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Choice of OVDP Program- Irrevocable?

Several taxpayers sued the IRS to remove them from the OVDP program and allow them entrance into the streamline program, an alternative program open to taxpayers after July 1, 2014.  The government moved to bar the suit under the Anti-Injunction Act.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit agreed with the government, finding the OVDP / Streamline switch would “restrain” the government’s ability to collect tax if allowed.

The taxpayers raised a number of alternative arguments including that the alternative relief provisions of the OVDP (i.e., the transitional relief) violated the Administrative Procedure Act, for failure to provide proper notice and comment as well as equal treatment of similarly situated taxpayers.  It is notable that the IRS offshore voluntary disclosure programs did not receive publishing or commentary before being issued, changed and revised since their first issuance in 2009.  The argument did not persuade the Court.  The case is Maze v. IRS, D.C. Cir., No 16-05265.  Questions regarding the various IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Programs can be directed to Jim Mastracchio, (james.mastracchio@dentons.com).  Mr. Mastracchio’s comments to Bloomberg BNA regarding the decision can be found in the July 17, 2017 issue of the Daily Tax Report.

The Other Testimony on June 8th

While it seems the world was watching the testimony of the former FBI director yesterday, another hearing was underway.  The Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Tax Division provided a report to Congress on the Tax Division’s activities and requests.  Staffing and funding requests for the next fiscal year remain about the same, $107 million and 499 direct employees.

Included in the 18-page report were examples of criminal prosecutions and investigations involving five main areas of focus: (1) abusive tax shelters; (2) offshore tax evasion; (3) employment tax enforcement; (4) stolen identity refund fraud; and (5) tax defiers.  Notably, there was a large uptick in the number of criminal employment tax enforcement investigations and prosecutions.  The report suggested continued focus in the employment tax arena.

Also noted in the report was the amount of information received through the DOJ/Swiss bank settlement program and related treaty requests for additional information.  Whistleblowers were also mentioned as a source of off-shore investigations.  The report mentioned that new criminal and civil cases were being pursued as the tremendous amount of information is still being reviewed by the government.

There was no mention of changing the current focus in the above mentioned areas nor was there any mention of the termination of the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program or Streamline procedures, although there seems to be some rumblings that those programs may be ending in 2017.

All of this means taxpayers should take advantage of the settlement programs if tax non-comliance is an issue.  Contact Jim Mastracchio for questions about this post or IRS OVDP programs in general James.Mastracchio@dentons.com.

OVDP Campaign – Declines and Withdrawals

In January, the IRS released a list of 13 audit campaigns designed to focus resources on areas of concern for the IRS examination teams.  Since that time, additional campaign areas have been added to the list of IRS priorities.  Most recently, comments regarding the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program campaign have clarified the focus of this particular initiative.  Taxpayers selected for review will include those taxpayers who made an application for pre-clearance into one of the OVDP programs available since 2009, but were denied entry.  Historically, a denial occurred if the taxpayer was under civil examination, criminal investigation, or the foreign account activity was already known to the IRS or DOJ Tax Division.

The second prong of the campaign focuses on those taxpayers who withdrew from participation after receiving pre clearance but before acceptance into one of the OVDP programs.  Recent clarifications revealed that an “opt out” was not part of the campaign- given the fact that opt-outs or IRS removals made once the taxpayer was accepted into the OVDP, receive almost immediate civil examinations as part of the on-going OVDP procedure.

“While we have represented taxpayers who were denied entrance into the OVDP programs over the past eight years, a renewed focus on those individuals raises the stakes for this class of taxpayer,” said Jim Mastracchio, Chair of Dentons U.S. Tax Controversy Practice.  Under the campaign audit process, taxpayers will be evaluated as (i) subsequently compliant, (ii) requiring soft-letters for immaterial noncompliance, or (iii) regular examination process.  “It is the latter group of taxpayers with the most exposure to civil and possible criminal referral,” added Mastracchio.

We will provide additional information as this particular campaign progresses.  Questions regarding the OVDP process, Streamline program, or litigation of FBAR penalties can be forwarded to James.Mastracchio@Dentons.com, (202) 496-7251.

