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IRS Cracks Down on Sovereign Debit Cards linked to Offshore Accounts

On January 25, 2017, the federal court in Montana authorized the IRS to serve John Doe Summons on Michael Berg of Bozeman, Montana, seeking information about US taxpayers with offshore accounts established by Sovereign Management & Legal LTD (“Sovereign”), a Panamanian company. In particular, the IRS is interested in US taxpayers who use debit cards linked to these offshore accounts (“Sovereign Debit Cards”). Let’s explore in more detail why the IRS is pursuing John Doe summons with respect to Sovereign Debit Cards.

Sovereign Debit Cards Used to Access Secret Offshore Accounts Without Identifying the Owner of the Accounts

First of all, it is important to point out that Sovereign is already on the OVDP list of “facilitators”, which means that any US taxpayer who owns Sovereign offshore accounts and enters the OVDP will be subject to a 50% Offshore Penalty. Additionally, it means that the IRS has long been focusing on this company and what it is doing to promote US tax evasion.

It seems that there is a particular scheme linked to Sovereign debit cards that bothers the IRS. In its press release, the IRS and the DOJ stated that Sovereign advertised various products that allow US taxpayers to hide their offshore assets. In particular, the IRS emphasized one “package” where a corporation owned by another entity (including a fake charitable foundation) is officially governed by nominee officers provided by Sovereign. Then, Sovereign would open bank accounts for these entities and provide Sovereign debit cards (issued in the name of a nominee) to the taxpayer. By using Sovereign debit cards, taxpayers were able to access their offshore funds without revealing their identities.

In essence, the main issue here is the use of pre-paid debit cards for tax evasion purposes.

The Information that the IRS Seeks Regarding Sovereign Debit Cards

The John Doe summons issued by the IRS seek the records of US taxpayers who received Sovereign debit cards, specifically “Sovereign Gold Cards”. The IRS wishes to obtain the records for eleven years – 2005 through 2016.

This is the Second Time the IRS Seeks Regarding Sovereign Debit Cards

The current summons represent just a part of the case against the Sovereign . The IRS and the DOJ already previously obtained a similar order from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, which authorized the issuance of eight separate John Doe summonses on bank and other entities for information related to Sovereign and its US customers. The evidence submitted in the request to issue the current Montana John Doe summons was built in part on the information provided in response to the earlier summons.

Impact of Sovereign Debit Cards John Doe Summons on US Taxpayers

The new Sovereign Debit Cards John Doe Summons should be of grave concern to US taxpayers who own Sovereign Debit Cards as well as other noncompliant US taxpayers. Let’s discuss two most important aspects of these John Doe Summons with respect to noncompliant US taxpayers.

First of all, all noncompliant US taxpayers related to Sovereign in one way or another are in grave risk of the IRS detection. As long as their names appear in Sovereign’s internal records, these taxpayers are likely to be discovered and prosecuted by the IRS.

Second, what is especially disconcerting is the time frame for the new John Doe summons – years 2005 through 2016. The IRS is seeking records of even pre-UBS case tax noncompliance. This trend to going back that far should worry not only the US taxpayers with Sovereign debit cards, but also any US taxpayers who did quiet disclosure or just closed their accounts a long time ago and believe that they are safe from the IRS prosecution because of the passage of time. The willingness of the IRS to go back that far shows that all of these taxpayers are at risk.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help with Your Voluntary Disclosure Concerning Sovereign Debit Cards and/or Any Other Undisclosed Foreign Accounts

As the IRS correctly pointed out, “the time to come forward and come into compliance is running short, and those who continue to violate U.S. tax and reporting laws will pay a heavy price.” The “heavy price” might be the criminal tax evasion penalties and willful and criminal FBAR penalties – a situation where a taxpayer might owe in penalties more than he ever had on his offshore accounts and he will also be put in prison for potentially as many as ten years.

This is why it is very important for noncompliant US taxpayers to contact Sherayzen Law Office to discuss their offshore voluntary disclosure options as soon as possible. The situation is particularly critical for US taxpayers with Sovereign debit cards.

