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IRS Fails to Recover a Large Erroneous Refund | Litigation Tax Attorney

In a recent case, the IRS failed to recover a large erroneous refund of $21 million that it gave to a company called Starr International Co. Inc. (“Starr”). The opinion was released on January 31, 2018 by the District Judge Christopher R. Cooper (U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia) who granted Starr’s summary judgment motion. Let’s delve deeper into why the IRS was not able to recover this erroneous refund.

The Starr Case: Initial 2007 Request for Erroneous Refund

The story that led to a such a large erroneous refund is very interesting and related to the US-Swiss tax treaty. In 2007, as a shareholder of AIG stocks, Starr received dividends from AIG. In December of 2007, Starr filed a request with the US Competent Authority (“CA”) to claim a reduced withholding tax rate on the AIG dividends.

Then, without waiting for the CA response, Starr filed a refund claim with the IRS for the tax year 2007, seeking a refund in the amount it would have been entitled to had the CA granted the request for treaty benefits. It should be pointed out that Starr indicated on its Form 1120-F the this was a protective refund claim (to avoid the later Statute of Limitations problems) and informed the CA of the claim.

Once it was informed about the Starr’s protective refund claim, the CA instructed the Ogden Service Center not to issue a refund for 2007. Moreover, in October of 2010, the CA denied Starr’s request for treaty benefits for 2007.

The Starr Case: Request for 2008 Large Erroneous Refund Granted

This denial did not have the intended effect. On the contrary, Starr filed another refund request with the IRS for $21 million for 2008 and amended its refund claim for 2007. Starr also did it in a very clean and honest manner – on its 2008 Form 1120-F (next to the line indicating the refund amount), Starr wrote “see statement 1”. Statement 1 disclosed that CA did not grant treaty benefits to Starr and presented its counter-arguments arguing that CA’s decision was erroneous.

In 2011 the IRS erroneously granted Starr’s refund request for 2008 and issued a refund for $21,151,745.75. At the same time, the IRS did not issue any refund for the amended 2007 claim.

The Starr Case: Erroneous Refund for 2008 Leads to Lawsuit to Recovery Refund for 2007 and IRS Lawsuit to recover the 2008 Erroneous Refund

Emboldened by its 2008 erroneous refund, Starr decided to file a lawsuit in the D.C. District court to see a refund for 2007. The lawsuit was filed in 2014 after Starr must have believed that the Statute of Limitations for the IRS to recover the 2008 erroneous refund had expired. It appears that this part of the case still continues as Starr has appealed the recent ruling in the government’s favor.

In the meantime, in response to Starr’s ever expanding appetite for refunds, the IRS decided to attempt to curb the Starr’s ambitions by recovering the 2008 erroneous refund. In 2015, the government amended its answer to Starr’s 2014 lawsuit and added a counterclaim seeking to recover the 2008 refund. Here, the most interesting part of the case begins.

The Starr Case: the IRS Arguments for the IRS Statute of Limitations to Recover 2008 Erroneous Refund

Generally, the IRS has only two years to initiate a lawsuit to recover a refund. There is, however, an exception. If a taxpayer obtains any part of the refund through fraud or misrepresentation, the Statute of Limitations may be extended to five year. The government bears the burden of proof to show that an extension of the statute of limitations is justified.

The IRS based its claim for the extension of the Statute of Limitations on three different arguments. First, the IRS stated that Starr made a misrepresentation when it indicated on line 9 of Form 1120-F that Starr was entitled to a $21 million refund; the IRS argued that it should have put “0″ on it.

Additionally, the IRS also made a second variation on the same argument, relying on Rev. Proc. 2006-54, which sets forth the procedures for requesting treaty benefits from the CA. Section 12.04 expressly states that denials of requests for discretionary treaty benefits are final and not subject to administrative review. Based on this section, the government asserted that Starr, in contradiction to the established procedure, sought an administrative review of the CA’s denial of its refund claim by not making it clear that it was not entitled to a refund claim .

Second, the IRS argued that the Starr’s failure to inform the CA about it 2008 refund claim was another misrepresentation. Here, the IRS again relied on Rev.Proc. 2006-54, which states that a taxpayer must update the CA on all material changes regarding issues under consideration.

Finally, the government argued that Starr made the third misrepresentation when it failed to notify the Ogden Service Center (where the Starr’s claim for 2008 erroneous refund was filed) that it lacked the jurisdiction to issue the 2008 refund.

