Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act

Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank Rejects DOJ Settlement Offer | FATCA Tax Lawyer

On August 8, 2018, Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank (“Mizrahi-Tefahot”) informed the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange that its Board of Directors rejected a settlement offer from the US Department of Justice (“DOJ”).

It appears that the DOJ offer was received by the bank on August 7, 2018. The DOJ proposed that Mizrahi-Tefahot pay $342 million to settle the DOJ investigation into whether the bank helped US taxpayers evade US federal taxes.

Mizrahi-Tefahot felt that this was an unreasonably high amount to pay. In its financial statements for the quarter that ended on March 31, 2018, the bank reserved just $46.1 million to settle the DOJ investigation.

The official and primary reason for the rejection of the DOJ offer, however, was the fact that the DOJ’s letter was not accompanied by any details of how DOJ arrived at such a high sum of money. The letter did not contain even any references to any calculation principles. Mizrahi-Tefahot’s lawyer felt that any reasonable calculation of potential settlement amount would lead to a much lower settlement offer.

The most likely reason why Mizrahi-Tefahot felt so confident in rejecting the DOJ offer was its knowledge of the settlements paid by the Swiss banks. NPB Neue Privat AG, for example, only paid $5 million. Basler Kantonalbank believes it can settle for $100 million. In other words, it appears that the negotiation process with the DOJ has matured to the point where Mizrahi-Tefahot can reasonably predict the amount for which the DOJ would agree to settle the case.

Mizrahi-Tefahot is not the only bank in Israel under the IRS investigation. Bank Leumi settled its DOJ investigation for a fine of $270 million and entered into a deferred prosecution agreement. Bank Hapoalim is still in settlement negotiation with the DOJ; in fact, last May, it further increased the funds set aside for a possible DOJ settlement to a total of $365 million.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help With the Voluntary Disclosure of your Mizrahi-Tefahot and Other Israeli Bank Accounts

As part of their settlement agreements, foreign banks agree to supply to the DOJ full information concerning bank accounts owned by US persons. Mizrahi-Tefahot settlement will very likely follow the same path; so will Bank Hapoalim and any other Israeli bank investigated by the DOJ.

This means that if you have undisclosed foreign bank accounts in Israel, you are at a high risk of IRS detection and potentially disastrous FBAR penalties. This is why you need to contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help with the voluntary disclosure of your Israeli bank accounts. Our law firm specializes in offshore voluntary disclosures of foreign accounts and we can help you!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

US Taxpayers with Lombard Odier Bank Accounts At Risk | OVDP News

On July 31, 2018, the US Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced that it signed an Addendum to a non-prosecution agreement with Bank Lombard Odier & Co., Ltd. (“Lombard Odier). The Addendum requires Lombard Odier to disclose additional 88 accounts; in other words, US taxpayers who own these additional Lombard Odier bank accounts are now at a high risk of a criminal prosecution by the IRS.

Lombard Odier Bank Accounts: Background Information on the Swiss Bank Program and Original Non-Prosecution Agreement

The new Addendum to the non-prosecution agreement was signed by Lombard Odier as part of the Swiss Bank Program that was created by the DOJ on August 29, 2013. The Swiss Bank Program is basically a voluntary disclosure program for Swiss banks, which allows the banks to avoid potential criminal prosecution for helping US taxpayers evade US tax laws (the so-called Category 2 banks). As part of their voluntary disclosure, the participating banks were required, among other things, to provide all of the required information concerning bank accounts owned (directly or indirectly) by US taxpayers. The information was provided on an account-by-account basis, rather than per taxpayer.

Overall, the DOJ executed non-prosecution agreements with 80 banks between March of 2015 and January of 2016, collecting $1.36 billion in penalties. Lombard Odier signed the original non-prosecution agreement on December 31, 2015, and paid $99 million in penalties.

Addendum to the Original Agreement Concerning Additional 88 Lombard Odier Bank Accounts

It appears that, when the original non-prosecution agreement was signed, Lombard Odier failed to account for certain additional accounts owned by US persons. The bank later realized its mistake and disclosed it to the DOJ.

