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IRS Wins Against Wells Fargo’s Tax Shelter Scheme | Int’l Tax Lawyers MN

On May 25, 2017, the IRS sealed another victory against the infamous abusive tax shelter known as STARS (Structured Trust Advantaged Repackaged Securities).

The actual victory occurred on November 17, 2016, when a jury in Minnesota found Wells Fargo guilty of engaging in abusive tax shelter and determined that Wells Fargo was not entitled to a about $350 million of foreign tax credits. On May 25, 2017, however, the IRS expanded that victory when the Minnesota federal district court found Wells Fargo liable for a 20 percent negligence penalty.

Wells Fargo’s Tax Shelter Scheme can be traced to Barclays Bank PLC (“Barclays”). Barclays marketed the STARS transaction to American banks, including Wells Fargo. STARS was designed to exploit differences between the tax laws in the United States and in the United Kingdom.

Wells Fargo’s Tax Shelter Scheme is not the first one to be rejected by courts. In fact, at this point, three other cases have rejected the STARS tax shelters similar to Wells Fargo’s Tax Shelter Scheme. These case are: Bank of New York, BB&T Bank and Santander Bank purchased. Santander Holdings USA, Inc. v. United States, 844 F.3d 15 (1st Cir. 2016), pet. for cert. filed, March 20, 2017 (No. 16 1130); Bank of N.Y. Mellon Corp. v. Comm’r, 801 F.3d 104 (2d Cir. 2015), cert. denied, 136 S. Ct. 1377 (2016); Salem Fin., Inc. v. United States, 786 F.3d 932 (Fed. Cir. 2015), cert. denied, 136 S. Ct. 1366 (2016).

The recent victory by the IRS against Wells Fargo’s Tax Shelter Scheme is an important reminder of the salience of the business purpose doctrine in US international tax law. Sherayzen Law Office has previously written on the doctrine and emphasized how crucial it is to distinguish legitimate tax planning from engaging in abusive tax shelters.

Sherayzen Law Office advocates an approach that emphasizes legitimate tax planning that allows US taxpayers to utilize the advantages offered by US tax laws without engaging in abusive tax schemes, like STARS.

Offshore Voluntary Compliance Draws 100,000 Taxpayers and $10 Billion

On October 21, 2016, the IRS announced that more than 100,000 US taxpayers participated in its Offshore Voluntary Compliance programs paying a total of more than $10 billion. Let’s explore these Offshore Voluntary Compliance numbers in more depth.

OVDP is Still the King of Offshore Voluntary Compliance but Its Impact is More Targeted

The IRS flagship Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) is still the most profitable program for the IRS in terms of actual amount of dollars paid by the taxpayers. More than 55,800 taxpayers have come into the OVDP to resolve their past US tax noncompliance. They paid a total of more than $9.9 billion in taxes, interest and penalties since 2009.

These numbers are very impressive, but they also point to a more targeted influence of the OVDP compared to its past. In October of 2015, the IRS reported that more than 54,000 taxpayers entered into the OVDP and paid more than $8 billion. In other words, in the past year (November 2015 – October 2016), about 1,400 taxpayers entered into the OVDP and paid an additional $1.8 billion.

What this means is that the IRS was highly successful in properly addressing the basic original injustice of the OVDP program which was equally painful to small taxpayers and large taxpayers as well as non-willful taxpayers and willful taxpayers. The OVDP now draws a more limited number of people with substantial foreign assets who pay a higher penalty for their prior noncompliance.

The only danger that still remains is the issue of incompetent tax advisors who might be entering their wealthier clients into the OVDP irrespective of their willfulness or non-willfulness.

Streamlined Procedures is the Favorite Offshore Voluntary Compliance Option for “Smaller” Taxpayers

The IRS data also reflects the tremendous popularity of the Streamlined Procedures among the middle-class taxpayers with limited international asset exposure. According to the IRS, as of October of 2016, 48,000 taxpayers have made use of various Streamlined Procedures (SDOP and SFOP) to resolve their prior non-willful US international tax noncompliance. These taxpayers paid a total of about $450 million in taxes, interest and penalties.

