Sale of Russian Real Estate by US Residents | International Tax Lawyer

Sale of Russian Real Estate by US permanent residents was the subject of a recent guidance letter from the Russian Ministry of Finance (“MOF”). Guidance Letter 03-04-05/66382 (dated October 11, 2011, but released only earlier this week) provides a thorough analysis of questions concerning the sale of real estate in Russia by a US resident and, eventually, comes to conclusion such a sale should be subject to a 30% tax rate. Let’s explore this recent MOF analysis in more detail.

Sale of Russian Real Estate: What is MOF Guidance Letter?

The closest US equivalent to the Russian MOF Guidance Letter is the IRS Private Letter Ruling (“PLR”). Similarly to PLR, the MOF Guidance Letters usually address a fairly specific situation and, generally, have a suggestive rather than normative value. A Guidance Letter does not have a precedential value (again similar to PLR). Nevertheless, the MOF Guidance Letters are good indicators of how the MOF would view similar situations and have a very strong persuasive value.

Sale of Russian Real Estate: Fact Pattern Addressed by Guidance Letter 03-04-05/66382

Guidance Letter 03-04-05/66382 specifically addresses a situation where an individual is a Russian citizen who has resided in the United States since 1996. It is not clear whether the individual actually received his green card in 1996 or he simply commenced to reside in the United States on a permanent basis in 1996. This individual wishes to dispose of (or already sold) a real property in Russia.

Sale of Russian Real Estate: Is the Sale Done by a Russian Taxpayer Who Is Subject to Russian Taxation?

The MOF begins its analysis by establishing that, in accordance with Section 1 of Article 207 of the Russian Tax Code (“Tax Code”), individuals who receive Russian-source income are Russian taxpayers for the purposes of the Russian income tax irrespective of whether they are Russian tax residents or not. Since Article 208, Section 1(5) states that income earned from the sale of Russian real estate is considered to be Russian-source income, an individual selling Russian real estate is considered to be a Russian taxpayer who is subject to Russian taxation.

Sale of Russian Real Estate: Is the Sale Done by a Russian tax resident?

The MOF then continued its analysis to determine whether, in the situation described in the Guidance Letter 03-04-05/66382, the individual is a Russian tax resident. I believe that this was the key reason why the individual in question requested the MOF Guidance letter: he was hoping that he would be found a Russian tax resident under the Russia-US tax treaty due to the fact that he had real estate in Russia (and, hence, subject to lower tax on the proceeds from sale).

The MOF analysis involved two steps: the determination of tax residency under the tax treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation (because the individual in question has resided permanently in the United States since 1996) and, then, the determination of tax residency under the domestic Russian tax laws.

First, the MOF stated that, pursuant to paragraph 1 of Article 4 of the Russia-US Tax Treaty, a person should be recognized as a permanent resident of a contracting state in accordance with the provisions of the national law of that state. In other words, the determination of who is a tax resident of the Russian Federation should be done under the Russian domestic tax law.

Here, the MOF also addressed the critical part of this Guidance Letter – does the ownership of Russian real estate matter for the purposes of establishing the Russian tax residency under the Treaty. The MOF determined that the factor of ownership of real estate matters only in cases where the owner of real estate is recognized as a resident of both contracting states in accordance with the national legislation of both, the United States and Russia. This is the most important part of the MOR Guidance Letter 03-04-05/66382.

Having made this determination, the MOF went into the second half of its analysis – who is considered to be a Russian tax resident under the Russian laws. According to Section 2 of Article 207 of the Tax Code, individuals are considered Russian tax residents if they are physically present in Russia for at least 183 calendar days within a period of 12 consecutive months. Since the individual in question did not satisfy the residency requirement of Article 207, the MOF determined that he was not a tax resident of the Russian Federation.

Sale of Russian Real Estate: Can Russia Tax the Proceeds from the Sale under the Russia-US Tax Treaty?

Having determined that the owner of the Russian Real Estate was not a Russian tax resident, the next issue was whether Russia can still tax the proceeds from the sale. The MOF stated that, under paragraph 3 of Article 19 of the Treaty, the gains from the sales of real estate located in one contracting state received by a permanent resident of the other contracting state can be taxed in accordance with the domestic tax legislation of the state where the property is located. Hence, Russia can tax the sale of Russian Real Estate made by a US permanent resident.

