FATCA Lawyers

Finnish US Bank Accounts Face IRS John Doe Summonses | FATCA News

On May 1, 2019, the United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina (the “Court”) authorized the IRS to serve John Doe Summonses seeking information about Finnish residents who own secret US bank accounts (collectively Finnish US Bank Accounts). Let’s discuss this development concerning Finnish US bank accounts in more depth.

Finnish US Bank Accounts Targeted by the Finnish Tax Administration.

This whole case is about the Finnish government’s efforts to identify noncompliant Finnish taxpayers who failed to disclose income related to their non-Finnish bank accounts. Specifically, the Finnish Tax Administration (“FTA”) identified bank accounts in the United States owned by Finnish tax residents as one of the primary targets in its tax enforcement campaign.

The reason why Finland cannot identify the affected individuals itself is because, in circumstances where the payment cards are used only at ATMs or in other transactions where authorization is by PIN code, and the cardholder need not identify himself or herself to the merchant, the cardholders cannot be identified from sources in Finland. Earlier FTA investigations of approximately 120 to 150 Finnish taxpayers who used foreign payment cards in a similar manner have yielded extremely high rates of tax non-compliance, as noted in the United States’ memo in support of the petition, which indicates that it is likely that the John Does sought by the summons are Finnish residents who are failing to report these foreign accounts and associated income.

Hence, the FTA asked the US Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the IRS for help as prescribed by the tax treaty between Finland and the United States. The treaty provides for cooperation in exchanging information that is necessary for enforcement each of the signatory’s tax laws.

The DOJ and the IRS readily agreed. Then, the DOJ filed a petition in the Court asking for it to grant the IRS a permission to issue John Doe Summonses in response to the FTA’s request for help.

Finnish US Bank Accounts: Affected US Financial Institutions

The IRS Summonses specially target persons who reside in Finland and have Bank of America, Charles Schwab or TD Bank payment cards linked to bank accounts located outside of Finland. It is important to note that the DOJ does not allege that Bank of America, Charles Schwab or TD Bank violated any US or Finnish laws with respect to these accounts.

Finnish US Bank Accounts: Information Targeted by the IRS John Doe Summonses

The IRS John Doe Summonses seek the identities of Finnish residents who have payment cards linked to bank accounts located outside of Finland so that the Finnish government can determine if those persons have complied with Finnish tax laws.

Finnish US Bank Accounts: Foreign Individuals With Secret US Bank Accounts Are Not Safe from Disclosure to Their Governments

The recent IRS John Doe summonses concerning Finnish US bank accounts is another indication that foreign individuals with secret US bank accounts are not immune from the disclosure of these accounts to their governments at home. In fact, the US government will cooperate with requests for such information, at least from friendly governments.

“The Department of Justice and the IRS are committed to working with the United States’ international treaty partners to identify and stop individuals using hidden offshore accounts to evade tax laws,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Richard E. Zuckerman of the Justice Department’s Tax Division. “The United States does not tolerate offshore tax evasion, nor does it sanction tax evasion committed through U.S. financial institutions.”

This cooperation also stems from the desire to somehow thank the foreign government for their prior cooperation with the IRS tax enforcement efforts that targeted (and continue to target) US taxpayers with undisclosed foreign bank accounts. “Our continued success in combating offshore tax noncompliance has been helped by the assistance we receive through the network of tax treaties around the globe,” said IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig. “Yesterday’s effort reflects that the U.S. will return this help by working under the law with tax administrators in other nations to help them in their fight against tax evasion and avoidance. A global economy should not be allowed to serve as a possible vehicle for tax evasion in any country.”

Sherayzen Law Office has predicted in the past that, after FATCA, the global tax enforcement will become tighter and more cooperative. Our predictions turned out to be correct.

CRS Success: 47 Million Financial Accounts Reported | FATCA Lawyer News

On June 7, 2019, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (“OECD”) announced that countries shared information concerning 47 million financial accounts under the OECD’s Common Reporting Standard (“CRS”). Let’s explore this CRS success in more detail.

