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Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures Audits | SDOP Tax Lawyer

The great majority of offshore voluntary disclosures are currently done through Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures. Hence, the majority of IRS audits concerning offshore voluntary disclosures are focused on Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures – the most common type is the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures Audit. This article discusses the main stages of the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures Audit and provides some suggestions to attorneys who handle this type of an IRS audit.

Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures Audits: SDOP Background Information

Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures (“SDOP”) is an offshore voluntary disclosure option that has existed since June of 2014. It is extremely popular due the fact that it is the most convenient and the least expensive voluntary disclosure option (except the Reasonable Cause/Noisy Disclosure option) for taxpayers whose prior tax noncompliance was non-willful and who otherwise meet the SDOP eligibility requirements.

Under the SDOP, a taxpayer or tax professional prepares a voluntary disclosure package and mails it to the IRS. The voluntary disclosure package usually consists of amended tax returns for the past three years, copies of e-filed FBARs for the past six years, any required international information returns which do not form part of a tax return (such as Forms 3520), the payments of additional tax with interest, the payment of the Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty and Non-Willfulness Certification form (Form 14654) with a detailed explanation. Certain additional items may need to be included in the package.

Once the package arrives to its destination, it is processed by the IRS. Assuming that all of the SDOP submission requirements are met, the IRS reserves the right to audit the taxpayer(s) at any point within three years after the submission of the original SDOP voluntary disclosure package.

The exact process of a Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures Audit varies from case to case, but it usually contains all of the stages listed below.

Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures Audits: the Initiation Stage

All Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures Audits start in the same way. Once an IRS revenue agent is assigned to the case, the agent will send an initial letter to the taxpayer informing the taxpayer about the fact that his SDOP is being audited. Generally, the initial audit letter will explain that the IRS decided to examine certain tax returns and ask for all worksheets and supporting documents that were used to prepare the amended returns. The letter is likely to also contain a request for the taxpayer to contact the agent to schedule the initial meeting, which would usually include an interview of the taxpayer.

At this point, you should contact an international tax lawyer who specializes in Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures Audits. I strongly discourage you from even trying to represent yourself or to have your accountant represent you. It is very easy to get into trouble during an IRS audit and it is very hard and expensive to get out of such a situation afterwards.

Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures Audits: Initial Meeting and Interview Stage

Prior to the initial meeting, the taxpayer’s attorney should review all documents to make sure that they support the information on the tax returns. All supporting documents and worksheets should be neatly organized by subject and year. If the audited tax returns are incorrect, the attorney should make the decision on whether amended tax returns should be prepared prior to the initial meeting.

Additionally, the attorney should conduct an extensive preparation of his client for the interview. Read this article for more information on the IRS audit interview preparation specifically for Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures Audits.

The initial meeting usually commences with the interview of the taxpayer in the presence of his attorney. It is the attorney’s job to protect his client during the interview, including by making sure that the IRS questions are clear, explaining any confusing answers of the taxpayer, correcting the record based on available evidence and so on.

After the interview, the IRS agent will want to review with the attorney (and, sometimes, the client as well) the documents supplied on a very general level – i.e. he will want to know what is being submitted to him. The attorney should discuss with the agent any confusing parts of the case and familiarize the agent with the client’s story. If a case is very small, it is possible for an agent to cover everything in the first meeting, but it is very rare.

Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures Audits: Follow-Up IRS Requests

After the initial meeting, the IRS agent will take some time to review submitted documents, interview third parties where relevant (for example, the accountant who prepared the original tax returns), analyze the tax returns and the Non-Willfulness Certification.

Most likely, the agent will have additional follow-up questions. It is the job of the attorney to address them. Where necessary, the attorney should secure his client’s participation in order to answer the questions. In certain cases, additional meetings with the IRS agent may be required to increase the efficiency of the audit. Continuous cooperation with the IRS while promoting the client’s position is the key to long-term success.

One of the most problematic areas for the IRS agents in Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures Audits are PFIC calculations. A lot of agents simply do not know how to properly do PFIC calculations. In my practice, very often I have to go through the entire PFIC calculations with the agent in order to make sure that their calculations match mine.

Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures Audits: Conclusion of the IRS Audit

Once the IRS agent completes his review process, he will submit the preliminary results to the taxpayer and his attorney. The attorney needs to review carefully the final results and contact the agent in case he finds mistakes in the agent’s conclusions. The taxpayers’ attorney will also need to build a strategy with respect to the taxpayer’s response to the audit results depending on whether the taxpayer agrees or disagrees with the results of the audit.

The biggest issue in the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures Audits is making sure that the Non-Willfulness Certification is not challenged by the IRS, because such a challenge may result in highly unfavorable consequences to the taxpayer, including a potential referral to the Tax Division of the US Department of Justice for a criminal investigation.

