBAR’s for the previous eight years.

One point of contention for taxpayers who entered into the OVDP before the SFCP was introduced in 2014, and whose noncompliance would have qualified them for the SFCP, is that they should be able to switch to the SFCP and take advantage of the reduced penalties on the income tax liability and file only 3 years of income tax returns. While the reduced miscellaneous penalty is available under the OVDP by requesting transitional relief, such relief is not guaranteed and often denied.

Recently, a group of taxpayers brought suit in the Washington D.C. District Court to challenge the IRS’s position that taxpayers who were enlisted in the OVDP prior to the implementation of the SFCP, cannot have their matter transferred to the SFCP. The taxpayers in this case contend they were being treated unfairly under this system as they were no different than those who came forward later in time and entered the SFCP.

Unfortunately, the court did not decide the merits of the case. Rather, the court held that the suit hinders the IRS’s ability to make decisions regarding the enforcement of tax liabilities and dismissed the suit as being barred under the Tax Anti-Injunction Act (26 U.S.C. § 7421), which prohibits suits that restrain the assessment and collection of taxes.   This case highlights the difficulties that can arise when the Service creates settlement programs independent from regulatory oversight and commentary.

The Ninth Circuit Holds Equitable Recoupment Not Time-Barred

In a taxpayer win, the Ninth Circuit recently reversed the Tax Court and held equitable recoupment was not time barred.  Revah v. Comm’r, No. 11-70211 (9th Cir. Sept. 17, 2014) (unpublished opinion).  Relying on longstanding precedent, the Ninth Circuit held the taxpayers were not statutory barred from applying for equitable recoupment because it’s permitted even with respect to an untimely refund claim.  Thus, even though the taxpayers failed to timely file their refund claims, “untimeliness is not a ground upon which the tax court may deny equitable recoupment.”  Id.

Equitable recoupment is a judicial doctrine that applies where one transaction or event is subject to two taxes based on inconsistent theories.  The equitable recoupment doctrine “allows a litigant to avoid the bar of an expired statutory limitation period” and “prevents an inequitable windfall to a taxpayer or to the Government that would otherwise result from the inconsistent tax treatment of a single transaction, item, or event affecting the same taxpayer or a sufficiently related taxpayer.”  Menard, Inc. v. Comm’r, 130 T.C. 54, 62 (2008).  To establish equitable recoupment a taxpayer must prove: (1) the overpayment or deficiency for which recoupment is sought by way of offset is barred by an expired period of limitation, (2) the time-barred overpayment or deficiency arose out of the same transaction, item, or taxable event as the overpayment or deficiency before the Court, (3) the transaction, item, or taxable event has been inconsistently subjected to two taxes, and (4) if the transaction, item, or taxable event involves two or more taxpayers, there is sufficient identity of interest between the taxpayers subject to the two taxes that the taxpayers should be treated as one.  Id. at 62-63.  In practice, taxpayers often have difficulty mounting arguments of equitable recoupment against the IRS, although the Government typically has more success in this area.

The IRS audited and made adjustments to the Revahs’ 1999 and 2000 tax returns related to inventory and bad debt, and resulting in a decrease in the net operated losses the taxpayers reported on their 1997 and 1998 returns.  The taxpayers accepted the adjustments assuming that, as the examiner acknowledged, they would be able to reduce income in 2001 through amended returns.  After the exam and in 2005, the taxpayers filed amended returns in accordance with the examiner’s adjustments, but the refund claims were denied as untimely.  The taxpayers petitioned the Tax Court for relief asserting the equitable recoupment doctrine.  The Tax Court (Judge Cohen) found the taxpayers’ inability to use the NOLs to reduce tax liabilities was not the result of the inequitable application of inconsistent theories of taxation contemplated by the equitable recoupment doctrine, and thereby denied the petition.  The Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded in favor of the doctrine’s application, illustrating that there is hope for future taxpayers seeking to offset current IRS liabilities with past credits under the doctrine.