On October 30, 2017, Mr. Paul Manafort was charged with FBAR violations among other charges. Manafort FBAR violations charges were filed as a result of an ongoing investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.
While the investigation should have been searching for possible ties between Mr. Manafort and the Russian government, it found something completely different. Instead of finding any ties to the Russians, it found that Mr. Manafort was lobbying on behalf of the Ukrainian government (currently the archenemy of Russia and involved in a civil war with its eastern provinces) without registering as a foreign agent.
Moreover, it has led to the IRS Criminal Investigation with respect to Mr. Manafort’s FBAR noncompliance. Let’s explore this part of the investigation in more detail.
Manafort FBAR Violations Indictment: Alleged Facts
According to the indictment, Manafort failed to report his interest in over a dozen foreign entities, primarily in Cyprus, and used those entities to hide millions of dollars in foreign bank accounts from the U.S. government. Over $75 million allegedly flowed through the accounts, but only a portion of it was accessed. Manafort was accused of using over $18 million of proceeds on personal expenses.
The government further alleges that, during 2008-2014, Mr. Manafort falsely stated on his tax returns that he did not have an authority over any foreign bank accounts (I believe the reference here is to Part III of Schedule B, Form 1040).
Furthermore, the government claims that Mr. Manafort lied, in writing, to Mr. Manafort’s tax return preparer in order to conceal his authority over the undisclosed foreign accounts. It is obvious that this accusation is meant to preempt the reasonable cause reliance defense against FBAR penalties.
The indictment includes seven counts of willful FBAR violations under 31 U.S.C. section 5322. It is possible that Mr. Manafort may try to throw out some of the counts on the basis of the FBAR Statute of Limitations, but not all facts of the case are known at this point to estimate the success of this defense.
Manafort FBAR Violations Indictment: No Tax Evasion Charges
It is very strange, but the indictment does not contain a separate tax evasion charge, which requires the approval of the DOJ’s Tax Division. This omission is even more puzzling in light of the fact that the government alleges in its indictment that Mr. Manafort did not pay taxes on any income related to undisclosed foreign accounts. The government even specifically states that he purchased properties in Virginia and took out loans for the purpose of having access to untaxed income.
Manafort FBAR Violations Indictment: How Was $18 Million Calculated
The Manafort case is very good in one aspect: it allows us to see the government methodology for identifying potential willful FBAR violations. The main tool in this case was the government’s analysis of Mr. Manafort’s lifestyle.
The government alleged that, between 2008 and 2014, Mr. Manafort made domestic expenses of close to $18 million dollars which the government believes came from undisclosed foreign bank accounts and should be directly tied to Mr. Manafort FBAR violations. Most of this money was spent on improving real estate as well as purchases at antique shops, car dealerships and so on.
Manafort FBAR Violations Indictment: A Political Case With Important Lessons
It is important to remember that, at this point, these are merely government allegations and Mr. Manafort is presumed to be innocent until found otherwise by a court of law or a jury. While it is too early to state whether the government can prove its allegations and the case does have a very strong political background, it is still important to study the lessons of this case with respect to the government’s ability to pursue FBAR violations. The government’s methodology in this case is somewhat unusual, and all international tax lawyers should follow this case closely to see how the courts react to the government’s strategy.