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Taxation of Investment Trusts

This article on investment trusts continues a series of articles on classification of foreign trusts. In earlier essays, I explored the definition of a foreign trusts and some of exceptions to this definition. In the present writing, I would like to discuss the general circumstances when investment trusts would be treated as corporations or partnerships rather than ordinary foreign trusts (this discussion focuses on foreign trusts, but it is also equally applicable to domestic trusts).

Investment Trusts: Definition and Taxation

Where several individuals, in a voluntary association, create a trust as a means of pooling their capital into investments in which interests are sold, such a trust is considered to be an “investment trust”. The principal law concerning investment trusts can be found in IRS Regs. §301.7701-4(c).

The taxation of investment trusts is a complex and mostly depends on two factors: the number of classes of ownership interests in the trust and the power vested in the trustee under the trust agreement to vary the investment (and reinvestment) of the certificate holders. In certain circumstances, investment trusts are taxed as ordinary trusts while, in other circumstances, they can be taxed as business entities.

One-Class Investment Trusts: Definition and Taxation

One-Class Investment trusts are investment trusts “with a single class of ownership interests, representing undivided beneficial interests in the assets of the trust”. IRS Regs. §301.7701-4(c)(1).

Generally, one-class investment trusts are taxed as ordinary trusts as long as “there is no power under the trust agreement to vary the investment of the certificate holders.” Id. The concept of “power to vary the investment” is highly complicated and requires detailed exploration of relevant case law and PLRs. The focus of the IRS examination will be on the Trust Agreement and related documents.

Multiple-Class Investment Trusts: Definition and Taxation

Multiple-class investment trusts are investment trusts with multiple classes of ownership interest. Generally, it is much harder for a multiple-class investment trust to be taxed as a trust, rather than a business entity.

IRS Regs. §301.7701-4(c)(1) sets forth the legal test which states that multiple-class investment trusts will generally be taxed as business entities unless two conditions are satisfied: (1) “there is no power under the trust agreement to vary the investment of the certificate holders”, and (2) “the trust is formed to facilitate direct investment in the assets of the trust and the existence of multiple classes of ownership interests is incidental to that purpose”. Id.

This is a tough, but not an impossible test to meet.  In fact, one can point to multiple PLRs where the IRS agreed with the taxpayers that this test was met. Nevertheless, a high degree of precision, planning and professionalism is needed to assure that the test is met.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Foreign Trusts

If you are a beneficiary or grantor of a foreign trust, you need to secure the help of an experienced international tax lawyer as soon as possible. This is why you need to contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help concerning foreign trusts as soon as possible. Our founder, attorney Eugene Sherayzen, has developed deep expertise in international tax law in order to help hundreds of U.S. taxpayers around the world. He can help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Rothschild Bank AG Signs Non-Prosecution Agreement

On June 3, 2015, the US Department of Justice (“DOJ”) announced that Rothschild Bank AG (Rothschild bank) have reached resolution under the department’s Swiss Bank Program.

Rothschild Bank Facts

Rothschild Bank was founded in 1968 and is headquartered in Zurich, Switzerland. Rothschild Bank offered services that it knew could and did assist U.S. taxpayers in concealing assets and income from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), including code-named accounts, numbered accounts and hold mail service, where Rothschild Bank would hold all mail correspondence for a particular client at the bank. These services allowed certain U.S. taxpayers to minimize the paper trail associated with the undeclared assets and income they held at Rothschild Bank in Switzerland.

For a number of years, including after Swiss bank UBS AG announced in 2008 that it was under criminal investigation, and following instructions from certain U.S. taxpayers, Rothschild Bank serviced certain U.S. customers without disclosing their identities to the IRS. Some of Rothschild Bank’s U.S. clients had accounts that were nominally structured in the names of non-U.S. entities. In some such cases, Rothschild Bank knew that a U.S. client was the true beneficial owner of the account but nonetheless obtained a form or document that falsely declared that the beneficial owner was not a U.S. taxpayer.