In the prior report (October of 2015), the IRS stated that only 30,000 taxpayers used the Streamlined Procedures; 20,000 of them after June of 2014. This means that the Streamlined Procedures continues to attract the great majority of the taxpayers with smaller foreign assets.

Offshore Voluntary Compliance is One of he Key Strategies to Resolve Prior US International Tax Noncompliance

Undoubtedly, Offshore Voluntary Compliance options offer the key strategies to resolve prior US international tax noncompliance. The other options, such as Reasonable Cause Disclosure and Quiet Disclosure, are much more limited in scope and application. In fact, in the case of a Quiet Disclosure, this option may put the taxpayers into a position more dangerous than they were in before their quiet disclosure due to the increased danger of detection without any protection offered by the Offshore Voluntary Compliance options.

Doing nothing is also not a good option for noncompliant taxpayers, because of the increased risk that their prior noncompliance will be deemed willful once the IRS discovers their noncompliance.

The risk of the IRS detection of prior tax noncompliance is very high in today’s world. This detection may come not just from the IRS investigations of a specific taxpayer, the massive disclosures by the banks already being investigated by the IRS or even from the banks that provided information as a result of the Department of Justice’s Swiss Bank Program. Today, the primary danger of detection comes from the third-party reporting under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and the network of inter-governmental agreements (IGAs) between the U.S. and partner jurisdictions.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office to Secure Professional Help With Your Offshore Voluntary Compliance Case

If you have undisclosed foreign accounts or any other foreign assets, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible for professional help with your voluntary disclosure.

Sherayzen Law Office is a leader in offshore voluntary disclosures which will help you with your entire case, including: the original determination of the best Offshore Voluntary Compliance option; the implementation of this option, including the preparation of all relevant legal documents and tax forms; the filing of the voluntary disclosure package; and the defense of your voluntary disclosure positions against the IRS.

We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world to bring their US tax affairs into full compliance in the least painful and most beneficial way, and we can help you!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Initial Consultation!

US Tax Return Statute of Limitations and IRC Section 6501(c)(8)

Most tax practitioners are familiar with the general rules of assessment statute of limitation for US tax returns. However, very few of them are aware of the danger of potentially indefinite extension of the statute of limitations contained in IRC Section 6501(c)(8). In this article, I would like to do offer a succinct observation of the impact of IRC Section 6501(c)(8) on the US tax return Statute of Limitations as well as your offshore voluntary disclosure strategy.

Background Information

While IRC Section 6501(c)(8) has existed for a while, its present language came into existence as a result of the infamous HIRE act (the same that gave birth to FATCA) in 2010. The major amendments came from PL 111-147 and PL 111-226.

When IRC Section 6501(c)(8) Applies

IRC Section 6501(c)(8) applies when there has been a failure to by the taxpayer to supply one or more accurate foreign information return(s) with respect to reporting of certain foreign assets and foreign-related transactions under IRC Sections 1295(b), 1298(f), 6038, 6038A, 6038B, 6038D, 6046, 6046A and 6048. In essence, it means IRC Section 6501(c)(8) applies whenever the taxpayer fails to file Forms 8621, 5471, 5472, 926, 3520, 3520-A, 8865, 8858 and 8938 (and potentially other forms). In essence, this Section comes into play with respect to virtually all major international tax reporting requirements, with the exception of FBAR (which is governed by its own Title 31 Statute of Limitations provisions).

It is important to emphasize that it is not just the failure to file these international tax returns that triggers IRC Section 6501(c)(8). Rather, most international tax attorneys agree that, if the filed international tax returns are inaccurate or incomplete, IRC Section 6501(c)(8) still applies.

