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Disclosure of Swiss Bank Staff Details to the IRS Blocked by Swiss Court

On January 3, 2018, a decision of the Swiss Federal Court (the nation’s highest court) dated December 18, 2017, was published, prohibiting automatic disclosure of the Swiss bank staff details to the IRS and the US DOJ. Let’s analyze this decision in more detail.

Disclosure of Swiss Bank Staff Details: History of the Case

The lawsuit decided in 2017 is not the first time that the Swiss Federal Court is placing limits on the IRS ability to obtain information from Switzerland with respect to Swiss citizens. Already in 2016, the Court ruled that a Swiss bank could not disclose to the US authorities the names of financial advisers who helped US taxpayers set up secret Swiss bank accounts (“facilitators”). The reasoning was based on the inadequate level of data protection in the United States which is far below the Swiss Data Protection Act.

It should be emphasized, however, that in the same opinion, the Court also said that the names of facilitators could be disclosed to the US government despite the data protection concerns if the failure to do so would deepen the legal dispute between Switzerland and a the United States and harm the Swiss reputation as a financial center.

The lawsuit with respect to disclosure of Swiss bank staff details was initiated by an unnamed US taxpayer who lived in Switzerland. He filed a lawsuit to prevent the Swiss equivalent of the IRS, the Federal Tax Administration (“FTA”) from disclosing to the US government the name of third parties who were involved or might have been involved with his financial affairs. The lower Swiss court agreed with the taxpayer.

Automatic Disclosure of Swiss Bank Staff Details to the IRS Prohibited

The Swiss Federal Court also partially agreed with the unnamed US taxpayer, stating that FTA could not automatically turn over to the US government the names of Swiss bankers and others who might have helped US tax residents in evading their US tax reporting obligations. The reasoning behind the decision was based on relevance.

Basically, the Could stated that the Swiss bank staff details in this particular case were not necessary to the US government to prove its tax evasion case against the unnamed US account holder. “What is needed . . . is information about the existence and intervention of these third parties, not their identities,” the Court said.

The Court basically stated that administrative assistance requests should not be used for indirect purposes. In other words, the IRS cannot use such requests “in order to obtain information about the identities of alleged accomplices of the taxpayer . . . that could be subject to criminal prosecution if this information is not relevant to elucidate the tax situation of the same taxpayer.”

Obviously, this reasoning does not offer any decisive protection for Swiss bank staff details. It appears that, if the information would have been necessary for the US tax authorities to prove its tax evasion case, the transfer of Swiss Bank Staff details would have been permitted. Additionally, the decision might have come in a bit late as hundreds of documents with the Swiss bankers’ names have already been turned over to the IRS.

Swiss Bank Staff Case Offers No Protection to US Taxpayer’s Data Transfer

Moreover, the Court’s decision offered no hope for blocking the transfer of US taxpayers’ information. While the Court blocked the transfer of the Swiss bank staff details, it still allowed the FTA to provide to the US government the US account holder’s information. This means that the transfer of data concerning US tax residents from Switzerland to the United States will continue unimpeded.

Swiss Bank Staff Case Offers Insight Into IRS’ Next Target in Switzerland

This case also offers a good insight into the current IRS strategy concerning Switzerland. It appears that the IRS is compiling statistics concerning Swiss bank staff who might have helped US taxpayers evade their US tax reporting obligations. Most likely, the focus is on the bankers who provided this help regularly to a large amount of US taxpayers.

Sherayzen Law Office will continue to observe the IRS latest moves in Switzerland.

Argentinian Tax Information Exchange Agreement Signed | FATCA Lawyer

On December 23, 2016, Argentina and the United States signed a Tax Informational Exchange Agreement (“Argentinian Tax Information Exchange Agreement” or “Argentinian TIEA”) in Buenos Aires. Let’s explore the main points of the Argentinian Tax Information Exchange Agreement.

Argentinian Tax Information Exchange Agreement: Information to Be Exchanged

The information to be exchanged under the Argentinian Tax Information Exchange Agreement is described in its very first article. Article 1 states that the parties will provide information to each other that is “foreseeably relevant to the administration and enforcement of the domestic laws of the Contracting Parties concerning taxes covered by this Agreement”.