Measuring CRS Success: What is CRS?

CRS can be called the response of the rest of the world to the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”), a groundbreaking piece of US legislation that became a law in 2010. The idea behind the CRS is the same as that of FATCA – to combat tax evasion that utilizes secret foreign accounts through automatic information exchange between the member-countries concerning these accounts.

CRS was developed in 2014 as the information exchange standard for the Automatic Exchange of Information (“AEOI”) Agreements. Legally, CRS is based on the multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters, but it is the standard in the bilateral AEOI agreements as well. The first reporting under the CRS occurred in 2017.

The United States has refused to information exchange under the CRS. This is an egoistical position – CRS does not substantially help the IRS in its combat against tax evasion; the US government believes that FATCA already provides the IRS with all of the information that it needs. Moreover, the CRS would require the United States to disclose information concerning domestic accounts owned by foreigners, thereby endangering the US “tax haven” appeal. Finally, there is a practical aspect of paying for the implementation of the CRS.

Measuring CRS Success: Account Information Shared

On June 7, 2019, OECD shared some actual data concerning the impact of CRS on information exchange. This announcement was made in Fukuoka, Japan, right before the G20 meeting of finance ministers. The results are extraordinary: the participating countries shared information concerning 47 million foreign accounts, which comprise $5.5 trillion or €4.9 trillion. The OECD already called CRS as the “largest exchange of tax information in history.”

Measuring CRS Success: Voluntary Disclosure Programs

Prior to the implementation of the CRS, many participating countries offered their taxpayers a chance to remedy their past noncompliance through a voluntary disclosure program. These programs turned out to be a great success.

Fearing disclosure under the CRS, about 500,000 account holders revealed more than €95 billion in offshore funds. OECD believes that the responsibility for such a huge success of voluntary disclosure programs should be attributed to the CRS; i.e. these disclosures were “early evidence of taxpayer behavioral responses” to the potential future information exchanges.

Measuring CRS Success: Drop in Tax Haven Investments

Another measure of the CRS success is its impact on the deposits in jurisdictions identified by the OECD as tax havens. The International Monetary Fund reported a 34% decline since 2008 in the tax haven deposits by individuals and corporations. The OECD believes that as much as two-thirds of this decline should be attributed to the CRS.

Offshore Bank Accounts Remain on the IRS 2019 Dirty Dozen List

On March 15, 2019, the IRS announced that it will keep undisclosed offshore bank accounts on its 2019 Dirty Dozen list.

2019 Dirty Dozen List: Background Information

The “Dirty Dozen” list is complied annually by the IRS. It consists of common tax scams and noncompliance schemes that the IRS prioritizes in its enforcement efforts. Many of these scams and schemes peak during the tax filing season, but offshore evasion is present throughout the year.

2019 Dirty Dozen List: Offshore Evasion Remains a Priority for the IRS

Despite many years of an intense focus on this area, the IRS still priorities its enforcement efforts in the area of offshore evasion. “Offshore evasion remains a primary focal point of overall IRS enforcement efforts,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “Our Criminal Investigation and civil enforcement teams work closely with the Justice Department in the international arena to ensure our nation’s tax laws are followed. Taxpayers considering hiding funds or assets offshore should think twice; the civil penalties and criminal sanctions can be severe.”

2019 Dirty Dozen List: Undisclosed Offshore Bank Accounts May Lead to Criminal Prosecution and Imposition of Huge Civil Penalties

This is very much true. Over the years, the IRS has conducted thousands of offshore-related audits that resulted in the imposition of multimillion-dollar civil penalties as well as additional tax liability. Moreover, the IRS has also been very active in pursuing criminal penalties, which resulted in the collection of billions of dollars in criminal fines and restitution.