IRC Section 6501(c)(8) only applies to the returns filed after the date of the enactment of the provisions that amended the section – March 18, 2010. The Section also applies to returns filed on or before March 18, 2010 if the statute of limitations under Section 6501 (without regard to the amendments) has not expired as of March 18, 2010.

The Impact of IRC Section 6501(c)(8) On the Statute of Limitations

As amended by PL 111-147 and PL 111-226, IRC Section 6501(c)(8) may have a truly monstrous effect on the statute of limitations for the entire affected tax return – a failure to file any of the aforementioned international tax forms (including a failure to provide accurate and complete information) will keep the statute of limitations open indefinitely with respect to “any tax return, even, or period to which such information relates”.

Thus, a failure to file a foreign information return may keep the statute of limitations open forever for the entire tax return, not just that particular foreign information return. This means that the IRS can potentially audit a taxpayer’s return and assess additional taxes outside of the usual statute of limitations period; the IRS changes can affect any item on the US tax return, not just the items on the foreign information return.

Reasonable Cause Exception to the “Entire Case” Rule

IRC Section 6501(c)(8)(B) provides a limited exception to the “entire case” rule. Where a taxpayer establishes that the failure ot file an accurate international information return was due to a reasonable cause and not willful neglect, only the international tax forms will be subject to indefinite statute of limitations and not the entire return.

Impact of IRC Section 6501(c)(8) on Your Voluntary Disclosure Strategy

IRC Section 6501(c)(8) may have a significant impact on the voluntary disclosure strategy where multiple international tax forms need to be filed. In these cases, the taxpayers are more likely to go into Streamlined disclosures or 2014 OVDP rather than attempt doing a reasonable cause disclosure.

This is the case because this indefinite statute of limitations may undermine a reasonable cause strategy if the disclosure period does not coincide with the years in which the international tax returns were due. For example, let’s suppose that US citizen X owned PFICs during the years 2008-2014, but he never filed Forms 8621 even though they were required. If X decides to do a reasonable cause disclosure and files amended 2012-2014 tax returns only, then, the years 2008-2011 will still be open to an IRS audit (though, if X successfully establishes reasonable cause for the earlier non-filing, only Forms 8621 will be subject to an IRS audit). In this case, X may have to make a choice between an unpleasant filing of amended 2008-2011 tax return or doing a Streamlined disclosure.

Obviously, IRC Section 6501(c)(8) is just one factor in what could be a very complex maze of pros and cons of a distinct voluntary disclosure strategy. Other factors need to be taken into effect in determining, including whether the financials were disclosed on the FBAR and Form 8938 and the amounts of underreported income (which may actually keep the statute of limitations open for the years 2009-2011 as well).

These types of decisions need to be made carefully by a tax professional on a case-by-case basis with detailed analysis of the facts and potential legal strategies; I strongly recommend retaining an experienced tax attorney for the creation and implementation of your voluntary disclosure strategy.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help With Your Delinquent International Tax Forms

If you have not filed international tax forms and you were required to do so, you should contact the professional international tax team of Sherayzen Law Office. Our team is lead by an experienced international tax attorney, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, and has helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world to bring their US tax affairs into fully US tax compliance.

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Société Générale Private Banking Non-Prosecution Agreement

On June 9, 2015, the Department of Justice announced that Société Générale Private Banking (Suisse) SA has reached a resolution under the DOJ’s Swiss Bank Program.

According to the terms of the non-prosecution agreement, Société Générale Private Banking 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 these banks for tax-related criminal offenses.

Société Générale Private Banking has had a presence in Switzerland since 1926, and had a U.S.-licensed representative office in Miami from the early 1990s until it closed on August 26, 2013. Société Générale Private Banking opened and maintained accounts for accountholders who had U.S. tax reporting obligations, and was aware that U.S. taxpayers had a legal duty to report to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and pay taxes on all of their income, including income earned in Société Générale Private Banking accounts. Société Générale Private Banking knew that it was likely that certain U.S. taxpayers who maintained accounts at the bank were not complying with their U.S. income tax obligations.