We have successfully helped hundreds of US taxpayers avoid criminal penalties and achieve civil case resolutions with the IRS. We can Help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Taxation of Royalties Ceases Under Estonia-UK Tax Treaty | MN Tax Lawyer

On January 18, 2017, the HM Revenue & Customs announced that the withholding tax on royalties under the 1994 Estonia-UK tax treaty has been eliminated retroactively as of October 16, 2015.

Under the original Estonia-UK tax treaty, the rates had been 5 percent for industrial, commercial, and scientific equipment royalties and 10 percent in other cases. However, paragraph 7 of the Exchange Notes to the Treaty contains the Most Favoured Nation” (MFN) provision relating to royalties (Article 12). Under the MFN provision, UK tax residents only need to pay the lowest tax withholding rate ever agreed by Estonia in a Double-Taxation Treaty (DTA) it later agrees with an OECD member country that was a member when the UK-Estonia tax treaty was signed in 1994.

It turns that Switzerland was an OECD member country in 1994. In 2002, Estonia signed a tax treaty with Switzerland, but the treaty did not impact the UK withholding tax rate at that time. In 2014, however, Estonia and Switzerland signed an amending protocal to the 2002 Estonia-Switzerland tax treaty. Under the protocol, the treaty was revised to provide for only resident state taxation of royalties.

It was this provision in the 2014 protocol to the Estonia-Switzerland tax treaty that triggered the 1994 MFN provision of the Estonia-UK tax treaty. Therefore, when the 2014 protocol entered into force on October 16, 2015, it effectively eliminated tax withholding on royalties not only in Switzerland (wth respect to Estonia), but also in the United Kingdom. While the taxation of royalties under the Estonia-UK tax treaty ceased on October 16, 2015, the HM Revenue & Customs waited for more than a year to announce it on January 18, 2017.

It should be pointed out that MFN provisions, such as the one in Estonia-UK tax treaty, quite often have an important impact throughout the treaty network of a country. This ripple effect of the MFN provisions creates enormous opportunities for international tax planning that is often utilized by international tax lawyers, including US international tax law firms such as Sherayzen Law Office, PLLC.

2017 Tax Filing Season Begins January 23 & Tax Returns due April 18, 2017

On December 12, 2016, the IRS announced today that the 2017 tax filing season (for the tax year 2016) will begin on January 23, 2017. The 2017 tax filing season e-filings will be accepted by the IRS starting that date. The IRS again expects that more than four out of five tax returns will be prepared electronically using tax return preparation software.

2017 Tax Filing Season Deadline is on April 18, 2017

The filing deadline to submit 2016 tax returns will be April 18, 2017 (Tuesday), rather than the usual April 15. The delay is caused by the fact that April 16 falls on a Saturday which would usually move the deadline to the following Monday (April 17). However, April 17 is the Emancipation Day, which is a legal holiday in the District of Columbia, and the final deadline is pushed to April 18, 2017 (under the law, legal holidays in the District of Columbia affect the national filing deadlines).

Early Paper Filing Offers No Advantage in the 2017 Tax Filing Season

Many software companies and tax professionals will begin accepting tax returns before January 23 and then they will submit the returns when the IRS systems open. It is noteworthy to state, however, that the IRS will begin processing paper tax returns only on January 23. Hence, there is no advantage to filing paper tax returns in early January instead of waiting for the IRS to begin accepting e-filed returns.

Some of the 2017 Tax Filing Season Refunds Could Be Affected by the PATH Act

The IRS also reminded the taxpayers that the Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes Act (the PATH Act) will have a direct impact on the timing of some refunds. In particular, the PATH Act requires the IRS to hold refunds that claim Earned Income Tax Credit (“EITC”) and the Additional Child Tax Credit (“ACTC”) until February 15. The hold applies to the entire refund, not just the portion associated with EITC and ACTC. Then, it will take several days for these refunds to be released and processed through financial institutions. With weekends and holidays, the IRS estimates that many taxpayers will not be able to access their refunds until after February 27, 2017.

The idea behind the new law is to protect the taxpayers by giving the IRS more time to detect and prevent tax fraud, which has become a huge headache for the IRS in the past few years.