IRS Announces 13 Campaigns – New Focus

The Large Business and International division of the IRS has restructured its approach to examinations.  Yesterday, it released its list of 13 focus areas for issue- based examinations and concerns for compliance.   One of those areas involves the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.  Entitled, “OVDP Declines-Withdrawals Campaign,” this area of focus involves taxpayers who have applied for the offshore voluntary disclosure program through the pre-clearance process, but were either denied access to the program or withdrew from the program.

What happens next?  “The IRS will address continued noncompliance through a variety of treatment streams including examination.”  Examining those taxpayers who could not enter the program, because they are under civil audit, criminal investigation, or the IRS is otherwise aware of the account(s) at issue in the disclosure, is expected. Further, those who violated the law intentionally might expect a criminal tax investigation or possible referral for prosecution, depending on the circumstances and reasons for denial into the program.

We have seen an uptick in audits and FBAR inquiries associated with taxpayers who have not come forward, and certainly anyone who opts-out of the OVDP program is subject to an immediate audit of their tax returns and FBAR filings.  “Making this effort a ‘campaign’ certainly raises the awareness of the programs and need to quickly come into compliance and assures that resources are available to support the audits and other investigations,” says Jim Mastracchio, Co-Chair of Dentons National Tax Controversy Practice.

Foreign Exchange Rates and the Exit Tax

We have seen several advantages from the increase in the U.S. dollar strength against foreign currencies when tackling the Exit Tax.  Several clients have dropped below the $2 million thresholds and others find they have much lower gains on deemed sales when calculating the tax.  While dollar strength can cause other issues, abandoning green cards and U.S. citizenship renunciations are seeing benefits.  For advice regarding U.S. taxpayer status, filing requirements and related disclosure requirements contact Jim Mastracchio, james.mastracchio@dentons.com (202) 496-7251 for a confidential consult.

2017 US Tax Filing News

As we head into a new year, some tax reporting news to keep in mind.  The first day that you can file your 2016 US individual income tax return by paper or by electronic submission is January 23, 2017.  The regular filing season ends April 18, 2017, as April 15 falls on a Saturday and Monday, April 17 is Emancipation Day observed in Washington, DC.

While we expect tax law changes to be announced in 2017, here are some current standard dollar limits:   Start of the Top Tax Bracket for joint filers (39.6%)  –  $466,950 (2016); $470,700 (2017); Gift Tax Annual Exclusion  $14,000 (2016 and 2017); Personal Exemptions $4,050 (2016 and 2017).

And don’t forget, those with foreign accounts or signatory authority over non-US accounts must file the FBAR (FinCEN Form 114) on the due date of the US Income tax return.  If you seek an extension for your income tax return you can seek an extension to file the FBAR.  Other rules apply to U.S. persons residing outside of the United States.  We will keep you posted on these and other new tax developments as they arise in what will be a busy tax news year.

 

 

 

Data Protection and the Swiss – DOJ Settlement Program

The program for non-prosecution agreements for Swiss Banks is largely settled. However, in a ruling by the Swiss Courts a few weeks ago, a bank in the Canton of Ticino was prohibited from releasing the names of two Swiss attorneys who acted as proxies for American customer accounts. Further, the name of a law firm who assisted U.S. persons was also withheld.

The participating bank was in the process of complying with the Settlement Program and it intended to release the names of the lawyers and law firm as part of the disclosure process, but a suit followed to block the release of the information.  Ultimately, the Swiss court held that the names should be protected from disclosure under its laws. The Court also found that the U.S. lacks similar legislation to provide adequate data protection.

Last week, U.S. authorities have indicated that by mid-November an expanded list of banks and facilitators would be published. That list mandates a 50% penalty, as opposed to a 27.5% penalty, for U.S. persons entering the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.   For those U.S. persons who have not yet come into compliance with their U.S. tax obligations, time is growing short. Please contact Jim Mastracchio with any questions regarding the IRS disclosure programs (james.mastracchio@dentons.com).

DOJ and IRS Expanding Offshore Enforcement Efforts: Financial Institutions and Individual Taxpayers Beware

A few months ago, we posited that the DOJ and IRS were expanding offshore enforcement efforts beyond Europe, with a likely new target of those efforts being Singapore. Recent developments confirm as much, and suggest that financial institutions and individual taxpayers alike should take heed.

