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.

Taxation of Royalties Ceases Under Estonia-UK Tax Treaty | MN Tax Lawyer

On January 18, 2017, the HM Revenue & Customs announced that the withholding tax on royalties under the 1994 Estonia-UK tax treaty has been eliminated retroactively as of October 16, 2015.

Under the original Estonia-UK tax treaty, the rates had been 5 percent for industrial, commercial, and scientific equipment royalties and 10 percent in other cases. However, paragraph 7 of the Exchange Notes to the Treaty contains the Most Favoured Nation” (MFN) provision relating to royalties (Article 12). Under the MFN provision, UK tax residents only need to pay the lowest tax withholding rate ever agreed by Estonia in a Double-Taxation Treaty (DTA) it later agrees with an OECD member country that was a member when the UK-Estonia tax treaty was signed in 1994.

It turns that Switzerland was an OECD member country in 1994. In 2002, Estonia signed a tax treaty with Switzerland, but the treaty did not impact the UK withholding tax rate at that time. In 2014, however, Estonia and Switzerland signed an amending protocal to the 2002 Estonia-Switzerland tax treaty. Under the protocol, the treaty was revised to provide for only resident state taxation of royalties.

It was this provision in the 2014 protocol to the Estonia-Switzerland tax treaty that triggered the 1994 MFN provision of the Estonia-UK tax treaty. Therefore, when the 2014 protocol entered into force on October 16, 2015, it effectively eliminated tax withholding on royalties not only in Switzerland (wth respect to Estonia), but also in the United Kingdom. While the taxation of royalties under the Estonia-UK tax treaty ceased on October 16, 2015, the HM Revenue & Customs waited for more than a year to announce it on January 18, 2017.

It should be pointed out that MFN provisions, such as the one in Estonia-UK tax treaty, quite often have an important impact throughout the treaty network of a country. This ripple effect of the MFN provisions creates enormous opportunities for international tax planning that is often utilized by international tax lawyers, including US international tax law firms such as Sherayzen Law Office, PLLC.

EU Automatic Exchange of Banking and Beneficial Ownership Data Approved

On November 22, 2016, the European Parliament approved the automatic exchange of banking and beneficial ownership data across the European Union. The directive received an overwhelming support from the Parliament: 590 members voted “yes”, 32 – “no”, and 64 did not vote.

Since the original proposal was already approved by the EU Council on November 8, 2016, the only issue left before the directive will come into force will be the final adoption of the directive by EU Council. Once the directive on the automatic exchange of banking and beneficial ownership data is adopted by the Council, the member states will have until December 31, 2017, to implement it.

The directive represents a major undertaking with respect to the automatic exchange of banking and beneficial ownership data. Once it is adopted, the directive will allow tax authorities of every EU member state to automatically share the banking information such as account balances, interest income and dividends. Moreover, the directive also requires the EU member states to create registers recording the beneficial ownership of companies and trusts. This means that the tax authorities of all EU member states will finally acquire access to the information regarding the true beneficiaries of foreign trusts and opaque corporate structures.

The idea behind the new legislation on the automatic exchanges of banking and beneficial ownership data is to provide the EU member states with tools to fight cross-border fraud and tax evasion, preserving the integrity of their domestic tax systems.

However, it appears that there are still serious implementation issues with respect to the new directive. The most serious problem is that the directive merely allows the automatic exchange of banking and beneficial ownership date in the EU, but it does not obligate the member states to do so. Furthermore, the banking industry’s role in the facilitation of tax evasion is not addressed at all by the legislature.

After the directive on the automatic exchange of banking and beneficial ownership date is adopted, the European Parliament is going to take up the legislation to provide for a cross-border method for accessing the shared information.

An interesting question for US taxpayers is whether any of the information acquired through the EU sharing mechanism will be shared with the IRS through FATCA. The likelihood of this scenario is fairly strong and may further expose noncompliant US taxpayers to IRS detection.

