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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Voluntary Compliance with US Tax Laws | International Tax Attorney Austin

The IRS has repeatedly stated that the US tax system is a voluntary compliance system. Yet, what does “voluntary compliance” mean in this context? Does it mean that US taxpayers only need to comply with US tax laws whenever they wish to do it? Does it mean that any US taxpayer has a right to refuse to comply with US tax laws or file his tax returns whenever he feels like doing it?

A lot of people tried to take this position and failed. The IRS has always won on the issue that US taxpayers have an obligation to comply with US tax laws, whether they want to do it or not.

Then, what is so “voluntary” about our tax system? Let’s explore this question in more detail.

Voluntary Compliance with US Tax Laws is Obligatory

Let us start with the affirmative statement that the word “voluntary” does not refer to the actual obligation of US taxpayers to comply with US tax laws. In other words, the compliance with US tax laws is compulsory and any noncompliance with US tax laws is punishable to the extent permitted by the law. Intentional noncompliance may even result in incarceration of a noncompliant taxpayer.

The IRS Inability to Engage in Full Enforced Tax Compliance

Since the word “voluntary” does not apply to the actual obligation to comply with US tax laws, we must look at the assessment of US tax liability to understand what voluntary compliance means. In particular, our focus should be on what is known as “enforced tax compliance” – i.e. direct assessment of tax liability and the audit of tax returns.

Here, we encounter an obvious yet interesting fact: the IRS does not have the resources to audit every one of the hundreds of millions of US taxpayers (resident and non-resident, individual and business), especially on an annual basis. Similarly, the IRS also lacks the ability to audit every single tax return every year; in fact, it only audits about 3% of all tax returns per year.

This means that the IRS does not have the capacity to sustain a system of enforced tax compliance and the vast majority of US taxpayers operate outside of this system.

The Definition of Voluntary Compliance

This lack of the IRS ability to engage in 100% enforced tax compliance leads to the inevitable conclusion that it has to rely on US taxpayers to timely file their own tax returns, assess their own tax liability and pay this tax liability to the IRS. It is precisely in this sense that US tax compliance system is “voluntary”.

In other words, voluntary compliance means that US taxpayers do their own self-assessment of their US tax liability (hopefully, in accordance with the IRS guidance) instead of the IRS doing it for each of them. Underlying this voluntary compliance, however, is the threat that the IRS can audit the tax returns and impose noncompliance penalties.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with Your Voluntary Compliance Concerning US International Tax Laws

The IRS focus on the enforced tax compliance regarding the US international tax obligations of US taxpayers has caused an unprecedented rise in the voluntary compliance in this area of law. Noncompliant US taxpayers are at a historically-high risk of detection by the IRS and may face draconian IRS penalties, including jail time.

This means that, if you have foreign assets and foreign income, you need the professional help of Sherayzen Law Office to bring your tax affairs into full compliance with US tax laws. Our firm is highly experienced in the area of US international tax compliance with hundreds of successful cases closed and millions of dollars saved in US taxes and potential penalties! We can help you!

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US Continental Shelf Definition of the United States | US Tax Attorney

The US continental shelf presents a unique problem to the tax definition of the United States. It is governed by a special tax provision that sets it apart from any other tax definition. If fact, the US continental shelf is only considered to be part of the United States with respect to specific taxpayers who are engaged in a particular activity on or over the continental shelf. In this article, I will explore certain features of the US continental shelf definition of the United States that distinguishes it from any other tax provision in the Internal Revenue Code (IRC).

Definition of the US Continental Shelf

For the purposes of the US income tax, the IRC § 638(1) states that the United States “when used in a geographical sense includes the seabed and subsoil of those submarine areas which are adjacent to the territorial waters of the United States and over which the United States has exclusive rights, in accordance with international law, with respect to the exploration and exploitation of natural resources.” The opening clause of IRC § 638 specifically states that this definition of the United States applies only to the activities “with respect to mines, oil and gas wells, and other natural deposits.”

Analysis of the Definition of the US Continental Shelf

Two aspects need to be noted with respect to the definition above. First, the reference to international tax law means that the US government considers 200 miles of land underneath the ocean as its territory (the so-called “Exclusive Economic Zone” or “EEZ”). An interesting assumption that underlies IRC § 638 is that the continental shelf and the EEZ are the same.

Second, I want to emphasize that this is the definition that is tied to land only, not the water above the land – even more precisely, to certain activities on the ocean’s floor rather than in the water. This is a highly important aspect of IRC § 638, because it produces interesting results.

On the one hand, anyone (including foreign vessels and foreign contractors) drilling or exploring oil in the US continental shelf is considered to be engaged in a trade or business in the United States, which subjects these individuals and companies to US income tax. This also means that US tax withholding needs to be done with respect to foreign contractors. Moreover, even personal property (located over the US continental shelf) of a taxpayer engaged in the drilling or the exploration of the US continental shelf would most likely be classified as US personal property within the meaning of IRC § 956.

On the other hand, fishing in a boat in the same zone will not be considered as an activity within the United States, because it is not linked to mines, oil and gas wells, and other natural deposits.

This means that the application of the US Continental Shelf’s definition of the United States depends on the activity of the taxpayer, not just his location.

US Continental Shelf Rules and Foreign Countries

There is one more interesting aspect of the US continental shelf definition of the United States: its application to foreign countries. The first part of IRC § 638(2) states that the same definition of the continental shelf will also apply to foreign countries – i.e. the seabed and subsoil adjacent to the foreign country or possession and over which the country has EEZ rights.

At the end, however, IRC § 638(2) contains an interesting limitation: “ but this paragraph shall apply in the case of a foreign country only if it exercises, directly or indirectly, taxing jurisdiction with respect to such exploration or exploitation.” In other words, if a foreign country exercises its taxing jurisdiction over the continental shelf, then it is considered to be part of a foreign country. Otherwise, it will be considered as “international waters” (since it is also outside of the US continental shelf).

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with US Tax Issues

The definition of the United States in the context of the US continental shelf is just one of many examples of the enormous complexity of US tax laws. While even US citizens with domestic assets only have to struggle with these issues, the complexity of US tax laws is multiplied numerous times when one deals with a foreign individual/company or even US taxpayers with foreign assets. It is just too easy to get yourself into trouble.

This is why you need the help of the professional international tax law firm of Sherayzen Law Office. Our firm specializes in helping US and foreign taxpayers with their annual tax compliance, tax planning and dealing with past US tax noncompliance.

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