A DOJ representative recently commented at a meeting of the Tax Section of the American Bar Association that the DOJ and IRS are in the process of identifying new targets and areas with potential criminal tax exposure. No specific jurisdictions were identified, but the data and information at the government’s disposal is vast. It has been amassing information from multiple sources, including the Swiss bank program, the offshore voluntary disclosure program (OVDP), and John Doe summonses.

On top of that, a number of countries have been automatically exchanging information with the U.S. government under intergovernmental agreements (IGAs) to implement the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). The list of countries with IGAs is growing – Singapore, for example, will soon be among them. In August 2016, the United States and Singapore announced they will enter into a TIEA and an IGA, possibly as early as the end of 2017.

Those U.S. persons with bank accounts in foreign jurisdictions who have yet to come into compliance with U.S. tax filing requirements have very little time.  In addition to the increased level of material being sent to the U.S., the DOJ has announced that it will be adding approximately 40 more “facilitators” to a list of banks and institutions that trigger the higher 50-percent penalty under the OVDP.  As we have previously noted, the IRS has a series of voluntary disclosure programs and other options to come into compliance with U.S. filings, some of which can give rise to zero penalties.  The primary program imposes a penalty at 27.5% – with the higher 50% penalty being associated with the institutions on the list.  According to DOJ, taxpayers can avoid this higher penalty for the 40 new facilitators, if they make a voluntary disclosure by November 15, 2016.

If you have questions about this post or the IRS disclosure options, please contact Jim Mastracchio (james.mastracchio@dentons.com) or Jennifer Walrath (jennifer.walrath@dentons.com).

Leak of 1.3 Million Files from Bahamas Corporate Registry Provides Yet Another Starting Point for Government Investigations

Five months after the Panama Papers leak of offshore client files, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) have released data from the corporate registry in the Bahamas pertaining to approximately 1.3 client million files. This information was originally leaked to of journalists at the German newspaper Süddeutche Zeitung, who reached out to the ICIJ to facilitate the public release of this information.

The Bahamas are yet another jurisdiction often referred to as a tax haven due to its secrecy laws and structuring possibilities attributable to the absence of taxes on company profits, capital gains, income and inheritance. The Bahamas claims to be a transparent jurisdiction with a public register of companies, but the information shared from the seat of government in Nassau is limited. Although the Bahamas Corporate Registry is supposed to contain the names and addresses of all directors and officers, there is no requirement to register the owners of a company with the authorities. Unlike the Cayman Islands and Jersey, the Bahamas has not responded to public pressure to introduce government-held registers of beneficial owners.

The leaked information contains the names of directors and some shareholders at nearly 176,000 shell companies, trusts and foundations registered between 1980 and 2016 in the Bahamas. Specifically, the data released include the leaked company’s name, its date of creation, the physical and mailing address in the Bahamas and, in some cases, the company’s directors.   The leaked documents also include the names of 539 registered agents, who served as intermediaries between Bahamian authorities and customers who wish to create an offshore company. Among them is Mossack Fonseca, the law firm whose leaked files formed the basis of the Panama Papers, which set up 15,915 entities in the Bahamas.

Because the secrecy laws in the Bahamas do not require information relating to beneficial owners, ICIJ noted that the information on the directors named in connection with a Bahamian firm may not “truly control the company or act as nominees, employees-for-hire who serve as the face of the company but have no involvement in its operations.” However, the ICIJ stated in its report that the data released involved the basic building blocks of offshore companies, which can be used by investigators as “starting points on the trail of wrongdoing.”

Those US persons who have not come into compliance with their US tax obligations have yet another incentive to seek legal counsel. Questions regarding this post or the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Programs can be sent to Jim Mastracchio (james.mastracchio@dentons.com) or Sunny Dhaliwal (sunny.dhaliwal@dentons.com).

Israel Cleared to Implement FATCA and Report on U.S. Persons

A recent decision by the Israeli Supreme Court has cleared the way for FATCA implementation by lifting a temporary injunction on the disclosure of information to U.S. authorities under Israel’s intergovernmental agreement (IGA). In connection with the decision, the Israeli government has agreed to give individual taxpayers at least thirty days to object to the inclusion of their information in data transferred to U.S. authorities under the IGA.

The government also agreed to delay the implementation of the IGA to September 30, 2016. Israeli financial institutions now have until September 20, 2016, to provide the Israeli Tax Authority with the required data on U.S. taxpayers. This is a notable development in Israel where, reportedly, as much as five percent of the population – upwards of 300,000 people – holds U.S. citizenship.

