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Belarus-Spain Tax Treaty Approved | FATCA Lawyer News

On December 19, 2017, the Belarusian Council of the Republic, which is the upper chamber of the Belarusian parliament, approved a law on the ratification of the pending Belarus-Spain Tax Treaty. The Belarus-Spain Tax Treaty will cover both income and capital gain taxes and is meant to prevent the double taxation of the same income in both countries. This development comes after both countries signed the Belarus-Spain Tax Treaty in Madrid, Spain, on June 14, 2017.

The exact text of the treaty is not yet known. There are reasons to believe, however, that it includes an article on the automatic exchange of tax-related information in compliance with the OECD standard. The exchange of information under the Belarus-Spain Tax Treaty is reported to be quite extensive.

The Belarus-Spain Tax Treaty will enter into force within three months after all of the ratification procedures are completed. Once in force and effective, the Belarus-Spain Tax Treaty will replace the agreement signed between the former Soviet Union and Spain on March 1, 1985.

The Belarus-Spain Tax Treaty is just the latest example of the recent rise in the number of tax treaties signed between various countries. It appears that the web of treaties between various countries is growing increasingly wider and diverse as a result of the global preference for bilateral negotiations over the multilateral ones.

Similarly, as a result of FATCA and CRS, there has been an explosion of the agreements concerning automatic exchange of certain tax-related information, including those related to foreign accounts and beneficial ownership of foreign corporations. Again, the general trend toward bilateral negotiations, led by FATCA implementation treaties (which are bilateral treaties between the United States and other countries), can be clearly observed from these developments.

This trend toward bilateral negotiations reflects the underlying complex historical processes of moving to an increasingly multipolar world. This, of course, offers little consolation to US taxpayers as well as taxpayers of other countries who are increasingly caught between the ever demanding tax compliance requirements of various countries. The recent Belarus-Spain Tax Treaty will make but a modest contribution to this burden; yet, it is definitely part of this trend.

Sherayzen Law Office will continue to observe and analyze these trends and developments, including the progress of the new Belarus-Spain Tax Treaty.

Hiding Assets and Income in Offshore Accounts Again Made the IRS “Dirty Dozen” List

On February 5, 2016, the IRS again stated that avoiding U.S. taxes by hiding money or assets in unreported offshore accounts remains on its annual list of tax scams known as the “Dirty Dozen” for the 2015 filing season.

The problem with offshore accounts is two-fold. On the one hand, there are numerous con-artists who use offshore accounts to lure taxpayers into scams and schemes. The second and a much larger problem for the IRS is the fact that many U.S. taxpayers used offshore account to hide assets and income from the IRS.

Fighting the strategy of using offshore accounts to hide assets and income has been one of the top priorities of the IRS since the early 2000s. The problem has been complicated by the fact that there are many legitimate reasons for having an offshore account – a fact that, unfortunately, has been largely ignored by journalists and the public opinion in the United States. Therefore, it is necessary for the IRS to approach the problem of offshore accounts carefully in order to avoid hurting innocent people.

Over the years, the IRS (with the help of Congress) has chosen five different and interrelated strategies to fight tax evasion through offshore accounts.

1. IRS Civil and Criminal Enforcement

IRS examinations, audits, subpoenas, and criminal enforcement play a central role in the IRS war against using offshore accounts to hide assets and income. The ability of the IRS to enforce U.S. tax laws is amazingly broad and the IRS will use it whenever it wishes.

Since 2009, the IRS conducted thousands of offshore-related civil audits that have produced tens of millions of dollars. The IRS has also pursued criminal charges leading to billions of dollars in criminal fines and restitutions.

Hence, brute force still looms large in fighting tax evasion through offshore accounts and creates enormous (and fully justified) fear in the hearts of many U.S. taxpayers. This fear is also central to the IRS ability to use the other four strategies listed below.

2. Extensive Reporting Requirement for Owners of Offshore Accounts

As owners of offshore accounts have already noticed, the number of reporting requirements with respect to offshore accounts has risen dramatically. In addition to FBAR (which has existed since the 1970s), FATCA introduced Form 8938 in 2011. Furthermore, Form 8621 and Schedule B to Form 1040 have been modified to require additional reporting with respect to offshore accounts. Other forms also indirectly require reporting of foreign accounts (through reporting of ownership or a beneficial interest in a foreign entity or a foreign trust).