Article 1 then specifies that such information includes everything “foreseeably relevant to the determination, assessment and collection of such taxes, the recovery and enforcement of tax claims, or the investigation or prosecution of tax matters”.

Argentinian Tax Information Exchange Agreement: Taxes

What are these “taxes” mentioned in Article 1? Article 3 of the Argentinian TIEA explains that the focus is on information related to US federal taxes and all national taxes administered by the Federal Administration of Public Revenue. Obviously, the Argentinian TIEA will apply to any identical or substantially similar taxes that are imposed after the Agreement is signed in addition to, or in place of, the existing taxes. Both parties, Argentina and the United States, agreed to notify each other of any significant changes that have been made in their taxation laws or other laws that relate to the application of the Argentinian TIEA.

Argentinian Tax Information Exchange Agreement: Automatic Exchange, Spontaneous Exchange and Exchange Upon Request

The Argentinian Tax Information Exchange Agreement prescribes three modes of exchange of information. First, Article 6 of the Argentinian TIEA provides for automatic exchange of certain information.

Second, Article 7 allows Argentina and the United States to spontaneously transmit to each other’s respective tax authorities any relevant information that has come to the attention of the either Party’s tax authorities. For example, if Argentinian tax authorities obtain information that points to US tax noncompliance of a dual citizen of Argentina and the United States, Argentina can provide this information to the IRS.

Finally, Article 5 allows Argentina and the United States to request relevant information from each other. There is an interesting clause in Article 5 that removes potential limitations on the exchange of information upon request: “such information shall be exchanged without regard to whether the requested Party needs such information for its own tax purposes or whether the conduct being investigated would constitute a crime under the laws of the requested Party if such conduct occurred in the requested Party.”

Article 5 of the Argentinian Tax Information Exchange Agreement is remarkable in another aspect. It states that, if the information possessed by the “requested Party (i.e. the country that received the request from another country) is insufficient to enable it to comply with the request for information, the requested Party needs to engage in information gathering measures in order to provide the other Party will the requested information. The requested Party needs to do these investigations even if it does not regularly collect this information or need it.

Under Article 5(3), the requested Party, if specially requested so by the applicant Party, has to provide the information in the form of depositions of witnesses and authenticated copies of original records.

Argentinian Tax Information Exchange Agreement: Foreign Bank and Beneficial Ownership Information in Focus

Article 5(4) also clarifies what is at the heart of the exchange of information upon request. First, information “held by banks, other financial institutions, and any person acting in an agency or fiduciary capacity including nominees and trustees.”

Second, the beneficial ownership information of “companies, partnerships, trusts, foundations, “Anstalten” and other persons”. This information should also include all persons in the ownership chain. In the case of trust, “information on settlors, trustees and beneficiaries”. In the case of foundations, “information on founders, members of the foundation council and beneficiaries”. Publicly-traded companies and public collective investment funds are excluded (unless the information can be obtained without giving rise to “disproportionate difficulties” to the requested Party).

Argentinian Tax Information Exchange Agreement: Tax Examinations Abroad

Article 8 of the Argentinian Tax Information Exchange Agreement grants each Party the right to conduct tax examinations abroad. Obviously, the written consent of the persons to be interviewed has to be secured first. However, once both Parties agree to the examination, “all decisions with respect to the conduct of the tax examination shall be made by the Party conducting the examination.”

Argentinian Tax Information Exchange Agreement: Entry Into Force

According to Article 14, the Argentinian Tax Information Exchange Agreement shall enter into force “one month from the date of receipt of Argentina’s written notification to the United States that Argentina has completed its necessary internal procedures for entry into force of this Agreement.”

Once the Argentinian TIEA is in force, its provisions will apply for requests “made on or after the date of entry into force, concerning information for taxes relating to taxable periods beginning on or after January 1 of the calendar year next following the year in which this Agreement enters into force or, where there is no taxable period, for all charges to tax arising on or after January 1 of the calendar year next following the year in which this Agreement enters into force.”