It should be mentioned that, even if the taxpayer agrees with the audit results, the Audit is not immediately over. The IRS agent will need to submit his conclusions to his technical advisor, his manager and the IRS National Office in Washington D.C. for the their approval of these conclusions before the audit can be officially completed.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures Audits

An IRS audit of an offshore voluntary disclosure completed through Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures is one of the most important events in a taxpayer’s life. A lot is at stake during such an audit – financial stability, immigration status and, in exceptional circumstances, even personal freedom.

This is why it is so important for a taxpayer subject to an IRS audit of his Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures voluntary disclosure to retain the services of an experienced international tax lawyer to handle the audit professionally.

Sherayzen Law Office is a leader in the area of offshore voluntary disclosures and IRS audits of offshore voluntary disclosures. The firm’s owner, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, is one of the most experienced international tax lawyers in this area, including IRS audits of a Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures submission. He can help You!

Contact Sherayzen Law Office Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

3 Main Streamlined Domestic Compliance Disadvantages | SDOP Lawyer

In a previous article, I described the three main advantages of doing an offshore voluntary disclosure through Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures (“Streamlined Domestic Compliance”). Today, I would like to discuss three main Streamlined Domestic Compliance disadvantages.

Streamlined Domestic Compliance Disadvantages: Audit Risks

The first main disadvantage of Streamlined Domestic Compliance is the potential IRS audit within three years after the voluntary disclosure is completed. The audit is likely to include everything: FBARs, amended tax returns, Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty calculation and, most importantly, the determination of non-willfulness.

The potential IRS audit stands in a shark contrast to the IRS flagship Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”) which closed in September of 2018. At the end of a voluntary disclosure through OVDP, the taxpayer and the IRS sign the Closing Agreement, which (absent fraud or material mis-statements) effectively closes prior tax noncompliance issues forever.

The audit risks may be particularly important to taxpayers who are in the process of obtaining their US citizenship or US permanent residence.

Streamlined Domestic Compliance Disadvantages: Penalty Base Not Limited to Income Noncompliance

One of the main Streamlined Domestic Compliance disadvantages is the fact that the calculation of the penalty base (i.e. what assets are subject to the 5% penalty) includes assets that never produced any foreign income. Moreover, the penalty base includes a foreign asset even if the foreign income from this asset was timely disclosed on the taxpayer’s original tax return, but the asset itself was not reported on FBAR or any other international information return.

In other words, a taxpayer who participates in the Streamlined Domestic Compliance should be prepared to pay a 5% penalty even on assets that are compliant with the US income tax laws.

Again, this is contrary to the rules of the OVDP. In the OVDP, only assets that are tied to income tax noncompliance are included in the penalty base.

Streamlined Domestic Compliance Disadvantages: Danger of Superficial Analysis

Finally, the danger of superficial analysis concerning non-willfulness constitutes the third main disadvantage of the Streamlined Domestic Compliance. In reality, there are two dangers which should be placed at the opposite ends of the voluntary disclosure continuum.

The first danger is the natural bias in the self-assessment of non-willfulness. Oftentimes, a taxpayer may exaggerate the facts in his favor while selectively ignoring the facts that may establish willful noncompliance. This is very natural. It is difficult to find a person who will state outright that he was willful in his prior tax noncompliance.

Usually, this problem can be (and should be) fixed by retaining an international tax attorney to do an independent assessment of the taxpayer’s non-willfulness.

At the opposite end is the danger of concentrating on non-willfulness and ignoring the possibility of doing a Reasonable Cause disclosure. In most cases, this is not a problem because Streamlined Domestic Compliance would be a superior choice despite the 5% penalty. This, however, is not true in all cases and real opportunities are often lost by failure to explore this route.

I should state that the biggest problem that I found in my practice is the fact that some taxpayers do not consult an international tax attorney on this issue. Instead, they try to do everything themselves even though they have no specialized knowledge in this field. I strongly discourage this practice.

I believe that the involvement of an international tax attorney is essential to doing a proper offshore voluntary disclosure.

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

Choosing the correct offshore voluntary disclosure path is the most important decision for a taxpayer who wishes to remedy his past noncompliance with US tax laws. Every voluntary disclosure option has its advantages and disadvantages. All essential factors must be considered.

The failure to do proper legal analysis may have highly negative legal and tax consequences. It may even put a taxpayer in a position worse than what he was prior to his attempt to do a voluntary disclosure.