By forcing U.S .taxpayers to do extensive reporting with respect to their offshore accounts, the IRS has achieved two goals at the same time. First, it has collected an enormous amount of information with respect to U.S. offshore accounts and their owners. This information can be used in a later investigation to track fund and identify patterns of behavior. In a short while, due to the implementation of FATCA in many jurisdictions around the world, this information will also be used to compare the banks’ information with the information provided by the taxpayers on their information returns.

Second, the enormous fines associated with offshore accounts reporting can create huge tax liabilities for noncompliant taxpayers. This provides the IRS with a financial incentive to pursue these taxpayers. These potentially disastrous noncompliance fines also serve to deter many taxpayers from engaging in risky tax evasion schemes.

Of course, one of the biggest problems associated with these reporting requirements is that the majority of persons, including tax accountants, never heard of them until they were already in trouble. When the IRS pressure started to rise, it was already too late for a lot of U.S. taxpayers to do simply current compliance and they had to pay fines to the IRS. It is important to emphasize that the process is by no means over – on the contrary, as the complexity of U.S. tax compliance continues to rise, a lot of taxpayers (and their accountants) still do not know about a lot of these requirements.

3. Voluntary Disclosures

In order to alleviate the reporting noncompliance nightmares for U.S .taxpayers, the IRS created a number of voluntary disclosure programs. The early programs were not very successful; however, after the IRS stunning victory in the 2008 UBS case, the 2009 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (OVDI) turned out to be a huge success. The 2011 OVDP, 2012 OVDP and 2014 OVDP with 2014 Streamlined Compliance Procedures followed in quick succession and with even bigger success. Since 2009, more than 54,000 OVDP disclosures took place and the IRS has collected more than $8 billion; this is not taking into account the huge surge in Streamlined disclosures since 2014.

The information that has been collected through OVDP is used to identify noncompliant individuals and entire schemes to evade U.S. taxes through offshore accounts. The IRS then uses this information to pursue taxpayers with undeclared offshore accounts, as well as the banks and bankers suspected of helping clients hide their assets overseas using offshore accounts. The IRS works closely with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to prosecute these tax evasion cases.

4. Swiss Bank Program

In addition to the voluntary disclosure program for individuals, the IRS also created a voluntary disclosure program for Swiss banks. Such voluntary disclosure program is, of course, an unprecedented event – never in history did one country force another country’s entire bank system to do a voluntary disclosure on the territory of that other country.

While the debate over this breach of Swiss sovereignty (although, technically, the Swiss government agreed to the Swiss Bank Program) is interesting, for the purposes of this article, it is important to note that Swiss Bank program was a huge step forward in attacking the usage of offshore accounts to hide assets and income.

By the end of February of 2016, about 80 Swiss banks went through Category 2 voluntary disclosure and paid penalties to the U.S. government. They also turned over enormous amount of information regarding their U.S. accountholders and the various schemes that Swiss bankers developed to hide assets and funds from the IRS. In essence, the Swiss bankers turned over to the IRS substantially all of the blueprints for tax evasion that they had created.

5. FATCA

The final major strategy for fighting the practice of using offshore accounts to hide assets and income from the IRS is the famous Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act or FATCA. Ever since FATCA entered into force, it has changed the global landscape of international tax compliance. One of the most salient features of FATCA is the fact that it forces foreign banks to report to the IRS all of the offshore accounts that they can identify as owned by U.S. persons.

This groundbreaking piece of legislation has had an enormous impact on the ability of the IRS to identify noncompliance by U.S. persons, because foreign banks now act as its agents and voluntarily disclose U.S. persons and their offshore accounts.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help With Your Offshore Accounts

If you have undisclosed offshore accounts, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible. We have helped hundreds of U.S. taxpayers to bring their U.S. tax affairs in order while saving millions of dollars in potential penalty reductions. We furthermore help to reduce your income tax liability as a result of your voluntary disclosure and post-voluntary disclosure tax planning.