As a result of this disclosure, the July 31, 2018 Addendum to the original non-prosecution agreement was signed. Under the Addendum, Lombard Odier will pay the additional sum of $5,300,000 and disclose 88 additional Lombard Odier bank accounts owned by US persons.

Impact of the Addendum on US Taxpayers With Undisclosed Lombard Odier Bank Accounts

The Addendum means that the IRS now has knowledge of additional 88 Lombard Odier bank accounts that were not previously disclosed. US owners of these accounts are now at a risk of willful FBAR penalties and potential criminal prosecution if they have not yet entered into an IRS voluntary disclosure program. A quiet disclosure of these accounts will not suffice to protect these taxpayers against the IRS criminal prosecution.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help With the Disclosure of Your Lombard Odier Bank Accounts and Any Other Foreign Bank Accounts

If you are the owner of any of the 88 Lombard Odier bank account or if you have other undisclosed foreign bank accounts, contact the experienced legal team of Sherayzen Law Office. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world to bring their undisclosed foreign assets, including foreign bank and financial accounts, into full compliance with the US tax laws. We can help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

2018 FSI Ranks United States as Second Largest Secrecy Haven | FATCA

Paradoxically, while demanding that other countries comply with FATCA, the United States itself has become the second largest secrecy haven in the world according to the Financial Secrecy Index (“FSI”) released by the Tax Justice Network (“TJN”) at the end of January of 2018. Let’s explore why the 2018 FSI considers the United States a Tax Haven.

What is 2018 FSI?

The TJN’s FSI is considered to be one of the most comprehensive assessments of secrecy of financial centers. It is published every two years using independently verifiable data. Its methodology is based on the European Commission’s Joint Research Center. The 2018 FSI, however, is not considered to be influenced by any political considerations.

The FSI is based on various criteria which is updated with each publication. The assessment of a country’s financial secrecy includes such consideration as: requirement to identify beneficial owners of companies, trusts and foundations; whether annual registries are made available to the public in an online format; the extent to which the countries’ financial secrecy rules are forced to comply with the anti-money laundering standards, and so on.

In order to create the index, a secrecy score is combined with a figure representing the size of the offshore financial services industry in each country. This is expressed as a percentage of global exports of financial services. The responsibility for bigger transparency increases with the size of the financial services industry of a country.

In 2018, new indicators where added to what are now considered 20 Key Financial Secrecy Indicators “KFSI”. The 2018 FSI new factors ask whether a jurisdiction in question provides for public register of ownership and annual accounts of limited partnerships; public register of ownership of real estate; public register of users of freeports for the storage of high value assets; protection against prison for banking whistleblowers; harmful tax residency and citizenship rules; and other factors.

2018 FSI Placed United States as Second Largest Secrecy Haven Among the Top 10 Countries

Based on the consideration of all of these factors, including KFSI, the 2018 FSI placed United States as the second largest secrecy haven among the top ten countries. Here is the full list of top ten countries:

1. Switzerland
2. United States
3. Cayman
4. Hong Kong
5. Singapore
6. Luxembourg
7. Germany
8. Taiwan
9. UAE
10. Guernsey

What this means is that the United States is now the country that, with the exception of Switzerland, most contributes to financial secrecy in the world.

Reasons Behind the US Rise in the 2018 FSI Ranking

The second rank of the United States was assigned due to its growing share of the offshore financial services industry. According to 2018 FSI, the US market share of the offshore financial services industry is 22.3%. It was 19.6% in 2015. In fact, in order to occupy the second place in the 2018 FSI, the United States displaced such a notorious offshore haven as the Cayman Islands.

There are other objective reasons and comparative reasons for the US rise to the second place of the 2018 FSI. The main comparative reason is the European Union’s lead in the transparency initiatives. The EU is now the definite leader in combating financial secrecy.

The objective reasons are various. The United States does not have any beneficial ownership registries. It also lacks the country-by-country reporting of corporate profits (although, this may change). Finally, the United States continues to refuse to join the OECD’s Common Reporting Standard (“CRS”).