This is why you need the professional help of Sherayzen Law Office. Our experienced legal team has helped hundreds of US taxpayers to do their offshore voluntary disclosures properly. We Can Help You! Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

OVDP & Streamlined Disclosure May Terminate Soon | Foreign Accounts Lawyer

On November 15, 2017, the IRS sent yet another signal that certain offshore voluntary disclosure options, particularly the OVDP & Streamlined Disclosure options, will be significantly modified or even terminated as the IRS proceeds with the LB&I Compliance Campaigns. This means that US taxpayers with undisclosed foreign accounts need to hurry up if they wish to proceed with their offshore voluntary disclosure utilizing the OVDP or the Streamlined Compliance Procedures.

OVDP & Streamlined Disclosure Termination: What Did the IRS Say?

The latest signal on the termination of the OVDP & Streamlined Disclosure options came from Mr. John Cardon (director of the withholding and international compliance area within IRS LB&I) and Mr. Daniel Price, an attorney with the IRS Office of Chief Counsel, Small Business/Self-Employed Division in Austin, Texas.

Both IRS officials emphasized that the current Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program and the Streamlined Filing Procedures are likely to terminate soon. Mr. Price emphasized the fact that these voluntary disclosure options were always intended as special offers that were bound to end at some point.

The possibility that the IRS wishes to terminate the Streamlined Disclosure options in addition to OVDP is somewhat sudden and premature. The IRS already stated in the past that it is no longer satisfied with the OVDP, but it never complained about the Streamlined Compliance Procedures (which have been highly successful with over 18,000 disclosures just in the last year). It is also not clear whether the IRS wishes to completely terminate all OVDP and Streamlined Disclosure options or whether the Streamlined Filing Procedures will survive in one form or another.

Why the IRS Wishes to End OVDP & Streamlined Disclosure Options

There is more than one reason behind the current IRS drive to end or significantly modify the existing voluntary disclosure options. Let’s focus on the two most important of them.

First, the existing voluntary disclosure options are rapidly losing value as a source of new information regarding offshore noncompliance with US taxes. FATCA has created an enormous and continuously expanding network of automatic information exchange between the IRS and foreign financial institutions. Moreover, other automatic information exchanges mechanisms have successfully filled most of the gaps left by FATCA.

In other words, now that offshore tax compliance and automatic international information exchanges have become a worldwide norm, the IRS does not need voluntary disclosures to obtain new information about offshore tax noncompliance.

Second, there has been a systemic change to a different model of tax administration. As the IRS officials emphasized on November 15, 2017, the IRS is shifting away from processing broad voluntary disclosure programs while it is embracing the model of focused enforcement. This is precisely why the IRS created the LB&I Compliance Campaigns – to concentrate its limited resources on tax enforcement where it is most needed rather than engage in broad efforts with respect to voluntary correction of past errors. Hence, in an environment where enforcement dominates over voluntary disclosures, the utility of the IRS voluntary disclosure options becomes more and more limited.

OVDP & Streamlined Disclosure Termination: When Will the IRS Announce the Termination of the Current OVDP & Streamlined Disclosure Programs?

It appears that the IRS will make the appropriate announcement for the termination of the voluntary disclosures prior to the end of January of 2018.

Will the Termination of Current OVDP & Streamlined Disclosure Programs Happen Immediately or Sometime After the Announcement?

It appears that, even after its announcement of the termination of the OVDP & Streamlined Disclosure options, the IRS will provide some time for the taxpayers to finalize their on-going disclosures. Mr. Cordone even stated that the voluntary disclosure programs’ termination date could be as far away as one year from the date of the IRS announcement of such a termination.

Will the End of OVDP & Streamlined Disclosure Programs Also Mark the End of IRS Voluntary Disclosures Per Se?

While the recent IRS moves are of great concern, they should not be taken as the end of the IRS voluntary disclosures per se with no options available to remedy one’s past tax noncompliance with respect to offshore accounts. Rather, I expect that the IRS voluntary disclosures will simply shift to different options. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss these potential voluntary disclosure options, but it is reasonable to assume we will find ourselves in situation somewhat reminiscent of the period of time between the end of 2011 OVDI and the beginning of 2012 OVDP.

If, however, a taxpayer wishes to take advantage of the existing voluntary disclosure options, the taxpayer should contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible to make sure that the voluntary disclosure can be completed before the IRS closes OVDP & Streamlined Disclosure Program.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with Your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure, including the OVDP & Streamlined Disclosure Options

If you have undisclosed foreign accounts or any other foreign assets, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help as soon as possible. Our international tax firm is highly experienced in successful completion of offshore voluntary disclosures for clients with foreign assets in close to 70 countries. We can help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Secret Bank Accounts in Israel and Switzerland Result in a Guilty Plea

The earlier IRS and DOJ (U.S. Department of Justice) investigations of secret bank accounts in Israel and Switzerland continue to produce new guilty pleas. On September 28, 2016, Mr. Markus Hager, a New York City resident, pleaded guilty to tax evasion for the tax years 2003-2005 and 2007-2010 with respect to his secret bank accounts in Israel and Switzerland.