Since August 1, 2008, Rothschild Bank had 66 U.S.-related accounts held by entities created in Panama, Liechtenstein, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands or other foreign countries with U.S. beneficial owners. At least 21 of these accounts had false IRS Forms W-8BEN in the file, which are used to identify the beneficial owner of an account. Rothschild Bank knew it was highly probable that such U.S. clients were engaging in this scheme to avoid U.S. taxes but permitted these accounts to trade in U.S. securities without reporting account earnings or transmitting any withholding taxes to the IRS, as Rothschild Bank was required to do.

Rothschild Bank also opened accounts for U.S. taxpayers who had left other Swiss banks that the Department of Justice was investigating, including UBS. Since August 1, 2008, Rothschild Bank had 332 U.S.-related accounts with an aggregate maximum balance of approximately $1.5 billion. Of these 332 accounts, 191 accounts had U.S. beneficial owners and an aggregate maximum balance of approximately $836 million.

Rothschild Bank Penalties and Disclosures

In accordance with the terms of the Swiss Bank Program, the Rothschild bank mitigated its penalty by encouraging U.S. accountholders to come into compliance with their U.S. tax and disclosure obligations. Nevertheless, Rothschild Bank will pay a penalty of $11.51 million.

Rothschild Bank also made numerous disclosures of various information regarding US-held accounts.

Consequences of Rothschild Bank Non-Prosecution Agreement for US Taxpayers

The most immediate impact of Rothschild Bank Non-Prosecution Agreement will be felt by US accountholders who wish to enter OVDP after June 3, 2015 – their penalty rate will go up from 27.5 percent of the highest value of their foreign accounts and other assets included in the OVDP penalty base to a whopping 50 percent penalty rate.

Furthermore, the US taxpayers with undisclosed accounts which were related in any way to Rothschild Bank face an increased risk of IRS detection due to transfer information turned over to the DOJ by Rothschild Bank. “The days of safely hiding behind shell corporations and numbered bank accounts are over,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Department of Justice’s Tax Division. “As each additional bank signs up under the Swiss Bank Program, more and more information is flowing to the IRS agents and Justice Department prosecutors going after illegally concealed offshore accounts and the financial professionals who help U.S. taxpayers hide assets abroad.”

Finally, the rest of the US taxpayers with undisclosed accounts must contemplate a potential future that their accounts maybe subject to IRS discovery if the Program for Swiss Banks is extended to other countries. This possibility is increasingly real when one takes into account the impact FATCA has had on the global international tax reporting landscape.

What Should US Taxpayers with Undisclosed Foreign Accounts Do?

If you have undisclosed foreign account and other foreign assets, you should immediately commence the review of your voluntary disclosure options. Since the introduction of the Streamlined Procedures, the IRS has opened up a world of reduced penalties to various non-willful taxpayers. Willful taxpayers should realize that, the longer they wait, the worse their tax position may become.

In order to do your voluntary disclosure properly, please consult Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, an experienced international tax lawyer of Sherayzen Law Office. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers worldwide and we can help you.

Contact Us to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation Now!

Finter Bank Zurich AG Reaches Resolution with US DOJ

On May 15, 2015, Finter Bank Zurich AG (Finter Bank) became the third Swiss bank to sign a Non-Prosecution Agreement with US DOJ according to the terms of the DOJ Program for Swiss Banks.

DOJ Program for Swiss Banks

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)” with the goal or creating a voluntary disclosure program for Swiss banks. Under the Program, the Swiss banks would prove DOJ with detailed description of specified activities with respect to US-owned accounts as well as the identification of all accounts held by US persons at any point since August of 2008. In exchange, the Program promised Swiss banks an opportunity to forever resolve their past US non-compliance issues (including criminal illegal activities) with respect to US-held accounts. For Category 2 banks, the Program also imposed various penalty requirements. The banks already under criminal investigation related to their Swiss-banking activities and all individuals were expressly excluded from the program.

Finter Bank timely entered the Program and payed the required penalties. This is why it became the third Swiss bank to resolve its issues under the Program.

Finter Bank Background

Finter Bank was founded in 1958 in Chiasso, Switzerland, and has a branch office in Lugano, Switzerland. Since August 1, 2008, Finter Bank has maintained 283 U.S.-related accounts with an aggregate maximum balance of approximately $235 million.

Since its establishment and continuing through at least October 2011, Finter Bank, through its managers, employees and others, 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 from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). After August 2008, when Swiss bank UBS AG publicly announced that it was the target of a criminal investigation by U.S. tax authorities, Finter Bank accepted accounts from U.S. persons exiting other Swiss banks.