Société Générale Private Banking’s U.S. cross-border banking business aided and assisted some U.S. clients in opening and maintaining undeclared accounts in Switzerland and concealing the assets and income the clients held in their accounts from the IRS. SGBP-Suisse used a variety of means to assist U.S. clients in hiding their assets and income, including opening and maintaining accounts for U.S. taxpayers in the name of non-U.S. entities, including sham entities, thereby assisting such U.S. taxpayers in concealing their beneficial ownership of the accounts. Such entities included Panama and British Virgin Island corporations, as well as Liechtenstein foundations. In two instances, an Société Générale Private Banking employee acted as a director of entities that had U.S. taxpayers as beneficial owners. In another instance, upon the death of the beneficial owner of an entity, the heirs opened accounts held by sham entities at Société Générale Private Banking to receive their shares of the assets from the entity account.

Société Générale Private Banking further provided numbered accounts, allowing the accountholder to replace his or her identity with a code name or number on documents sent to the client, and held statements and other mail at its offices in Switzerland, rather than sending them to the U.S. taxpayers in the United States. In addition to these services, Société Générale Private Banking:

Processed requests from U.S. taxpayers for cash or gold withdrawals so as not to trigger any transaction reporting requirements;

Processed requests from U.S. taxpayers to transfer funds from U.S.-related accounts at Société Générale Private Banking to accounts at subsidiaries in Lugano, Switzerland, and the Bahamas;

Opened accounts for U.S. taxpayers who had left UBS when the department was investigating that bank;

Processed requests from U.S. taxpayers to transfer assets from accounts being closed to other Société Générale Private Banking accounts held by non-U.S. relatives and/or friends; and

Followed instructions from U.S. beneficial owners to transfer assets to corprate and individual accounts at other banks in Switzerland, Hong Kong, Israel, Lebanon, Liechtenstein and Cyprus.

Throughout its participation in the Swiss Bank Program, Société Générale Private Banking committed to full cooperation with the U.S. government. For example, Société Générale Private Banking described in detail the structure of its U.S. cross-border business, including providing a list of the names and functions of individuals who structured, operated or supervised the cross-border business at Société Générale Private Banking; a summary of U.S.-related accounts by assets under management; written narrative summaries of 98 U.S.-related accounts; and the circumstances surrounding the closure of relevant accounts holding cash or gold. Société Générale Private Banking also provided information to make treaty requests to the Swiss competent authority for U.S. client account records.

Since August 1, 2008, Société Générale Private Banking held and managed approximately 375 U.S.-related accounts, which included both declared and undeclared accounts, with a peak of assets under management of approximately $660 million. Société Générale Private Banking will pay a penalty of $17.807 million.

US taxpayers who have not yet disclosed their Société Générale Private Banking accounts, but who wish to participate in the 2014 OVDP, are likely to face now a 50% OVDP penalty rate.

Abusive Tax Shelters on the IRS “Dirty Dozen” List of 2015

On February 3, 2015, the IRS said using abusive tax shelters and structures to avoid paying taxes continues to be a problem and remains on its annual list of tax scams known as the “Dirty Dozen” for the 2015 filing season.

“The IRS is committed to stopping complex tax avoidance schemes and the people who create and sell them,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “The vast majority of taxpayers pay their fair share, and we are warning everyone to watch out for people peddling tax shelters that sound too good to be true.”

Compiled annually, the “Dirty Dozen” lists a variety of common scams that taxpayers may encounter anytime but many of these schemes peak during filing season as people prepare their returns or hire people to help with their taxes.

Abusive tax shelters are classified as illegal scams and can lead to significant penalties and interest and possible criminal prosecution. IRS Criminal Investigation works closely with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to shutdown scams and prosecute the criminals behind them.