Many of these cases involved undisclosed offshore bank accounts. In fact, the IRS has expressly warned noncompliant taxpayers that hiding income in undisclosed offshore bank accounts may result in significant penalties as well as criminal prosecution.

2019 Dirty Dozen List: Common Schemes Involving Undisclosed Offshore Bank Accounts

The IRS has identified numerous schemes that involve undisclosed offshore bank accounts. The most simple of them (and the one that is becoming increasingly rare) is the direct ownership of secret offshore bank accounts and brokerage accounts. The more sophisticated schemes use nominee entities and prepaid debit cards. The most complicated schemes often involve foreign trusts, employee-leasing schemes, private annuities and insurance plans.

The IRS has emphasized that it is not illegal to have offshore bank accounts, foreign business entities and foreign trusts. All of these foreign assets, however, must be disclosed and the appropriate US taxes must be paid.

2019 Dirty Dozen List: How the IRS Finds Out About Schemes In order to Prosecute Noncompliant Taxpayers

There are many different ways for the IRS to find out about undisclosed offshore accounts and schemes that involve such accounts. Let’s briefly review the top four of them. First, the IRS has built up a significant pile of information from prior prosecutions of taxpayers with undisclosed foreign accounts as well as bankers and other financial experts suspected of helping clients hide their assets overseas. Each new audit and prosecution continues to bring in more information.

Second, the IRS also received a huge amount of information from US taxpayers who participated in the different versions of the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”) during 2004-2018 as well as Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures and Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures. OVDP has been particularly helpful, because it involved a large number of taxpayers who could be classified as willful in their prior noncompliance.

Third, the IRS has also obtained very sophisticated information concerning offshore schemes from the Swiss Bank Program. As part of this program, Swiss banks disclosed their strategies for using undisclosed offshore bank accounts to hide income overseas.

Finally, as a result of the implementation of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”) and the network of Intergovernmental Agreements (“IGAs”), there is a continuous and automatic flow of information concerning US-owned accounts from third parties to the IRS.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With the Voluntary Disclosure of Your Undisclosed Foreign Assets

The fact that undisclosed offshore bank accounts remain on the 2019 Dirty Dozen list demonstrates the IRS commitment to fighting tax noncompliance in this area. As a result of the information collection efforts by the IRS, US taxpayers with undisclosed foreign accounts are at a severe risk of discovery by the IRS.

This is why, if you have undisclosed foreign assets or foreign income, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help as soon as possible. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world with their offshore voluntary disclosures, and We Can Help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

FFI FATCA Requirements: Introduction | FATCA Tax Lawyer & Attorney

Since July 1, 2014, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”) has imposed a heavy compliance burden on Foreign Financial Institutions (“FFIs”). Many of these FFIs have struggled with developing a good understanding of their new FATCA requirements even to this day. In this brief essay, I want to provide a general overview of these FFI FATCA requirements so that readers can begin to develop an understanding of FATCA.

FFI FATCA Requirements: Background Information

FATCA was enacted into law in 2010. The most important idea behind the new law was to combat US tax noncompliance of US taxpayers with foreign financial assets.

There are several important parts of FATCA, but the most important one of them was forcing FFIs to identify US owners of foreign financial assets, collect certain information about them and share it with the IRS. Failure to do so meant facing a FATCA penalty in the form of a 30% withholding tax on the gross amount of all transactions with a noncompliant FFI. In essence, FATCA turned FFIs around the world into free IRS informants.

FFI FATCA Requirements: Three Categories

What precisely does FATCA require FFIs to do in order to be FATCA-compliant? If we look broadly at the FFI FATCA requirements, we can group all of these requirements into three broad categories. Each of these categories consists of a myriad of smaller but still fairly complex FATCA compliance requirements and requires a deep understanding of new FATCA terms.

The first and most important category of FATCA requirements is to collect the required due diligence information concerning all account holders, investors and payees. “Collecting” here means obtaining the required due diligence information and documentation. In other words, FATCA has to be part of an FFI’s “Know Your Client” (“KYC”) procedures.