Finter Bank provided services that allowed U.S. clients to eliminate the paper trail associated with the undeclared assets and income, including “hold mail” services and numbered and coded accounts. In addition, Finter Bank assisted clients in using sham entities as nominee beneficial owners of undeclared accounts, solicited Forms W-8BEN that falsely stated under penalties of perjury that the sham entities beneficially owned the assets in the undeclared accounts, and provided cash cards and credits cards linked to the undeclared accounts.

Finter Bank Non-Prosecution Agreement

According to the terms of the non-prosecution agreement signed on May 15, Finter Bank 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 $5.414 million penalty in return for the department’s agreement not to prosecute Finter Bank for tax-related criminal offenses.

Consequences of Finter Bank Non-Prosecution Agreement for US Taxpayers

In resolving its criminal liabilities under the program, Finter Bank encouraged U.S. accountholders to come into tax compliance and participate in the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program. However, the taxpayers who did not listen to Finter Bank’s pleas and have not disclosed their secret Swiss accounts now face an importance consequence as a result of Finter Bank Non-Prosecution Agreement – if these taxpayers wish to enter the OVDP now, the penalty percentage has increased from 27.5 percent to 50% of the highest balance of their accounts for the past eight years.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help With Disclosure of Your Foreign Bank Accounts

If you have undisclosed foreign bank accounts and any other assets, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help as soon as possible. Our legal team consists of tax professionals who specialize in offshore voluntary disclosures and have helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world.

We can help You! Contact Us to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation Now!

Prison Sentence for Quiet Disclosure: the Kaminsky Case

On March 4, 2015, Gregg A. Kaminsky, a former UBS client, was sentenced for willfully failing to file a Foreign Bank Account Report (the “FBAR”) with the U.S. Department of Treasury in connection with his concealment of income and assets in accounts in Switzerland, Hong Kong, and Thailand over several years, as well as his failure to report certain income earned in the virtual world, “Second Life.”

“Federal tax revenue is crucial to protecting our borders; fighting terrorism, cybercrime, and other national security threats; providing disaster relief; and to performing other critical government functions,” said Acting U. S. Attorney John Horn. “This office is committed to investigating and prosecuting those who intentionally avoid paying their fair share, whether their schemes involve income earned or hidden offshore, here at home, or even in a virtual world.”

“U.S. citizens who seek to avoid their tax obligations by hiding income in undeclared bank accounts abroad should by now be fully on notice that they will be held accountable for their actions, both civilly and criminally,” stated IRS Criminal Investigation Special Agent in Charge, Veronica F. Hyman-Pillot. “Americans who file accurate, honest and timely returns can be assured that the government will hold accountable those who don’t.”

Facts of the Case

According to Acting U.S. Attorney Horn, the charges and other information presented in court:

Kaminsky was an Internet entrepreneur who served as the Chief Executive Officer of Circlenet LLC, based in Atlanta, Georgia. From 2000 through mid-2009, Kaminsky owned and controlled a foreign bank account with Union Bank of Switzerland AG (“UBS”). By 2006, Kaminsky’s UBS account held approximately $1.1 million. From time to time between 2002 and 2009, Kaminsky caused funds to be wire-transferred from his UBS account in Switzerland to other foreign bank accounts controlled by him in Thailand and Hong Kong. Also during that time, Kaminsky caused his income from at least two different U.S. companies to be direct-deposited into his UBS account in Switzerland.

Yet, over this period, Kaminsky did not disclose his UBS account or other foreign financial accounts to the U. S. Treasury Department as required, and thereby concealed several hundred thousand dollars in taxable income, interest, and dividends from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

In addition, in 2007 and 2008, Kaminsky omitted his UBS account and associated income from Free Applications for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) that he electronically filed with the U.S. Department of Education in order to qualify for need-based federal financial aid to fund his tuition for an Executive MBA program at Emory University. At the time of the FAFSA applications, Kaminsky controlled over a half million dollars in his UBS account, which would have made him ineligible for federal student loan assistance.