Facts of the Case: Secret Bank Accounts in Israel and Switzerland

The facts of the Hager case are somewhat typical, but contain an exhilarating story of Mr. Hager’s attempts to conceal his ownership of the account – the fact that the IRS and the DOJ were able to uncover the entire history of these transfers of his funds under different names is impressive.

According to information presented in court, between 1987 through 2011, Mr. Hager utilized various secret bank accounts in Israel and Switzerland to hide his foreign funds and foreign income from the IRS. In order to do it, he opened a sham BVI (British Virgin Islands) entity which owned three accounts (two of them were numbered accounts) at UBS. It appears that, until 2008, Mr. Hager also owned some fo his UBS accounts personally. By the end of 2004, the value of his undeclared UBS accounts exceeded $7.3 million.

With the IRS victory over UBS in 2008, Mr. Hager closed his UBS accounts and transferred all of his assets to a new opened account at Clariden Leu (which was already controlled at that time mostly by Credit Suisse; in 2012, the bank was integrated into the Credit Suisse corporate structure); the account was held in the name of his BVI entity.

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Hager closed the account at Clariden Leu and transferred the assets to a newly opened account held in the name of the BVI entity at a different Swiss bank. Mr. Hager caused that Swiss bank to falsely record Hager’s Belgian cousin as the owner of the assets on the account. Approximately six months later, he closed this account at the Swiss bank and transferred the assets to an account at a bank in Israel that Mr. Hager caused to be opened in the name of yet another Belgian cousin.

Between 2005 to 2011, Hager also controlled an undeclared bank account at Bank Leumi in Israel, which he falsely held under the name of a relative who was not a U.S. person and who resided outside the United States. In February of 2010, after obtaining an Israeli Identity Card, Hager opened an account in his own name at Bank Leumi in Israel but falsely reported that he lived in the United Kingdom and signed a document, under the penalty of perjury, declaring that he was not a U.S. citizen.

According to the information filed, Mr. Hager repatriated some of the funds from his secret bank accounts in Israel and Switzerland by having his attorney draft a sham loan agreement between himself and the BVI entity. The funds were wired from some of his undeclared bank accounts in Israel and Switzerland into the attorney’s escrow account.

During the relevant years, Mr. Hager filed false federal and New York State income tax returns on which he failed to report the income from his bank accounts in Israel and Switzerland and failed to pay tax on that income. It appears that Mr. Hager evaded approximately $652,580 in federal taxes for tax years 2003 through 2005 and 2007 through 2010. Hager also failed to file his FBAR even though an accounting firm had informed Hager of his obligation to do so and advised him of the civil and criminal penalties he could suffer for the failure to do so.

Sentencing for Failure to Disclose Assets and Income from Secret Bank Accounts in Israel and Switzerland

Sentencing has been set for January 4, 2017. Hager faces a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison, as well as a term of supervised release and monetary penalties. According to the plea agreement, Hager agreed to pay restitution to the IRS. It is not clear if the FBAR penalty has been resolved by the plea.

Secret Bank Accounts in Israel and Switzerland: Lessons from the Hager Case

The Hager Case contains a full range of facts that lead to a criminal prosecution by the DOJ: the use of a sham foreign corporation in a tax shelter, the conscious and intentional effort to conceal the ownership of the funds by closing and opening bank accounts under different names, the failure to report the ownership of secret bank accounts in Israel and Switzerland even after Mr. Hager was advised by his accounting firms about the existence of the FBAR and its penalties, the failure to report the income from accounts, the filing of false tax returns and the repatriation of funds through a sham loan agreement and using his attorney’s escrow account. All of these items are a checklist of things that one should not do in order to avoid a DOJ criminal prosecution.

One interesting aspect of this case is the number of years for which Mr. Hager was charged with tax evasion. Apparently his especially egregious conduct had earned a total of seven years instead of the usual five years of counts of tax evasion. It is also interesting that the year 2006 was skipped in the plea; it is not clear from the plea why this was the case. My supposition is that the omission of the tax year 2006 was related to the statute of limitations concerns.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with Disclosure of Your Bank accounts in Israel and Switzerland

If you have undisclosed bank account in Israel, Switzerland or any other country, please contact Sherayzen Law Office, Ltd. for help as soon as possible. Attorney Eugene Sherayzen and his highly-knowledgeable team of tax professionals have helped hundreds of U.S. taxpayers around the world to bring their tax affairs into compliance. You can also benefit from their knowledge, experience, creativity and devotion to their clients’ cases by scheduling a Confidential Consultation today!