France Asks Switzerland for Names of UBS Accountholders

This is an international tax lawyer news update: on September 26, 2016, Swiss tax officials confirmed that France asked Switzerland to provide the names of the holders of more than 45,000 UBS bank accounts. The request covers years 2006-2008.

Le Parisien newspaper, which first published extracts from the French request that the combined balance in the affected accounts exceeded CHF 11 billion (around $ 11.4 billion.). Le Parisien, which did not disclose how it gained access to the letter, also said the French authorities were able to identify the holders of 4,782 accounts.

The French request came to light after, on September 12th 2016, the Swiss Supreme Court over-ruled the lower court’s rejection of a similar request from the Netherlands for financial details of Dutch residents with accounts at UBS. Despite the Netherlands’ success, doubts still remain about the viability of the French request due to the fact that article 28 of the France-Switzerland tax treaty of 1967, as modified in 2010, provides that accounts that were closed before 2010 are not covered by the agreement and, therefore, should not be subject to information exchange.

IRS Uses Panama Papers to Identify Noncompliant Taxpayers

In April of 2016, the IRS acknowledged its participation in meetings with Joint International Tax Shelter Information and Collaboration network (“JITSIC”), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank to take advantage of the data about more than 200,000 offshore companies identified in the Panama Papers. At the same time, the IRS urged noncompliant U.S. taxpayers to come forward before the IRS finds them.

JITSIC and IMF/World Bank Meetings on Panama Papers

The JITSIC meeting regarding Panama Papers brought together senior tax officials from more than forty countries to discuss, per OECD, “opportunities for obtaining data, co-operation and information-sharing in light of the ‘Panama Papers’ revelations”. The IRS officials said they could not discuss who participated and what, specifically, was discussed. But in its statement to NBC News, the IRS described the meeting as “productive and timely” and said “governments around the world are working together cooperatively” to respond to the information released in the Panama Papers, with JITSIC setting itself up as a coordinator.

The following day, the IRS further discussed Panama Papers in gatherings that were part of the annual IMF and World Bank meetings.

After those meetings regarding Panama papers, bankers and finance ministers from the world’s twenty largest economies warned tax havens about their future efforts to punish governments that continue to hide billions of dollars in offshore accounts. The IRS also encouraged any U.S. citizens and companies that may have money in offshore accounts to do a voluntary disclosure with respect to these accounts.

Panama Papers Increase Pressure on IRS to Move Forward Against Cayman Islands, Singapore, Bermuda and Other Tax Shelters

According to media reports, the Panama papers may contain information on potentially thousands of U.S. citizens and firms that have at least an indirect connection to offshore accounts affiliated with Mossack Fonseca. The Panama papers, however, are not likely to contain any spectacular information with respect to U.S. taxpayers because these taxpayers mostly prefer to use Cayman Islands, Singapore and Bermuda.

Nevertheless, while the Panama papers might not be very informative about the U.S. citizens, these documents have increased the political pressure on the IRS to move forward against other tax shelters. Therefore, we should not be surprised if we see new bold IRS initiatives in Cayman Islands, Singapore and Bermuda.

This means that the U.S. taxpayers who have undisclosed foreign assets in Cayman Islands, Singapore and Bermuda should analyze their voluntary disclosure options before it is too late. After the IRS discovery, most (and, perhaps, all) of their voluntary disclosure options will be foreclosed due to IRS examinations.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure

If you own, directly or indirectly (through a domestic or foreign corporation, LLC, partnership or trust) undisclosed foreign accounts, you should contact the professional legal team of Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible. Our highly-experienced legal team is headed by one of the leading experts in U.S. international tax law, attorney Eugene Sherayzen. We will thoroughly review the facts of your case, analyze your current U.S. tax exposure and available voluntary disclosure options, prepare all of the necessary legal documents and tax forms and defend your case against the IRS until its completion. We have helped U.S. taxpayers around the world and we can help You!

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