Additionally, these new due diligence requirements apply not only to new customers, but also to pre-existing account holders. Pre-existing account holders are the account holders who already had accounts with an FFI as of the time FATCA was implemented (i.e. July 1, 2014) or sometimes a different date.

The second requirement is to report to the IRS three categories of persons: (a) all US account holders; (b) recalcitrant account holders; and © non-participating (i.e. FATCA-noncompliant) FFIs. This means that, under FATCA, FFIs must turn over to the IRS the identifying information concerning accounts held by US persons as well as point out the “bad apples” who refuse to comply with FATCA.

Recalcitrant account holders is a fairly complex FATCA term. In its most basic form, it refers to an account holder who does not supply the required FATCA information and who does not fall under any types of a waiver. In a future article, I will provide a more detailed description of this term, but, at this point, I would like to refer the readers to Treas Reg § 1.1471-5(g)(2).

Finally, the FFIs are charged with the requirement to coordinate FATCA withholding as necessary. In other words, the FFIs are required to impose FATCA noncompliance penalties on any FATCA non-compliant FFI, thereby turning FATCA in a worldwide self-enforcing system from which no FFI can escape.

FFI FATCA Requirements Are Interconnected

Needless to say that all three of these FFI FATCA requirements are deeply related to each other. For example, the due diligence requirement is essential to an FFI’s ability to properly comply with its FATCA reporting and withholding obligations. It is important to keep this connection between different FFI FATCA Requirements in mind while building an effective FATCA compliance system.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office to Find Out More About Your FFI FATCA Requirements

Sherayzen Law Office is a US international tax law firm that specializes in US international tax compliance, including FATCA compliance. We also help FFIs develop an effective FATCA compliance program as well as analyze existing FATCA compliance programs.

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Specified Domestic Entity Seminar | International Tax Lawyer & Attorney

On August 17, 2017, the owner of Sherayzen Law Office, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, conducted a seminar on the new FATCA reporting requirement concerning Form 8938, specifically the new filing category of Specified Domestic Entities (the “Specified Domestic Entity Seminar”). Mr. Sherayzen is a highly experienced attorney who specializes in U.S. international tax compliance, including FATCA Form 8938. The Specified Domestic Entity Seminar was organized by the International Business Law Section of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

The Specified Domestic Entity Seminar commenced with the historical overview of FATCA. Then, it continued to analyze the three principal parts of FATCA (as relevant to the seminar), including Form 8938.

The next part of the Specified Domestic Entity Seminar focused on the filing requirements of FATCA, including the definition of the Specified Foreign Financial Assets. Mr. Sherayzen devoted considerable time to the exploration of various categories of Form 8938 filers and their respective filing thresholds. He explained to the audience that Form 8938 was previously required to be filed only by Specified Individuals. The tax attorney then stated that, starting tax years after December 31, 2015, a domestic corporation, partnership or trust classified as a Specified Domestic Entity was required to file Form 8938.

Having finished the review of the background information, Mr. Sherayzen proceeded to analyze the definition of Specified Domestic Entity. At this point, the Specified Domestic Entity Seminar turned very technical and analytical.

After stating the general definition of Specified Domestic Entity, the tax attorney divided the definition into various parts and analyzed each part in detail. In particular, the Specified Domestic Entity seminar covered the following topics: definition of “domestic” (as defined specifically for the purposes of domestic trusts and domestic business entities), Specified Foreign Financial Assets and the phrase “formed or availed of”.

As part of the analysis of the latter, Mr. Sherayzen discussed the Closely-Held Test and the Passive Tests with their varying applications to domestic trusts and domestic business entities. The tax attorney also discussed the highly unusual attribution rules within the context of the Closely-Held Test.

After the explanation of the Form 8938 filing threshold for Specified Domestic Entities, Mr. Sherayzen concluded the Specified Domestic Entity Seminar and opened the Q&A session.