Argentinian Tax Information Exchange Agreement: Impact on US Taxpayers

The Argentinian Tax Information Exchange Agreement will have a profound impact on US taxpayers with undisclosed Argentinian income and Argentinian assets. First, the combination of three different disclosure modes – automatic, spontaneous and upon request – greatly increases the risk of the IRS detection of undisclosed Argentinian assets and unreported Argentinian income. The spontaneous exchange of information may be especially dangerous because it increases the probability of indirect (and unpredictable) detection. For example, if information about US tax noncompliance is obtain through an audit of an Argentinian tax return, such information may be turned over to the IRS.

Second, the Argentinian Tax Information Exchange Agreement allows the IRS to obtain witness depositions and other evidence against noncompliant US taxpayers at a relatively low cost. Furthermore, the Argentinian TIEA grants the IRS the ability to conduct examinations in Argentina, greatly enhancing the IRS reach in that country. In other words, the chances of successful imposition of civil penalties and even criminal prosecution by the IRS of noncompliant US taxpayers is substantially increased by the Argentinian TIEA.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office if You Have Undisclosed Foreign Assets and Foreign Income in Argentina

If you have undisclosed Argentinian assets and income, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible. Once the IRS detects your noncompliance or even just commences an investigation to verify whether you were not tax compliant, then you may lose all of your voluntary disclosure options.

Sherayzen Law Office is an international tax law firm that specializes in offshore voluntary disclosures of undisclosed foreign assets and foreign income. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers to bring their US tax affairs into full compliance with US tax laws while reducing their penalties and, in many cases, even their tax liabilities. We Can Help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

US Tax Consequences of the New Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme

A recent article from Reuters discusses the appearance of the new Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme. The idea is to allow Indians to deposit gold into the banks in return for interest payments; in return, the Indian government is hoping to utilize the gold hoarded by its citizens to reduce gold imports.

While the idea is that the Indian Gold Monetisation Plan will be open to resident Indians only, it is likely that at least some US tax residents will be able to participate in the scheme either as US citizens and US permanent residents (who are US tax residents irrespective of where they live) or as Indian non-residents who never declared their non-residency status in India.

This article intends to explore some of the potential US tax problems that may arise as are result of participation in the Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme. The conclusions drawn in this article are preliminary and they may or may not reflect the actual IRS position in the future; the conclusions are and also should be treated simply as general discussion of the subject, not as a legal advice.

2015 Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme

In October 25, 2015, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that a new Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme will be in place by the time of an ancient Hindu festival – Diwali (November 11, 2015). Under the scheme, Indian residents (as well as mutual funds and ETFs) will be able to use gold to open an essentially a fixed-deposit bank account (based on a gold certificate) with an Indian bank; in return, they will receive a gold certificate valued at the “prevailing gold price” at the time the account is opened and they will further receive interest on these gold deposits.

The gold will be collected by the Collection and Purity Testing Centers (CPTCs) certified by the Bureau of Indian Standards. The banks will issue the gold certificates against these gold deposits.

The new bank accounts will start earning interest after the deposited gold is refined into tradable gold bars or 30 days after the receipt of gold at the CPTCs or the bank’s designated branch – whichever is earlier.

There will be three types of fixed-deposit accounts under the Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme: short-term (1-3 years), medium term (5-7 years) and long-term (12-15 years). The banks will determine any premature withdrawal penalties.

Upon the maturity of the fixed-deposit account, the depositor will receive either the gold or the equivalent amount in rupees. The choice of receiving the gold or the rupees needs to be made at the time the account is opened.

Indian Tax Treatment of Interest and Capital Gains Earned As a Result of the Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme

In this Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme, there are three potential points of tax recognition by the participating depositors: capital gain on the original gold deposit, interest earned on the gold deposit at maturity and capital gain at the point of gold redemption (or principal redemption) at the then-current market prices.

The Indian government does not tax any of these three tax recognition events – i.e. neither capital gains nor the interest earned.

Potential US Tax Treatment of Interest Earned As Part of Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme

Despite the fact that Indian government does not tax the interest return on the gold certificates and absent any tax treaty changes, I believe that the most likely outcome is that this interest will be taxed as ordinary income in the United States. There is some marginal potential for the interest to be treated as collectible gain, but I just do not see this as a likely scenario when the IRS has a chance to make a ruling on it.