Abusive Tax Shelters

Abusive tax shelters have evolved from simple structuring of abusive domestic and foreign trust arrangements into sophisticated strategies that take advantage of the financial secrecy laws of some foreign jurisdictions and the availability of credit/debit cards issued from offshore financial institutions.

IRS Criminal Investigation (CI) has developed a nationally coordinated program to combat these abusive tax shelters. CI’s primary focus is on the identification and investigation of the promoters of the abusive tax shelters as well as those who play a substantial or integral role in facilitating, aiding, assisting, or furthering the abusive tax shelters, such as accountants or lawyers. Just as important is the investigation of investors who knowingly participate in abusive tax shelters.

What are these abusive tax shelters? The Abusive Tax Schemes program encompasses violations of the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) and related statutes where multiple flow-through entities are used as an integral part of the taxpayer’s scheme to evade taxes. These abusive tax shelters are characterized by the use of Limited Liability Companies (LLCs), Limited Liability Partnerships (LLPs), International Business Companies (IBCs), foreign financial accounts, offshore credit/debit cards and other similar instruments. The abusive tax shelters are usually complex involving multi-layer transactions for the purpose of concealing the true nature and ownership of the taxable income and/or assets.

Whether something is “too good to be true” is important to consider before buying into any arrangements that promise to “eliminate” or “substantially reduce” your tax liability. If an arrangement uses unnecessary steps or a form that does not match its substance, then that arrangement may be classified as abusive tax shelter. Another thing to remember is that the promoters of abusive tax shelters often employ financial instruments in their schemes; however, the instruments are used for improper purposes including the facilitation of tax evasion.

Abusive Tax Shelters: Misuse of Trusts

Trusts also commonly show up in abusive tax shelters. They are highlighted here because unscrupulous promoters continue to urge taxpayers to transfer large amounts of assets into trusts. These assets include not only cash and investments, but also successful on-going businesses. There are legitimate uses of trusts in tax and estate planning, but the IRS commonly sees highly questionable transactions. These transactions promise reduced taxable income, inflated deductions for personal expenses, reduced (even to zero) self-employment taxes, and reduced estate or gift transfer taxes.

These transactions commonly arise when taxpayers are transferring wealth from one generation to another. Questionable trusts rarely deliver the tax benefits promised and are used primarily as a means of avoiding income tax liability and hiding assets from creditors, including the IRS.

IRS personnel continue to see an increase in the improper use of private annuity trusts and foreign trusts to shift income and deduct personal expenses, as well as to avoid estate transfer taxes. As with other arrangements, taxpayers should seek the advice of a trusted professional before entering a trust arrangement.

Abusive Tax Shelters: Captive Insurance

Another abuse involving a legitimate tax structure involves certain small or “micro” captive insurance companies. Tax law allows businesses to create “captive” insurance companies to enable those businesses to protect against certain risks. The insured claims deductions under the tax code for premiums paid for the insurance policies while the premiums end up with the captive insurance company owned by same owners of the insured or family members.

The captive insurance company, in turn, can elect under a separate section of the tax code to be taxed only on the investment income from the pool of premiums, excluding taxable income of up to $1.2 million per year in net written premiums.

In the abusive tax shelters, unscrupulous promoters persuade closely held entities to participate in this scheme by assisting entities to create captive insurance companies onshore or offshore, drafting organizational documents and preparing initial filings to state insurance authorities and the IRS. The promoters assist with creating and “selling” to the entities oftentimes poorly drafted “insurance” binders and policies to cover ordinary business risks or esoteric, implausible risks for exorbitant “premiums,” while maintaining their economical commercial coverage with traditional insurers.

Total amounts of annual premiums often equal the amount of deductions business entities need to reduce income for the year; or, for a wealthy entity, total premiums amount to $1.2 million annually to take full advantage of the Code provision. Underwriting and actuarial substantiation for the insurance premiums paid are either missing or insufficient. The promoters manage the entities’ captive insurance companies year after year for hefty fees, assisting taxpayers unsophisticated in insurance to continue the charade.