The Starr Case: the Court Refuted All IRS Arguments and Denied the IRS Request to Recover 2008 Erroneous Refund

The district court judge disagreed with all of the three IRS arguments. With respect to the first argument, the court disagreed with the government’s position, because had Starr requested $0 on its refund claim and then litigated the merits of the claim in court, it would have been entitled only to $0 even if it won. The court noted that this has been the government’s position in the past. Moreover, Treas. Reg. §301.6402-3(a)(5) requires that refund claims contain a statement of the amount overpaid.

In this context, the court addressed the government’s argument that, by filing a refund claim, Starr was looking for a back-door administrative review of the CA’s denial of its claim. The court noted that a refund claim is not a request for administrative review, but a normal way for a taxpayer to obtain a refund that the IRS already withheld.

Moreover, the refund claim was an absolute jurisdictional requirement for seeking a judicial review of CA’s denial of Starr’s claim for refund. Had Starr failed to file a refund claim before going to court, the court would have lacked the subject matter jurisdiction to hear the case.

With respect to the government’s second argument, the court stated that it is irrelevant because Starr filed its 2008 refund claim when CA already made the final decision to deny the refund claim. In other words, there were no issues under CA’s consideration at the time when Starr filed its refund claim.

Finally, the court completely disagreed with the government’s argument that Starr should have informed the Ogden Service Center that it lacked jurisdiction to issue the refund. The court stated that there is simply no regulation, statute or an IRS instruction that would require the taxpayers to inform the IRS of what falls and what does not fall within its jurisdiction.

Since the government failed its burden of proof that Starr obtained its refund through misrepresentations, the court granted Starr’s motion for summary judgment and found that the IRS was not entitled to extend the Statute of Limitations to five years.

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Section 1041 Definition of Divorce | Divorce Tax Attorney & Lawyer

26 U.S.C. §1041(a)(2) states that transfers of property between former spouses are not taxable as long as they are “incident to divorce”. The question is what is the definition of divorce for Section 1041 purposes?

Section 1041 Definition of Divorce: 26 U.S.C. §71(b)(2)

The Treasury regulations specifically refer to 26 U.S.C. §71(b)(2) for the definition of divorce or separation instrument (see Treas Reg §1.1041-1T(b), Q&A-7). 26 U.S.C. §71(b)(2) lays out three definitions of divorce or separation instrument:

“(A) a decree of divorce or separate maintenance or a written instrument incident to such a decree,
(B) a written separation agreement, or
(C) a decree (not described in subparagraph (A)) requiring a spouse to make payments for the support or maintenance of the other spouse.”

The regulations specifically states that the definition of divorce or separation instrument under 26 U.S.C. §71(b)(2)(A) also includes a modification or amendment to such decree or instrument. Treas Reg §1.1041-1T(b), Q&A-7.

Section 1041 Definition of Divorce: Void Ab Initio Annulments

Additionally, for the purposes of 26 U.S.C. §1041, the definition “divorce” is expanded to include divorce annulments and the cessations of marriage that are deemed void ab initio due to violations of state law. Treas Reg §1.1041-1T(b), Q&A-8.

Void ab initio annulments dissolve a marriage retroactively from its very beginning. In other words, the legal outcome of such an annulment is to treat the annulled marriage as if it never happened. While the state law differs from state to state, there are generally four grounds under which a marriage is voided ab initio: bigamy, related parties (i.e. spouses are related within a certain degree of consanguinity or affinity), incompetence and situations where one of the spouses is less than sixteen years old.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help with Tax Issues Concerning a Section 1041 Transfer of Property

If you need help with tax issues concerning a divorce or a transfer of property pursuant to a divorce, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional legal help.

Overcoming Late IRC Section 1041 Transfer Presumption | IRS Lawyer & Attorney

In a previous article, I discussed that a late IRC Section 1041 transfer between former spouses is presumed to be unrelated to the cessation of the marriage. This means that such a transfer may not be considered tax-free for US tax purposes. In this article, I would like to explain what a late IRC Section 1041 transfer is and how to overcome the presumption that it is not related to the cessation of the marriage.

What is a Late IRC Section 1041 Transfer?

A transfer of property between ex-spouses is not taxable as long as it is “incident to divorce”. 26 U.S.C. §1041(a)(2). Temporary regulations state that such a transfer of property will be considered as incident to divorce as long as it occurs within one year of the date of the cessation of marriage or if this transfer is related to the cessation of marriage. Treas Reg §1.1041-1T(b), Q&A-6.

As I indicated in a previous article, a transfer of property is related to the cessation of marriage if it is done pursuant to a divorce or separation instrument and “occurs not more than 6 years after the date on which the marriage ceases”. Treas Reg §1.1041-1T(b), Q&A-7. If the transfer of property between ex-spouses occurs after six years of the cessation of marriage, then it is considered a late IRC Section 1041 transfer. Id.