The decision arose from Republicans Overseas-Israel, et al. v. Israel, et al, where the plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of FATCA implementation under Israeli law, claiming that the IGA’s required reporting to U.S. authorities violated Israel’s sovereignty. Earlier in September, the Israeli Supreme Court issued a temporary injunction preventing the disclosure of financial information to U.S. authorities under the IGA. In its more recent decision, however, the Court rejected the challenge to Israeli sovereignty and analyzed the claim as an issue of privacy. The Court considered whether the privacy of U.S. taxpayers was being infringed and, if so, whether the harm was reasonable. It assumed that there was some infringement on privacy, but found that the privacy concerns were outweighed by the need for Israel to abide by its agreement to provide international financial cooperation, and that Plaintiffs failed to show that the State did not limit the impact on privacy as much as was possible.

For those U.S. persons with Israeli bank accounts who have yet to come into compliance with U.S. tax filings, there is little time remaining. The IRS has announced a series of voluntary disclosure programs and options, some of which can give rise to zero penalties. Should you have questions regarding this post or the IRS disclosure options, please contact Jim Mastracchio (james.mastracchio@dentons.com) or Jennifer Walrath (jennifer.walrath@dentons.com).

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.

Next Up: Singapore? Summonses Could Hit More Global Financial Institutions

A recent summons showdown with UBS shows that DOJ and the IRS are far from done with offshore enforcement efforts, and are expanding those efforts beyond Europe Among the most likely of new targets is Singapore, and since there is no Tax Information Exchange Agreement (TIEA) or other tax treaty between the United States and Singapore, foreign financial institutions could see IRS summonses being served on their U.S. branches.

Such summonses often are referred to as Bank of Nova Scotia summons. In the recent case involving UBS, the IRS served a third-party summons on a branch of UBS AG in the United States seeking records for an account at UBS in Singapore held by a U.S. citizen living in Hong Kong UBS refused to turn over the records on grounds that Singapore’s bank secrecy laws prohibited disclosure without permission from the accountholder. The IRS sought to enforce the summons in federal court – and the case was teed up for litigation – until the accountholder consented to release of the records and UBS complied with the summons. The IRS thereafter withdrew the enforcement action.

We cannot know whether UBS or the government ultimately would have won the day in court. Many factors are taken into consideration in such enforcement actions, and past cases have had varied results. What we do know is that the government maintains the summons served on UBS was enforceable, and was willing to go the distance. With Singapore – and potentially other jurisdictions without TIEA’s or tax treaties – on the enforcement horizon, more global financial institutions are likely to see IRS summonses coming their way.

Automatic Information Exchange: Did the Dog Just Catch the Bus?

John Harrington recently published an article in Tax Notes Today (available through the Lexis paywall) regarding eight potential challenges presented by an international automatic exchange system. 

On February 13, the OECD released details of its proposed common reporting standard, or CRS.  With the release of this report, the OECD and G-20, like the dog intent on catching a bus that it has long chased and finally caught, now have to figure out what do to with the prize they have captured.  Harrington discusses how an automatic information exchange could affect taxpayers, financial intermediaries, and governments.

IRS Issues PFIC Regulations: A New Start to an Old Beginning

On December 30, 2013, the US Treasury Department (the “IRS”) published a package of proposed, temporary, and final regulations relating to Passive Foreign Investment Companies (“PFICs”) and their shareholders. The most significant component of the package is its guidance on the new annual filing requirements for PFIC shareholders, but the package also includes other, generally minor, changes to existing rules governing PFICs and their shareholders.

The IRS issued the regulations just in time to meet a self-imposed year-end deadline: the IRS wanted the new reporting rules to become effective before 2013 ended so that the new reporting rules would apply during the next filing season. Still, the package includes good news for some PFIC shareholders since the new regulations eliminate a retroactive filing requirement for 2011 and 2012 taxable years that had been threatened in a 2011 IRS notice.

The new regulations address in a limited way a package of technical PFIC regulations originally proposed by the IRS in 1992. Because the new package includes, in a modified form, a small portion of the 1992 proposed regulations, the new package withdraws that portion of the 1992 proposed regulations. The remaining (and outstanding) portion of the 1992 proposed regulations includes provisions that have been severely criticized. So, US investors and tax practitioners must await further IRS action to clarify the status of those proposed provisions and the interpretation of the applicable statutory rules.