The Second Place in the 2018 FSI Points to Dubious Cost-Benefit Analysis

The second place in the 2018 FSI is not accidental. Rather, there is a cold, though morally dubious, cost-benefit calculation behind it. On the one hand, the United States was the country that really propelled the global fight against bank secrecy in the years 2008-2014. It trampled all over the vaulted Swiss Bank Secrecy laws when it came to its pursuit of US tax evaders, enacted the revolutionary FATCA legislation, forced the vast majority of foreign financial institutions to share information (including beneficial ownership information) with the IRS concerning US owners of foreign accounts, and engaged in a number of other activities to increase the worldwide financial transparency with respect to US taxpayers.

On the other hand, all of the US efforts to combat bank secrecy were not a fight for transparency ipso facto. Rather, the US government was only interested in fighting bank secrecy in so far as it concerned US taxpayers. With respect to its own bank secrecy laws concerning foreigners who wish to invest in the United States, the US government is on par and even exceeds some of the most secretive tax havens.

In other words, when it comes to fighting US tax evasion, the US government is an innovative champion. With respect to attracting investment in the United States, the same US government seems to do everything possible to turn the United States into a tax haven. This is precisely why it never joined the CRS.

While the US government seems to be acting in the name of the national self-interest, there is one huge problem that this policy creates. Currently, the elites of the most corrupt regimes, mafias and cartels of all stripes, narcotics dealers and other criminals can see the advantage of using the United States as a haven for illicit financial flows, including money laundering and funding of terrorism. There is also an increased danger that the corruption created by one part of the US financial policy may spread to other aspects of our society.

In other words, the current US bank secrecy policy seems to be in contradiction with other stated policies which attempt to specifically target the aforementioned criminal activities. This contradiction is an easy target for critics of the US financial policy and may contribute in the future to potential reversals of the current gains in international financial transparency.

Sherayzen Law Office will continue the monitor the developments in the US bank secrecy laws.

FATCA Criminal Case Filed Against Foreigners | FATCA Lawyer & Attorney

On March 22, 2018, the US Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced that it charged four foreign residents – Panayiotis Kyriacou (resides in London, UK), Arvinsingh Canaye (resides in Mauritius), Adrian Baron (resides in Budapest, Hungary), and Linda Bullock (resides in St. Vincent/Grenadines) – with conspiracy to defraud the United States by failing to comply with FATCA. Let’s explore this new FATCA criminal case in more detail.

Legal Basis for FATCA Criminal Case

The legal basis for this FATCA criminal case is the allegation that the defendants conspired to defraud the United States by obstructing the IRS administration of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”).

FATCA was passed into law in 2010. One part of this highly complex law requires foreign financial institutions (“FFIs”) to identify their US customers, collect the information about foreign accounts held by these US customers as required by FATCA (“FATCA Information”) and send FATCA Information to the United States. The DOJ alleges that the defendants in this case intentionally conspired to obstruct the collection and reporting of FATCA Information to the IRS.

Facts of the FATCA Criminal Case As Alleged by the DOJ

The indictment alleges that the defendants agreed to defraud the United States by opening foreign bank and brokerage accounts without collecting FATCA information that should have been reported to the IRS. The indictment describes two specific schemes, both of which were uncovered by the DOJ through an undercover agent.

The first scheme is called the Beaufort Scheme, because Canaye and Kyriacou both worked at Beaufort Management as a general manager and an investment manager respectively. The indictment alleges that, between August 2016 and February 2018, these two defendants conspired to defraud the United States by failing to comply with FATCA. The DOJ states that it obtained the proof of the existence of this conspiracy through an undercover agent (the “Agent”).

The Agent first approached Kyriacou in 2016, who opened bank accounts for the agent without doing any FATCA compliance. In July 2017, Kyriacou introduced the Agent to Canaye and advised that Canaye could assist with the Agent’s stock manipulation scheme schemes. In January 2018, Canaye and Beaufort Management opened six global business corporations for the Agent. The Agent’s name did not appear on any of the account opening documents.