Late IRC Section 1041 Transfer: Presumption that the Transfer if Not Related to Marriage

A late IRC Section 1041 transfer gives rise to a presumption that the transfer is not related to the cessation of marriage. Id. In other words, if an ex-spouse transfers a property to another ex-spouse more than six years after the cessation of their marriage, then the IRS will assume that the transfer is not related to the marriage.

Late IRC Section 1041 Transfer: Rebuttal of the Presumption

Luckily for US taxpayers, this presumption is not absolute and can be rebutted. “This presumption may be rebutted only by showing that the transfer was made to effect the division of property owned by the former spouses at the time of the cessation of the marriage.” Id.

The temporary Treasury regulations emphasize that the presumption can be rebutted by establishing two facts. First, the transfer was made late “because of factors which hampered an earlier transfer of the property, such as legal or business impediments to transfer or disputes concerning the value of the property owned at the time of the cessation of the marriage”. Id. Second, “the transfer is effected promptly after the impediment to transfer is removed.” Id.

Late IRC Section 1041 Transfer: PLRs Indicate Anticipation of Transfer in a Divorce Decree as the Crucial Factor

The IRS has issued a number of Private Letter Rulings (“PLRs”) on the issue of a late IRC Section 1041 transfer. Overall, the PLRs seem to follow an important trend in determining whether a taxpayer is successful in his rebuttal of the aforementioned presumption.

The key factor that appears in these PLRs seems to be whether a transfer of property (or an option to transfer a property) was part of the divorce decree. In other words, the most important question is whether this transfer of property was anticipated by the terms of the divorce decree. If it was and there is a good justification for the delay of the transfer of property, then the IRS is likely to rule that Section 1041 applies and the transfer would be deemed tax-free for federal income tax purposes.

Of course, it is highly important that a tax attorney review the situation to determine the likelihood that the IRS will agree on both points: anticipation of transfer in the divorce decree and the good reason for the delay of the transfer.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help Concerning Late IRC Section 1041 Transfers

If you are engaged in a divorce or you are an attorney representing a person who is engaged in a divorce, contact Sherayzen Law Office for experienced help with respect to taxation of transfers of property to an ex-spouse as well as other tax consequences of a divorce proceeding.

Ex-Spouse Property Transfers Incident to Divorce | Tax Lawyer & Attorney

This article introduces a series of articles on 26 U.S.C. §1041 and specifically the issue of tax treatment of ex-spouse property transfers incident to divorce. As a result of a divorce, it is very common for ex-spouses to transfer properties to each other as part of their settlement agreement. A question arises: are these ex-spouse property transfers taxable?

Note that this article covers a situation only when both spouses are US citizens and only direct transfers between ex-spouses (i.e. the transfers on behalf of an ex-spouse are not covered here).

General Rule for Ex-Spouse Property Transfers under 26 U.S.C. §1041

A property transfer between spouses is generally not subject to federal income tax. 26 U.S.C. §1041(a)(1). Transfers of property between former spouses are also not taxable as long as they are “incident to divorce”. 26 U.S.C. §1041(a)(2). For income tax purposes, the law treats the transferee spouse as having acquired the transferred property by gift. 26 U.S.C. §1041(b)(1). This means that “the basis of the transferee in the property shall be the adjusted basis of the transferor”. 26 U.S.C. §1041(b)(2).

It is important to emphasize that only transfers of property (real, personal, tangible and/or intangible) are governed by 26 U.S.C. §1041; transfers of services are not subject to the rules of this section. Treas Reg §1.1041-1T(a), Q&A-4.

Ex-Spouse Property Transfers Incident to Divorce

The key issue for the ex-spouse property transfers is whether they are “incident to divorce”. The statute and the temporary Treasury regulations describe two situations when a transfer between ex-spouses will be considered “incident to divorce”: “(1) The transfer occurs not more than one year after the date on which the marriage ceases, or (2) the transfer is related to the cessation of the marriage.” Treas Reg §1.1041-1T(b), Q&A-6; 26 U.S.C. §1041(c).

Ex-Spouse Property Transfers Not More Than One Year After the Cessation of a Marriage

Any transfers of property between former spouses that occur not more than one year after the date on which the marriage ceases are subject to the nonrecognition rules of 26 U.S.C. §1041(a). This is case even if a transfer of property is not really related to the cessation of the marriage. Treas Reg § 1.1041-1T(b), Q&A-6.