As a side note, Russia can also tax a disposition of shares or other rights of participation in the profits of a company in which Russian real estate makes up at least 50 percent of the assets.

Sale of Russian Real Estate: What is the Applicable Tax Rate?

The final point addressed by the MOF was the applicable tax rate for the sale of Russian real estate by a US permanent resident and a nonresident of Russia. Pursuant to Section 3 of Article 224 fo the Tax Code, the MOF decided that tax rate in this situation should be 30 percent.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional International Tax Help

If you are looking for a professional advice concerning US international tax law, contact Sherayzen Law Office. Our legal team, headed by attorney Eugene Sherayzen, is highly experienced in US international tax law, including international tax compliance filing requirements, international tax planning and offshore voluntary disclosures.

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The IRS Large Business and International Division Organizational Structure

Almost two years ago, the IRS Large Business and International Division announced long-term changes in its structure as well as its approach to tax enforcement. In the fall of 2015, the IRS completed the first phase of the structural changes in the Division – re-organization of its administrative structure. This structure exists intact today and we fully expect for it to last for a long while. Let’s discuss this current administrative structure of the IRS Large Business and International Division.

IRS Large Business and International Division: Areas of Responsibility

The IRS Large Business and International Division forms a huge part of the IRS. First, it is responsible for the tax compliance enforcement (US domestic and US international) with respect to all corporations, subchapter S corporations, and partnerships with assets greater than $10 million. Most of these businesses employ a large number of employees and their business affairs involve complex accounting principals and tax laws. Second, the Division deals with individual international tax compliance, including offshore voluntary disclosures.

Current Organization of the IRS Large Business and International Division

The IRS Large Business and International Division is currently organized into Support Areas (a smaller part of the Division) and Practice Areas.

The Support areas concentrate on supporting the Practice Areas through data analysis and integrated feedback loop (which is a highly important feature that was incorporated into the Division’s reorganization plan in 2015). The Support areas include Headquarters, Program and Business Solutions (including Technology and Program Solutions and Resource Solutions), Compliance Integration (including Data solutions and the highly-important Compliance Planning and Analytics) and Assistant Deputy Commissioner – International.

The second part of the IRS Large Business and International Division is divided into five Practice Areas and four Compliance Practice Areas. The Practice Areas include: (1) Cross Border Activities, (2) Enterprise Activity, (3) Pass-Through Entities, (4) Treaty and Transfer Pricing Operations and (5) Withholding and International Individual Compliance. US international tax compliance concerns are especially important in areas 1, 4 and 5.

The Compliance Practice Areas basically represent a geographical division of the United States into four tax enforcement areas: Central (which consists of North Central and South Central Fields), Eastern (which consists of Great Lakes and Southeast Fields), Northeastern (which includes North-Atlantic and Mid-Atlantic Fields) and, finally, Western (which includes West and Southwest Fields).

The IRS Large Business and International Division Reorganization Now Entered Into the Second Phase

Since January 31, 2017, the IRS Large Business and International Division reorganization commenced the second phase with the enaction of the first thirteen issue-based IRS Compliance Campaigns. These campaigns represent a new approach to tax enforcement that is believed to fit best the new administrative structure of the division. In the near future, Sherayzen Law Office will update its website with articles dedicated to this important new development.

Belarus-Hong Kong Tax Treaty Signed | MN International Tax Attorney

On January 16, 2017, the Belarus-Hong Kong Tax Treaty was signed by government officials from both countries – K.C. Chan, Hong Kong’s secretary for financial services and the treasury, and Sergei Nalivaiko, Belarusian minister of taxes and duties. Let’s explore the most important provisions of the new Belarus-Hong Kong Tax Treaty.

Elimination of Double-Taxation Under the Belarus-Hong Kong Tax Treaty

The new tax treaty will provide real benefits to businesses and individuals in both countries. In the absence of the treaty, the profits of Hong Kong companies earned through a permanent establishment in Belarus would be taxed in Belarus and Hong Kong. Similarly, prior to the treaty, the income earned by Belarusian companies in Hong Kong would be subject to both, Belarusian and Hong Kong taxation.

The Belarus-Hong Kong Tax Treaty will now eliminate the risk of double taxation by allowing Belarusian companies to claim a tax credit for taxes paid in Hong Kong. Similarly, Hong Kong companies will be able to claim tax credit for taxes paid in Belarus.