Contact Us NOW to Schedule Your Initial Consultation!

DOJ Non-Prosecution Agreement with Bank Linth LLB AG

On June 19, 2015, the Department of Justice announced that Bank Linth LLB AG (Bank Linth) signed a Non-Prosecution agreement pursuant to the DOJ’s Swiss Bank Program.

Bank Linth Background

Bank Linth, one of the largest regional banks in Eastern Switzerland, was founded in 1848. It is headquartered in Uznach, Switzerland, which is approximately 35 miles southeast of Zurich. Bank Linth provided private banking and asset management services to U.S. taxpayers through private bankers based in Switzerland. It opened, serviced and profited from accounts for U.S. clients with the knowledge that many were likely not complying with their tax obligations.

Bank Linth’s cross-border banking business aided and assisted U.S. clients in opening and maintaining undeclared accounts in Switzerland and concealing the assets and income they held in these accounts. Bank Linth provided this assistance to U.S. clients in a variety of ways, including the following:

Opening and maintaining accounts in the names of sham entities;

Providing U.S. taxpayers with numbered accounts that hid the taxpayers’ identities;

Facilitating U.S. taxpayers’ withdrawal of cash from undeclared accounts; and

Agreeing to hold bank statements and other mail relating to accounts rather than sending them to U.S. taxpayers in the United States.

On several occasions, Bank Linth opened accounts for U.S. taxpayers through an external asset manager, and one of these accounts was opened in the name of a sham foundation. In that instance, Bank Linth knowingly accepted and included in account records forms provided by the directors of the sham foundation that falsely represented the ownership of the assets in the account for U.S. federal income tax purposes.

Participation in the Swiss Bank Program and the Non-Prosecution Agreement

In accordance with the terms of the Swiss Bank Program, Bank Linth described in detail the structure of its banking business, including its management and supervisory structure, and provided the names of management and legal and compliance officials. Bank Linth further provided detailed and specific information related to its illegal U.S. cross-border business, including the bank’s misconduct, policies that contributed to that misconduct and the names of the relationship managers overseeing the bank’s U.S.-related business. Bank Linth also obtained affidavits from bank employees regarding the bank’s conduct and related matters.

According to the terms of the non-prosecution agreements signed today, Bank Linth agreed to cooperate in any related criminal or civil proceedings, demonstrate its implementation of controls to stop misconduct involving undeclared U.S. accounts and pay penalties in return for the department’s agreement not to prosecute Bank Linth for tax-related criminal offenses.

Since August 1, 2008, Bank Linth held 126 U.S.-related accounts, with over $102 million in assets. Bank Linth will pay a penalty of $4.15 million (this is a post-mitigation penalty).

Consequences for US Taxpayers with Undisclosed Bank Linth Accounts

Most U.S. taxpayers who enter the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program to resolve undeclared offshore accounts will pay a penalty equal to 27.5 percent of the high value of the accounts. On August 4, 2014, the IRS increased the penalty to 50 percent if, at the time the taxpayer initiated their disclosure, either a foreign financial institution at which the taxpayer had an account or a facilitator who helped the taxpayer establish or maintain an offshore arrangement had been publicly identified as being under investigation, the recipient of a John Doe summons or cooperating with a government investigation, including the execution of a deferred prosecution agreement or non-prosecution agreement. This means that, starting June 19, 2015, noncompliant Bank Linth U.S. accountholders will now pay that 50 percent penalty to the IRS if they wish to enter the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.

Berner Kantonalbank Non-Prosecution Agreement

On June 9, 2015, the Department of Justice announced that Berner Kantonalbank AG (Berner Kantonalbank), signed a Non-Prosecution Agreement with the DOJ pursuant to the department’s Swiss Bank Program.

Swiss Bank Program Background

The Swiss Bank Program, which was announced on August 29, 2013, provided a path for Swiss banks to resolve potential criminal liabilities in the United States. Swiss banks eligible to enter the program were required to advise the department by December 31, 2013, that they had reason to believe that they had committed tax-related criminal offenses in connection with undeclared U.S.-related accounts. Banks already under criminal investigation related to their Swiss-banking activities and all individuals were expressly excluded from the program.