Ex-Spouse Property Transfers Related to the Cessation of the Marriage

26 U.S.C. §1041 does not actually define the meaning of “transfers related to the cessation of the marriage”. Rather, the temporary Treasury regulations explain this term.

The temporary regulations establish a two-prong test that states that a transfer of property is treated as related to the cessation of the marriage if: (1) “the transfer is pursuant to a divorce or separation instrument, as defined in section 71(b)(2)”, and (2) “the transfer occurs not more than 6 years after the date on which the marriage ceases”. Treas Reg §1.1041-1T(b), Q&A-7. The definition of divorce or separation instrument in the first prong also includes a modification or amendment to such decree or instrument.

If either or both of the prongs of this test are not satisfied (for example, the transfer occurred more than six years after the cessation of the marriage), then a transfer “is presumed to be not related to the cessation of the marriage.” Id. This is a rebuttable presumption and, in a future article, I will discuss how a taxpayer may rebut this presumption.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help Concerning Tax Consequences of a Property Transfer to an Ex-Spouse

If you are engaged in a divorce or you are an attorney representing a person who is engaged in a divorce, contact Sherayzen Law Office for experienced help with respect to taxation of transfers of property to an ex-spouse as well as other tax consequences of a divorce proceeding.

Shakira Tax Evasion is Reportedly Investigated by Spain | Tax Law News

On January 23, 2018, the Spanish Newspaper based in Madrid “El País” broke the news that the Colombian Singer Shakira (full name Shakira Isabel Mebarak) is being reportedly investigated by the Spanish tax authorities for tax evasion. Let’s explore the alleged Shakira tax evasion investigation in more detail.

Alleged Shakira Tax Evasion Investigation is Centered Around Spanish Tax Residency

At the core of the alleged investigation of potential Shakira tax evasion lies the concept of tax residency. Under the tax laws of Spain, a person who resides in Spain for at least 183 days during a calendar tax year may generally be considered a Spanish tax resident. As such, he would be required to disclose his worldwide income on a Spanish tax return.

It should be noted (as Sherayzen Law Office has pointed out in the past) that Spain is a very strict tax jurisdiction in many aspects, especially when it comes to tax evasion. In fact, it is the only country in the European Union which has a form similar to the IRS Form 8938 – Spanish Modelo 720.

Alleged Shakira Tax Evasion Investigation: 2011-2014 Tax Residency of Shakira in Question

El País reported that the Spanish tax authorities focused their investigation of Shakira on tax years 2011 through 2014. The singer has claimed that she was resident of the Bahamas at that time. Shakira’s lawyer stated that Shakira lived in several places over the years due to her lifestyle as an international singer and has been in full compliance with tax laws of all relevant jurisdictions.

The tax authorities reportedly reached a different conclusion – that Shakira was a Spanish tax resident during the years 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. It is not clear whether the alleged conclusion was arrived at using direct evidence or indirect evidence. El País, for example, stated that the Spanish Tax Agency investigators went to her hairdresser in Spain to establish that Shakira lived in Spain.

It should be pointed out that Shakira officially declared herself as a Spanish tax resident in 2015 due to her marriage with the Spanish soccer player Gerard Pique.

Paradise Papers Could Have Prompted the Investigation of Potential Shakira Tax Evasion

The alleged Shakira Tax Evasion investigation also has an interesting twist. It appears that it could have been prompted by the famous Paradise Papers in November of 2017.

The Paradise Papers is a collection of 13.4 million of files that were stolen from the client files of Appleby law firm, a Singapore-based trust company, as well as company registries of nineteen different jurisdictions.

According to the Paradise Papers, Shakira transferred some or all of her intellectual property and trademarks to Tournesol, Ltd., (“Tournesol”) a company registered in Malta in 2009. Shakira is the sole shareholder of this company. Tournesol increased its capital by 31 million euros through an interest-free loan agreement with ACER Entertainment, a related company owned by Shakira and registered in Luxembourg.

Alleged Shakira Tax Evasion Investigation: Potential Penalties

Shakira’s estimated net worth is $200 million. This means that her tax fraud case will involve large numbers, possibly in the millions of dollars.

It appears that if Shakira is found guilty of tax fraud that is in excess of 600,000 euros, she could be facing from two to six years in prison for each count of tax fraud. Moreover, she could be facing a fine of six times the amount of underpaid tax. It should be pointed out that the charges will most likely focus on the years 2012-2014, because 2011 appears to be barred by the Spanish statute of limitations.

Shakira’s celebrity status will not have any impact on the Spanish tax authorities. In fact, she now joined a list of many celebrities who have been investigated by the Spanish Tax Agency, including Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.