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US Government Announces 6-Month Delay in Certain FATCA Rules

Recognizing the practical and logistical problems faced by US withholding agents and foreign financial institutions (“FFIs”), and the uncertainty faced by many FFIs and foreign governments about whether an intergovernmental agreement (“IGA”) will be in effect by January 1, 2014, US tax authorities on July 12, 2013, issued Notice 2013-43. Notice 2013-43 states that the US Treasury Department and US Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) will postpone by six months, to July 1, 2014, the start of withholding required by the so-called Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or “FATCA,” and make corresponding adjustments to various other time frames provided in the final regulations. The Notice states that its goal is to allow for a more orderly implementation of FATCA. The Notice gives affected entities more time to adjust to FATCA; it generally does not, however, relax the long-term, substantive withholding and reporting obligations imposed by FATCA.

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Jerome Walker, a member of Dentons’ Corporate practice, co-authored this article.

Changes Proposed to US Tax Reporting Rules for “Outbound” Transfers

On January 30, 2013, the US Treasury Department (IRS) proposed amendments to existing gain recognition agreement (“GRA”) regulations that apply to US persons who transfer stock of a US corporation or a foreign corporation to a foreign corporation. The proposed changes to the GRA regulations address the consequences to US persons for failing to file GRAs and related documents (failure to file), to comply in any material respect with the terms of, or rules governing, GRAs (failure to comply), or to satisfy other reporting obligations. The proposed changes would affect not only future reorganizations and contributions of stock to foreign corporations, but also prior transfers that continue to be subject to GRA reporting. The proposed changes also provide similar failure to comply rules with respect to liquidating distributions to foreign corporations and certain other document filing requirements arising with a US person’s transfer of stock or assets to certain foreign corporations.

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US Issues Final FATCA Regulations

On January 17, 2013, the US Treasury Department (IRS) released final regulations to implement the US reporting and withholding rules originally enacted in 2010 and frequently referred to as the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, or FATCA. Beginning on January 1, 2014, the FATCA rules generally impose a 30 percent withholding tax on many types of payments of US-source income to a foreign entity (“withholdable payments”) unless the foreign entity reports certain information about any US account holders or owners it possesses. The FATCA rules apply directly to withholding agents, foreign financial institutions (FFIs) and non-financial foreign entities (NFFEs), but their indirect impact is far broader and often affects unsuspecting parties.

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Jerome Walker, a member of Dentons’ Corporate practice, co-authored this article.

IRS Updates FATCA Guidance

On October 24, 2012, the US Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) issued Announcement 2012-42 along with a table (reproduced below) that summarizes certain Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”) due diligence deadlines. The changes announced are limited, but they demonstrate that the IRS and the US Treasury Department continue to make modifications to the FATCA withholding and reporting rules in response to comments, especially comments focused on practical problems encountered by entities trying to implement and comply with FATCA.

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Jerome Walker, a member of Dentons’ Corporate practice, co-authored this article.

IRS Clarifies and Tightens New “Anti‑Inversion” Regulations

On June 7, 2012, the US Treasury Department (the “IRS”) issued new regulations interpreting the US tax rules that apply to “expatriated entities.” An expatriated entity, sometimes referred to as an “inverted company,” is a US company (usually the parent company of a group of US and foreign affiliates) that seeks to become a lower-taxed foreign company rather than a higher-taxed US company. In 2009, the IRS issued temporary regulations that were scheduled to expire on June 8, 2012 (the “2009 temporary regulations”), and the regulations released on June 7 were issued shortly before the 2009 temporary regulations lapsed.

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US Treasury Department Issues Final “Bank Deposit” Interest Reporting Regulations

On April 17, 2012, the US Treasury Department released final regulations and a revenue procedure setting forth the requirements for US offices of certain financial institutions to report on the interest earned by nonresident individuals. Although the regulations, and the multiple sets of proposed regulations that preceded them, are often referred to as the “bank deposit” interest regulations, the preamble to the regulations notes that they will affect commercial banks, savings institutions, credit unions, securities brokerages, and insurance companies that pay interest on deposits. The new reporting rules apply to interest paid on or after January 1, 2013.