Potential Problems in US Tax Treatment of the Initial Deposit of Gold to Obtain Gold Certificates under the Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme

Generally, in the United States, any gain on the sale of gold bars and gold jewelry is treated as a capital gain from the sale of a collectible subject to 28% tax gain. There is a potential additional 3.8% Net Investment Income Tax as a result of Obamacare.

The question really becomes whether the opening of the gold account under the Gold Monetisation Scheme, where the gold is being melted into bars and the depositor receives a gold certificate with a rupee account at fair market value, should be considered as a sale or exchange of gold or is this just a 1031 exchange of the like properties?

The answer cannot be given with any certainty at this point, because the IRS has made no rulings on this very subject. However, it is possible that such an even will be treated by the IRS as a taxable exchange, because the gold is transformed into a rupees-based deposit account based on its market value – i.e. the number of rupees given to the depositor is equivalent to the fair market value, not the cost-basis that the depositor has at the point the gold is given to CPTCs.

On the other hand, the IRS could agree with an argument that, under the Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme, the gold is nothing but a guarantee for the rupee deposit account. Since the depositor receives a Gold Certificate and can get the same gold back upon the maturity of the account, it does not seem fair to tax the gain on the gold at this point (this argument, may not work if the deposit chooses to receive the original deposit back in rupees). If the 1031 rules are used to analyze this situation, the majority of secondary sources (such as EFT law firm opinions) seem to indicate that there may not be a taxable exchange for US tax purposes in this case. I tend to agree with this position in most situations, but it is too early to make the final determination at this point.

There is actually merit to both arguments and, until the gold certificates are actually issued and all facts can be analyzed, it is difficult to state what the IRS position will be.

Potential US Tax Treatment of the Gold/Rupee Redemption Based on Gold Certificates Issued under the Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme

There are two issues here: (1) is the gold redemption considered to be a taxable event; (2) is the rupee redemption under the gold certificates considered to be a taxable and how should it be taxed.

1. Gold Redemption

Let’s analyze the physical gold redemption first. It appears that the deposit will be able to obtain the same amount of gold irrespective of the changes in value since the original gold was melted into bars at CPTCs. This means that, if the 1 gram of gold is originally melted at 2,500 rupees, and rises in price to 3,000 rupees within three years, the deposit will still get one gram of gold. There seems to be a gain here of 500 rupees, but there is no actual monetization of gain. This is a hypothetical gain on the conversion of the gold certificate into physical gold.

The taxation of gain in a situation where one form of gold is transformed into another form of gold is one of the most complex topics in the US taxation of collectibles. Often times, even the same certificates may be taxed in a different manner.

Due to the fact that this topic is heavily fact-dependent with little IRS official guidance, it is best to delay the answer of this question until the time when these certificates are issued and can be analyzed in the actual factual context. At that time, if you have any questions regarding taxation of your gold certificate, contact Sherayzen Law Office directly.

2. Rupee Redemption

Unlike the gold redemption (which, depending on the circumstances, may not be taxable at all), the issue of taxability of the rupee redemption of the gold is fairly straightforward – this is a taxable event where gold is exchanged for rupees. Most likely, this exchange will be taxed in the United States as a collectible capital gain rate of 28% percent.

However, there are a couple of complications with respect to calculating the collectible gain. First, it should be remembered that the collectible gain should be calculated in US dollars (contact Sherayzen Law Office directly for more information). Second, the cost-basis of the gold will depend on whether the conversion of gold into a Gold Certificate is considered to be a taxable gain. If it is, then, the cost basis would be the fair market value at the time the gold is submitted by the depositor to be melted into bars at CPTCs. If it is not, then the original cost-basis (i.e. what the gold was actually acquired for) will be used in the determination of the collectible gain.