Swiss banks which meet the requirements of the Program are eligible for a non-prosecution agreement.

Berner Kantonalbank Background

Berner Kantonalbank was founded in 1834 as Kantonalbank von Bern, the first Swiss cantonal bank. Berner Kantonalbank is based in the Canton of Bern and presently has 73 branches in Switzerland. Berner Kantonalbank knew or had reason to know that it was likely that some U.S. taxpayers who maintained accounts at Berner Kantonalbank were not complying with their U.S. reporting obligations. Berner Kantonalbank opened, serviced and profited from accounts for U.S. clients who were not complying with their income tax obligations.

Berner Kantonalbank provided services that facilitated some U.S. clients in opening and maintaining undeclared accounts in Switzerland and concealing the assets in those accounts and related income. These services included opening and maintaining numbered accounts, allowing clients to use code names rather than full account numbers and providing hold mail services. Berner Kantonalbank opened accounts for account holders who exited other Swiss banks and accepted deposits of funds from those banks. Berner Kantonalbank also processed standing orders from U.S. persons to transfer amounts under $10,000 from their U.S.-related accounts. In one instance, a relationship manager asked an accountholder, who was a dual Swiss-U.S. citizen living in the United States, about the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and voluntary disclosure. When the accountholder failed to execute FATCA-related documents, Berner Kantonalbank took steps to close the account. In connection with that closing, the accountholder withdrew $70,000 and approximately 500,000 Swiss francs in cash.

Berner Kantonalbank: Participation in the DOJ Program for Swiss Banks

Berner Kantonalbank committed to full cooperation with the U.S. government throughout its participation in the Swiss Bank Program. As part of its cooperation, Berner Kantonalbank provided a list of the names and functions of 16 individuals who structured, operated or supervised its cross-border business. These individuals served as the chairman of the board of directors, members of the executive board, regional managers, heads of departments or heads of divisions. Berner Kantonalbank additionally provided information concerning its relationship managers and external asset managers, and it described in detail the structure of its cross-border business with U.S. persons, including narrative descriptions of high-value U.S.-related accounts and U.S.-related accounts held by entities.

Berner Kantonalbank Non-Prosecution Agreement

According to the terms of the non-prosecution agreement, Berner Kantonalbank agrees to cooperate in any related criminal or civil proceedings, demonstrate its implementation of controls to stop misconduct involving undeclared U.S. accounts and pay penalties in return for the department’s agreement not to prosecute these banks for tax-related criminal offenses.

Since August 1, 2008, Berner Kantonalbank held approximately 720 U.S.-related accounts, which included both undeclared and not undeclared accounts, with total assets of approximately $176.5 million. Berner Kantonalbank will pay a penalty of $4.619 million.

In accordance with the terms of the Swiss Bank Program, Berner Kantonalbank mitigated its penalty by encouraging U.S. accountholders to come into compliance with their U.S. tax and disclosure obligations.

Consequences for US Taxpayers With Bank Accounts At Berner Kantonalbank

While U.S. accountholders at Berner Kantonalbank who have not yet declared their accounts to the IRS may still be eligible to participate in the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, the price of such disclosure has increased.

Most U.S. taxpayers who enter the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program to resolve undeclared offshore accounts will pay a penalty equal to 27.5 percent of the high value of the accounts. On August 4, 2014, the IRS increased the penalty to 50 percent if, at the time the taxpayer initiated their disclosure, either a foreign financial institution at which the taxpayer had an account or a facilitator who helped the taxpayer establish or maintain an offshore arrangement had been publicly identified as being under investigation, the recipient of a John Doe summons or cooperating with a government investigation, including the execution of a deferred prosecution agreement or non-prosecution agreement. This means that the noncompliant U.S. accountholders at Berner Kantonalbank must now pay that 50 percent penalty to the IRS if they wish to enter the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Undisclosed Foreign Accounts

If you have undisclosed foreign accounts at Berner Kantonalbank or any other bank outside of the United States, please contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible to explore your voluntary disclosure options. Our professional experienced legal team has helped hundreds of US taxpayers worldwide to bring their US tax affairs in order. We can help you!

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