Belarus-Hong Kong Tax Treaty: Taxation of Dividends, Interest and Royalties

The new treaty establishes a 5% maximum tax rate for dividends and interest payments. This is a large reduction from the current highest rate of 13%. Moreover, in certain cases (mainly Hong Kong or Belarusian government-owned entities), dividends and interest are entirely exempt from taxation.

Additionally, under the new treaty, the royalties will generally be taxed also at 5%. However, if the royalties are paid for the use of (or the right to use) aircraft, then the tax withholding rate is further reduced to 3%. Again, this is a major reduction from the current highest rate of 15%.

Belarus-Hong Kong Tax Treaty: Concessions to Hong Kong Airlines

The special reduction for aircraft-related royalties is a major concession to Hong Kong Airlines, but it is not the only one. Additionally, Belarus agreed that Hong Kong Airlines operating flights to Belarus will be taxed at Hong Kong’s corporation tax rate. Furthermore, the profits from international shipping transport earned by Hong Kong residents that arise in Belarus (and which are currently taxed in Belarus) will now fully escape Belarusian taxation.

Belarus-Hong Kong Tax Treaty: Other Provisions and Entry into Force

The new treaty contains a number of other provisions regulating taxation of capital gains, pensions, government salaries and other income. Additionally, Article 25 of the treaty provides for exchange of tax-related information between Belarus and Hong Kong. This provision may have an unintended consequence for US tax residents who operate in Belarus and Hong Kong, because some information exchanged between Belarus and Hong Kong may be further provided to the United States under Hong Kong’s FATCA tax information exchange obligations.

The Belarus-Hong Kong Tax Treaty will enter into force once both sides complete their own ratification procedures.

UK Tax Haven May Be the Result of Brexit | US International Tax Attorney

In her January 17, 2017 speech, the British Prime Minister Theresa May confirmed that the United Kingdom (“UK”) will leave the European Union (“EU”) and seek a free trade deal with the EU. The Prime Minister also appears to have made the threat of creating a UK Tax Haven if the deal is not struck.

UK Tax Haven: UK is Leaving the EU

Since the ground-breaking referendum vote to leave the EU in June of 2016, many analysts have predicted that the UK will not leave and seek some sort of a partial participation in the EU.

On January 17, 2017, the Prime Minister’s response to these doubters was clear: “No, the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union.” She also stated: “We do not seek to hold on to bits of membership as we leave.”

She also outlined the procedural roadmap to how the UK will leave the EU. In particular, the Prime Minister stated that the government would bring the final withdrawal agreement to the Parliament for a vote before the Agreement comes into force. Furthermore, the UK government will repeal the European Communities Act. Surprisingly, the Prime Minister further said that the existing body of the EU law will be converted into British law.

UK Tax Haven: The Freedom to Set Competitive Tax Rates

The Prime Minister’s speech also contained something of great interest to international tax lawyers. She stated that, once the UK leaves the EU, it will “have the freedom to set the competitive tax rates and embrace the policies that would attract the world’s best companies and biggest investors to Britain.”

Not surprisingly, the reporters, the opposition and some foreign leaders had interpreted this statement as a threat of converting the UK into a major tax haven for the European companies. It appears that the UK government plans to materializes this threat of the UK tax haven only if the UK is excluded from the EU single economic market as a result of a punitive EU action.

This threat of creating a major UK tax haven echos a similar threat made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond. In his interview with a German newspaper “Welt am Sonntag”, Mr. Hammond stated that, if the UK is excluded from the EU market, the government will try to contain the damage of such a move by switching away from the European model of taxation.

Is the UK Tax Haven Likely to Become a Reality?

So, is the UK Tax Haven a certainty at this point? Probably not. I view this threat more as a negotiation tool rather than the certainty of enacting a certain plan. The UK economy is one of the most important and complex economies in the world; it is very unlikely that the British government will be even able to pursue a course of action of turning the UK into a full tax haven.

On the other hand, it is obvious that the British government will take advantage of the situation and seek to improve the country’s competitiveness through enaction of certain tax strategies. There is a high likelihood that the corporate tax rate may be lowered to a level where it is better than in most other EU countries, but cannot yet be considered as that of a tax haven.

