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.