Other Issues Regarding 2015 Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme

In addition to US collectible and interest tax issues discussed above, investing through Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme may bring forth other US tax requirements. In particular, I wish to emphasize here that accounts opened through Indian Gold Monetisation Scheme are most likely reportable accounts for FBAR and Form 8938 purposes.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help With US Tax Compliance

If you are a US person who has foreign accounts, foreign assets and/or foreign income, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help with your US tax compliance. Our experienced legal team, headed by the firm’s founder, attorney Eugene Sherayzen, will thoroughly analyze your case, identify your current and past US international tax compliance issues, develop a compliance plan for you (whether for current-year compliance or as part of your voluntary disclosure), and implement this plan, including preparation of all legal documents and tax forms.

US international tax laws are complex and should be handled by professionals with deep knowledge of the subject matter. This why You should contact Sherayzen Law Office Now!

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.

Vadian Bank AG Signs Non-Prosecution Agreement with DOJ

On May 8, 2015, Vadian Bank AG (Vadian) became the second bank to sign a Non-Prosecution Agreement with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) pursuant to the DOJ Program for Swiss Banks.

Program for Swiss Banks: Background Information

On August 29, 2013, the DOJ announced the creation of the “The Program for Non-Prosecution Agreements or Non-Target Letters for Swiss Banks (Program)”. The basic goal of the program was to allow Swiss banks to purge themselves of the prior US tax non-compliance (or complicity with such non-compliance) in exchange for providing DOJ with detailed description of their illegal activities, bank accounts owned by US persons and, in many cases, the payment of monetary penalties.

The Program is a really a version of the 2014 OVDP for foreign banks. However, it was not open to all banks. The banks already under criminal investigation related to their Swiss-banking activities and all individuals were expressly excluded from the program.

As of the time of this writing, the application process has already been completed for the great majority of the Swiss banks, and the Program has entered into the resolution phase (i.e. the review of the banks’ disclosure and penalty calculation).

Vadian bank’s case was the second such case that completed the resolution phase (BSI SA was the first bank to do so).

Vadian Bank Background

Vadian has one office and 26 employees. Prior to 2008, Vadian’s business predominantly consisted of savings accounts, residential mortgage lending and small business loans. In 2007, Vadian hired a marketing firm to assist with its planned growth into private banking, and focused its efforts on attracting external asset managers. In 2008, after it became publicly known that UBS was a target of a criminal investigation, Vadian accepted accounts from U.S. persons who were forced out of other Swiss banks. At this time, Vadian’s management was aware that the U.S. authorities were pursuing Swiss banks that facilitated tax evasion for U.S. accountholders in Switzerland, but was not deterred because Vadian had no U.S. presence. As a result of its efforts, after August 2008, Vadian attracted cross-border private banking business and increased its U.S. related accounts from two to more than 70, with $76 million in assets under management.

Through its managers, employees and/or other individuals, Vadian knew or believed that many of its U.S. accountholders were not complying with their U.S. tax obligations, and Vadian would and did assist those clients to conceal assets and income from the IRS. Vadian’s services included: “hold mail” services; numbered accounts, where the client was known to most bank employees only by a number or code name; opening and maintaining accounts for U.S. taxpayers through non-U.S. entities such as corporations, trusts or foundations; and accepting instructions from U.S.-based accountholders to prevent investments from being made in U.S.-based securities that would require disclosure to U.S. tax authorities.

Vadian Bank: Terms the DOJ Non-Prosecution Agreement

According to the terms of the non-prosecution agreement that was signed on May 20, 2015, Vadian 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 a $4.253 million penalty in return for the department’s agreement not to prosecute Vadian for tax-related criminal offenses.

In resolving its criminal liabilities under the program, Vadian also provided extensive cooperation and encouraged U.S. accountholders to come into compliance.

Consequences of Vadian Non-Prosecution Agreement for Vadian US Accountholders

If you have (or had at any point since the year 2008) undeclared foreign accounts at Vadian, you may still be eligible to participate in the OVDP (assuming that you can pass the IRS-CI Preclearance process). However, the price of participating in the OVDP has almost doubled from the pre-Agreement 27.5% to the current 50% of the highest value of your undisclosed foreign assets.

Of course, if the behavior was non-willful, Streamlined options remain available at the same penalty rates.

What Should Vadian US Accountholders Do?

If you are a US person and an accountholder at Vadian, please contact the experienced international tax law firm of Sherayzen Law Office to explore your voluntary disclosure options as soon as possible.