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New Foreign Tax Credit Regulations Issued

On February 14, 2012, the US Treasury Department (“IRS”) published in the Federal Register regulations dealing with two separate but related foreign tax credit issues. One set of regulations, which are proposed and temporary, provide guidance to taxpayers on how to interpret section 909 of the US Internal Revenue Code which denies a foreign tax credit for certain “foreign tax credit splitting events.” The other set of regulations, which are final, provide guidance on which person is considered to pay a foreign tax and is therefore eligible to claim a credit for the foreign tax paid.

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US Department of the Treasury Releases Proposed Regulations Implementing FATCA

On February 8, 2012, the US Department of the Treasury (the “Treasury Department”) issued detailed proposed regulations to implement the withholding and reporting rules commonly referred to as the “Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act” or “FATCA.” The proposed regulations supplement and, in some cases, modify the rules the Treasury Department previously announced in a series of notices. The release of the new rules provide an opportunity, in advance of the implementation dates, for foreign financial institutions (“FFIs”) to, among other things, determine the impact of the reporting and withholding requirements on their operations, including how much due diligence is required, whether the FFI systems must be enhanced, whether FFI records are currently readily retrieveable, whether the current number of customer files require that due diligence commence now, whether the FFI has sufficient staffing levels, whether FFI staff is sufficiently trained to implement FATCA, and whether third party assistance is required.

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Edward Hickman and Jerome Walker, members of Dentons’ Corporate practice, co-authored this article.

IRS Announces Third Special Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced on January 9, 2012 that it has reopened its voluntary disclosure initiative for the third time, in response to the US government’s continuously widening investigation of foreign banks relating to unreported offshore accounts of US persons. This third special disclosure initiative follows the IRS’s 2009 and 2011 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Programs (OVDPs) and is available to those taxpayers who did not file in time for the 2009 or 2011 OVDPs. As in the past the OVDPs are designed to bring offshore money back into the US tax system and help individuals with undisclosed income from hidden offshore financial accounts get current with their taxes. This program allows individuals with previously unreported foreign financial accounts to significantly reduce their exposure to substantial civil tax penalties and, in many cases, to eliminate the possibility of criminal prosecution. Foreign accounts include assets held in offshore trusts, foundations, corporations and other entities.

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Specified Foreign Financial Assets: New Form Must Be Filed With US Tax Return

The US Department of the Treasury (the “IRS”) recently released temporary and proposed regulations (the “Temporary Regulations”), effective December 19, 2011, to implement the provisions of the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act that require individuals to report specified foreign financial assets (“SFFAs”) to the IRS. The Temporary Regulations apply to individuals required to file Form 1040, “US Individual Income Tax Return,” and to certain individuals required to file Form 1040-NR, “Nonresident Alien Income Tax Return.” The reporting required under the Temporary Regulations must be made on Form 8938, Statement of Specified Foreign Financial Assets.

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The Erosion of the Fifth Amendment Privilege

“You’d have to be living in a hole not to know that the U.S. government is really focused on offshore tax evasion,” IRS Commissioner Shulman told Bloomberg News earlier this year. The Bank Secrecy Act of 1970 (“BSA”) permits civil and criminal penalties for U.S. taxpayers who fail to report interests in foreign financial accounts. In the past, however, civil and criminal enforcement was rare; between 1996 and 2002 only twelve indictments were reported. In 2001, heightened financial reporting requirements were enacted under the Patriot Act, which is expressly designed to help prosecute international crimes. The government’s formal declaration of war on foreign tax evasion was commemorated in 2008 when a district court authorized the IRS’s John Doe Summons on Swiss bank UBS, demanding documents identifying U.S. taxpayers with unreported accounts. This order followed the indictments and guilty pleas of a high-profile UBS customer and his private UBS banker. In 2009, the DOJ charged UBS with aiding U.S. taxpayers in tax evasion. The bank avoided prosecution by paying $780 million and disclosing account data. Shulman promised severe penalties as the government pursued “criminal avenues” for these targeted individuals. Criminal charges have since been filed against numerous taxpayers, bankers, financial advisers, and lawyers linked to the data. Still, earlier this year, the IRS threatened offshore bank account holders with the increasing risks of criminal prosecution.

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