Furthermore, it is possible that the UK tax haven will materialize only with respect to certain classes of taxpayers from certain countries. For example, the United States can be readily considered as a tax shelter for foreign individuals. The UK may be tempted to adopt a similar approach.

Finally, it is important to remember that the UK is already an attractive country from tax perspective. Its corporate rate is not high (it can even be called relatively low), there is no dividend withholding tax, favorable rules for expats, wide treaty network, and so on. Furthermore, the UK did not enact certain beneficial ownership transparency rules that other European countries already have in place.

Most likely, the UK just wishes to keep its options open for now and there is not going to be a UK tax haven in a traditional sense of this word, despite its threats to do so. International tax lawyers, however, should closely follow the UK developments for any tax opportunities that may become available to their clients.

Audit Reconsideration | International Tax Lawyers Minnesota

Audit Reconsideration is a very important IRS procedure that may provide a taxpayer with a “second chance” to challenge the results of an established IRS determination without going through the expensive process of tax litigation (assuming it is still available as an option). In this article, I will introduce and explore the concept of audit reconsideration for educational purposes.

Audit Reconsideration: General Purposes

Audit Reconsideration is procedure that allows a taxpayer to contest the results of a prior audit where additional tax was assessed and remains unpaid (or where a tax credit was reversed). This procedure is also utilized to challenge a Substitute for Return (SFR) determination.

When Can a Taxpayer Request Audit Reconsideration?

One of the most important reasons why audit reconsideration is considered to be such an important procedural tool is that it can be requested by a taxpayer at any time after an examination assessment is made (as long as the tax remains unpaid). In other words, Audit Reconsideration provides a taxpayer with the flexibility that is unmatched by any other appeal mechanism.

Reasons for Requesting Audit Reconsideration

Audit Reconsideration can be requested for any of the following five reasons:

1. Taxpayer failed to appear for the IRS audit;

2. Taxpayer moved and never received correspondence from the IRS (often, in a situation involving correspondence audits);

3. Taxpayer has additional information that was not presented during the audit;

4. Taxpayer simply disagrees with the final audit assessment (perhaps, because the IRS committed a computational or processing error in assessing the tax);

5. Taxpayer files an original delinquent return after an assessment was made due to a substitute return executed by the IRS.

Procedural Prerequisites for Requesting Audit Reconsideration

There are two important procedural prerequisites for making the request for audit reconsideration: (i) the taxpayer must have filed a tax return; and (ii) the assessment must remain unpaid or the Service must have reversed tax credits that the taxpayer disputes.

Circumstances When the IRS Will Not Consider a Request for Audit Reconsideration

There are certain circumstances when the IRS will not even consider a request for Audit Reconsideration:

(1) The taxpayer has already been granted an audit reconsideration request and did not provide any additional information with the current request that would change the audit results;

(2) The assessment was made as a result of a closing agreement under Code Section 7121 on IRS Form 906 (signed by a taxpayer pursuant to assessment within the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program) or Form 866; same applies to assessments made under Form 870-AD;

(3) The assessment was made as a result of a compromise under Code Section 7122 – such agreements are almost always final and conclusive;

(4) The assessment was made as the result of final TEFRA administrative proceedings;

(5) A final decision with respect to the tax liability was made by the US Tax Court, US District Court or the US Court of Federal Claims.

How to Request Audit Reconsideration

There is not any special form that the IRS requires in order to request an audit reconsideration. Instead, any letter composed by the taxpayer or his representative will be deemed sufficient as long as the prerequisites listed above are satisfied and the request includes the following information:

(1) the request must identify which adjustments the taxpayer is disputing – the proposed changes must be made clear to the IRS;

(2) the request must provide additional information that was not considered during the original examination (only copies of the documents should be mailed to the IRS because originals will not be returned);

(3) a copy of the original Form 4549 should be included with the letter; and

(4) a daytime and evening telephone number and the best time for the IRS to reach the taxpayer.

The request letter with supporting documentation should be mailed to the correct address listed in the IRS Publication 3598 or the office that last corresponded with the taxpayer.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Your Request for Audit Reconsideration

If you disagree with the results of your personal or business income tax and/or FBAR audit, contact Sherayzen Law Office to explore your appeal options. Preserving and properly using your administrative IRS appeal options is extremely important given the expense involved in a tax court litigation. At Sherayzen Law Office, we have helped numerous clients with their IRS Appeals and Audit Reconsideration Requests and we can help you!

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