The second scheme is called the Loyal Scheme because it involved Baron, the Loyal Bank’s Chief Business Officer. During their meetings, the Agent explained to Baron that he was a US citizen and described his stock manipulation schemes, including the need to bypass FATCA. In July and August of 2017, the Undercover Agent met with Baron and Bullock, Loyal Bank’s Chief Executive Officer. During the meeting, the Undercover Agent described how his stock manipulation deals operated, including the necessity to bypass FATCA. In July and August 2017, Loyal Bank opened multiple bank accounts for the Agent. At no time did Loyal Bank request or collect FATCA Information from the Undercover Agent.

It should be remembered that the charges in the superseding indictment are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

This FATCA Criminal Case Reflects IRS Commitment to FATCA Enforcement

While not the first FATCA criminal case, the present case is definitely at the beginning of the future series of FATCA cases against US taxpayers and foreigners. The IRS stressed that this FATCA criminal case reflects the commitment of the IRS and the DOJ to combat offshore tax evasion and enforce FATCA worldwide.

Sherayzen Law Office will continue to monitor IRS enforcement of FATCA, including this FATCA criminal case.

Cyprus Tax Amnesty Extended | FATCA Lawyer & Attorney

For the second time now, the Cyprus Tax Amnesty has been extended. Let’s discuss in more detail the new deadline and the terms of the Cyprus Tax Amnesty.

Cyprus Tax Amnesty: Deadline Extensions

The original deadline for the Scheme for the Settlement of Overdue Taxes (the official name of the Cyprus Tax Amnesty) was October 3, 2017. The deadline, however, was extended for the first time to January 3, 2018. In early January of 2018, the deadline was further extended to the current deadline of July 3, 2018. Thus, the more recent extension gives Cyprus taxpayers another six months to bring their tax affairs in full compliance with Cyprus tax law.

Main Terms of the Cyprus Tax Amnesty

The Cyprus Tax Amnesty allows “qualifying applicants” to pay off their tax liabilities for prior years with up to 95% reduction in the interest and penalties that otherwise would have been or have already been imposed by the Cyprus tax authorities. The precise percentage of the reduction of interest and penalties depends on the number of monthly installment payments chosen by the taxpayer (i.e. if you pay off everything in full immediately, you get the full benefit of the 95% reduction in interest and penalties).

The Cyprus Tax Amnesty encompasses all outstanding tax liabilities that were incurred in the tax years up to and including 2015. The Amnesty also covers a great variety of taxes: income tax, capital gains tax, VAT, property tax, stamp duties, inheritance tax and certain special fees.

Cyprus Tax Amnesty: Qualifying Taxpayers

Since the main purpose of the Amnesty is to bring Cyprus taxpayers into full and ongoing compliance with Cyprus tax law, the emphasis is placed on assuring current compliance. This is done through the definition of “qualifying taxpayers” who are the only taxpayers eligible to participate in the Cyprus Tax Amnesty.

Qualifying taxpayers are defined as taxpayers who have been in full tax compliance from the tax year 2016 onwards – i.e. these taxpayers must have filed all of their Cyprus tax returns and paid all of their Cyprus tax liabilities for the tax year 2016 and all of the following tax years.

Cyprus Tax Amnesty is Part of a Trend Amplified by the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program

The Cyprus Tax Amnesty is just one more example of the tax amnesty programs which have proliferated around the world in the recent years. This trend was greatly strengthened and really amplified to its current status by the establishment of the 2009 IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“2009 OVDP”). The 2009 OVDP, 2011 OVDI and 2012/2014 OVDPs together with enactment of FATCA have drawn the attention around the world and many countries began to imitate the successes of these US initiatives.

Sherayzen Law Office has helped clients deal with each of these major IRS voluntary disclosure programs as well as other voluntary disclosure options (like the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures and the Reasonable Cause Disclosures). A voluntary disclosure program presents wonderful opportunities to taxpayers to settle their past tax noncompliance. This is why we sympathize with the Cyprus Tax Amnesty and see it as a positive development in the international tax law.