On June 30, 2008, the U.S. Department of Justice sought court approval to compel UBS to disclose the identities of U.S. account holders who may be using UBS accounts to hide assets overseas and thereby evade U.S. taxes. The request and the order authorizing it were widely reported by the media throughout the United States, and this coverage continued throughout 2008 and 2009 as the U.S., UBS, and Switzerland negotiated a resolution and UBS began disclosing U.S. account holders to the IRS.

Following this news, Kaminsky closed his UBS account and transferred the balance of his UBS account to an account that he controlled at HSBC Bank in Hong Kong. Further, in spring 2010, Kaminsky filed FBARs for his Swiss and Hong Kong accounts for the very first time, also filing amended individual income tax returns for 2007 and 2008 that disclosed the previously unreported income in his UBS account. However, in his amended 2007 and 2008 returns, and in his subsequently filed returns for 2009 through 2012, Kaminsky still failed to report nearly $150,000 in taxable income earned from his business activities in the virtual world, “Second Life.”

Participants in Second Life, referred to as “residents,” can engage in a wide variety of business activities, including buying, renting, and sub-leasing virtual land and buying and selling other virtual goods, services, and experiences for their “avatars.” Transactions are conducted using a virtual currency, “Linden Dollars.” Linden Dollars can be bought and traded on the “Linden Exchange,” and are redeemable for cash.

Including his virtual world income, Kaminsky failed to report over $400,000 in income to the IRS between 2000 and 2012, resulting in a loss to the IRS of approximately $125,000.

Kaminsky’s Sentence

Kaminsky was sentenced to serve four months in federal prison to be followed by two years of supervised release, two months of home confinement, and 200 hours of community service. Kaminsky was also ordered to pay restitution to the IRS in the amount of $91,983. Kaminsky was convicted on these charges on December 18, 2014, after he pleaded guilty. As part of his plea agreement with the United States, Kaminsky was also required to pay a civil penalty to the IRS in the amount of $250,635.20, which is equivalent to fifty percent of the value of the balance in Kaminsky’s HSBC account in Hong Kong as of June 30, 2009.

Lesson from the Kaminsky’s Case – the Dangers of Attempting Incomplete Quiet Disclosure

Kaminsky’s case is a good illustration of my last year’s article on the how quiet disclosure in the current enforcement environment can be a very dangerous option. Kaminsky amended two tax returns and disclosed income from his UBS account for those two years and filed the FBARs for 2009. This was a fairly standard way of doing quiet disclosure, but it could not in any form qualify as a voluntary disclosure – and Kaminsky paid dearly for this attempt.

However, there is another important lesson of Kaminsky’s case for the persons who intend to engage in a voluntary disclosure – you cannot do a partial voluntary disclosure. Kaminsky failed to report his worldwide income on his amended tax returns – he only reported income that was directly relevant to the foreign accounts. Failure to submit complete and accurate amended tax returns undoubtedly contributed to the criminal sentence in this case.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help with Conducting Proper Voluntary Disclosure

If you have undisclosed foreign accounts and foreign income, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional legal and tax help. Our international tax lawyer, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen will thoroughly analyze your case and advise you on your voluntary disclosure options. Once you choose your voluntary disclosure path, our firm will prepare all of the necessary documents and legal forms, and conduct your voluntary disclosure in a proper and expeditious manner.

We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the globe, and we can help you. So, Call Us Now to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Title 26 Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty under SDOP

The Title 26 Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty (“Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty”) is one of the most critical aspects of the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures (“SDOP”). In this article, I want to conduct a general overview of how the Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty is calculated.

As a side note, it is important to keep in mind that this is an educational article which aims to provide a general overview of the calculation of the Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty in common situations. In providing this general overview of the SDOP Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty, the article necessarily glosses over some complex issues that may change the determination of Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty in a particular case.  In order to calculate your Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty properly, the readers should contact an experienced international tax attorney for a legal advice based on their specific facts and circumstances.

What is Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty?

A taxpayer who enters SDOP is required to pay a 5% Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty as part of the SDOP requirements. The Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty is paid in lieu of the penalties associated with the delinquent filings of FBARs, Forms 8938 and other information returns.

The calculation of SDOP Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty is very different from 2014 OVDP calculation in terms of the relevant time period and the penalty base. Let’s explore each of these factors.

Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty: Time Period

Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty is equal to 5 percent of the highest aggregate balance/value of the taxpayer’s foreign financial assets that are subject to the miscellaneous offshore penalty during the years in the covered tax return period and the covered FBAR period. Generally, this means that the Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty is imposed on the past six years covered by the FBAR statute of limitations.

However, there is an exception where the three-year tax covered tax return period does not completely overlap with the six-year covered FBAR period. For example, the SDOP disclosure for tax returns covers years 2012 and 2014 because the due date for the 2014 tax return is passed, but the FBAR period is 2008-2013 because the due date for the 2014 FBAR has not passed. In such cases, the Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty is imposed on the highest aggregate value of the foreign financial assets for the past seven years.

In most cases, six years will be the standard time period for the calculation of the Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty, which is a lot better than the 2014 OVDP eight-year disclosure period.

Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty: Penalty Base

SDOP introduced a new way to calculate Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty which mixed the old FBAR-focused penalty orientation of the 2014 OVDP with the new FATCA-focused Form 8938.

In general, the Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty is imposed on any foreign financial asset in a given year within the covered SDOP time period if one of the following is true:

1. The asset should have been, but was not, reported on an FBAR (FinCEN Form 114) for that year;

2. The asset should have been, but was not, reported on a Form 8938 for that year; or

3. If the asset was properly reported for that year, but gross income in respect of the asset was not reported in that year.

Two important features of this calculation of the penalty base under SDOP must be emphasized. First, the Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty should be calculated not only on the foreign bank and financial accounts listed on the FBAR, but also on “other specified assets” required to be listed on Form 8938. This means that many more assets outside of a foreign financial account can now be subject to the Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty . Examples of such assets include but not limited to: foreign stocks not held in a financial account, a capital or profits interest in a foreign partnership, certain forms of indebtedness issued by a foreign person (such as a note, bond, debenture, an interest in a foreign trust, foreign swaps, foreign options, foreign derivatives and other assets. It should be remembered, though, that this is a generalization and, in certain circumstances, an international tax attorney may except certain such assets from Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty base.

The second critical difference between SDOP Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty and 2014 OVDP Offshore Penalty is the inclusion in the calculation of the penalty base the assets for which no additional income needs to be reported. There are a lot of nuances with respect to the exclusion and inclusion of assets under the 2014 OVDP which are beyond the scope of this article. For the purposes of the present discussion, I will ignore them and concentrate on the general rule only (again, this is an area that should be explored with an international tax attorney based on the specific facts of a client’s case) that if an asset should have been reported on Forms 8938 and FinCEN Form 114 and it was not, then, it should be included in the penalty base.

Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty: Calculation of Highest Aggregate Value of Assets

As it was mentioned above, the Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty is calculated based on the highest aggregate balance/value of the taxpayer’s foreign financial assets that are subject to the miscellaneous offshore penalty during the years in the covered tax return period and the covered FBAR period. The issue is how this “highest aggregate balance/value of assets” is calculated.

For the purposes of SDOP Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty, the highest aggregate balance/value is determined by a two-step process. First, you need to aggregate the year-end account balances and year-end asset values of all the foreign financial assets subject to the miscellaneous offshore penalty for each of the years in the covered tax return period and the covered FBAR period. Then, you select the highest aggregate balance/value from among those years and calculate the 5% value of this balance.

It is the first step that is radically different from the 2014 OVDP Offshore Penalty determination process, and it can produce very interesting results especially in the case of bank accounts. The most surprising result is that an account that was closed in one of the covered years is likely to produce a zero end-of-year balance irrespective of how much money was on it prior to December 31.

This factor can be a very important consideration when one decides to participate in SDOP. For this reason, I highly encourage the readers to consult an experienced international tax lawyer in these matters.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with Your Undisclosed Foreign Assets

If you have undisclosed foreign accounts and any other assets, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional legal and tax help. Our team of experienced international tax attorneys and accountants will thoroughly analyze your case, estimate your current penalty exposure, identify the offshore voluntary disclosure options available to you, prepare all legal documents and tax forms (including amended tax returns) needed in your case, rigorously defend your interests in front of the IRS, and guide you through the entire voluntary disclosure process.

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!