In an earlier article, I described the main features of an IRS audit of a voluntary disclosure made pursuant to the Streamlined Domestic Submission Procedures (“Streamlined Submission Audit”). Today, I would like to discuss a very specific feature of this process – Streamlined Audit Interview.
Streamlined Audit Interview: Background Information on Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures
Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures (“SDOP”) is a special offshore voluntary disclosure program initiated by the IRS in 2014. SDOP allows US taxpayers to remedy their past tax noncompliance concerning the reporting of foreign assets and foreign income while paying a highly reduced 5% Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty. The reason for such a lenient treatment is that the taxpayers must certify that their prior noncompliance with US international tax laws was non-willful.
Streamlined Audit Interview: General Description
Virtually every IRS field audit will involve an attempt to interview the audited taxpayer(s). The concept of a Streamlined Audit Interview describes a situation where an audited taxpayer is interviewed specifically in the context of a Streamlined Submission Audit.
Streamlined Audit Interview: Main Differences from Regular IRS Audit Interview
In many ways, a regular IRS audit interview is similar to a Streamlined Audit Interview. In fact, procedurally, there are very few differences: both audits involve the same type of scheduling procedures, same interview format and, with respect to audited tax returns, very similar questions.
The main difference between a regular IRS audit interview and the Streamlined Audit Interview lies in the fact that the latter will involve the examination of the audited taxpayer’s non-willfulness with respect to prior tax noncompliance – i.e. whether the taxpayer carried his burden of proof to participate in SDOP in the first place. In other words, the difference between the two types of audits is in the substantive legal issues to be discussed.
There are also differences in the potential stakes. A failure for the taxpayer to substantiate his original non-willfulness arguments may lead the IRS to impose heavy penalties and even refer the case to the US Department of Justice’s Tax Division for criminal prosecution.
Finally, a Streamlined Audit Interview is likely to involve a much broader spectrum of issues than just amended tax returns. For example, there could be questions concerning FBARs, sources of foreign account balances, US assets purchased with undisclosed foreign funds, et cetera.
Streamlined Audit Interview: Extensive Preparation Is Necessary
A taxpayer should prepare for a Streamlined Audit Interview. It should be remembered that this interview may happen two or even almost three years from the time when the SDOP voluntary disclosure package was originally submitted. Hence, it is important to refresh the memory of the taxpayer so that he would be able to respond to the IRS questions (instead of constantly saying “I have no recollection”, thereby creating an impression as if he had to hide something).
The taxpayer should also be prepared on how to properly answer a question. Again, the idea is to avoid unnecessary suspicions and an impression that he has something to hide. This why the taxpayer’s answers should be firm and clear in order to eliminate any doubt of their meaning.
In every case, there are going to be weak or negative facts. The temptation to avoid a discussion of negative facts is huge, but it should be resisted. The taxpayer should be prepared to speak of them boldly, explain these facts and show how they fit into his overall non-willfulness arguments.
A taxpayer should never be trained into lying to the IRS or obfuscating the facts. Never, under any circumstances, should an attorney allow his client to commit a perjury, especially in the context of a voluntary disclosure based on the taxpayer’s non-willfulness. The outcome of this unethical strategy is likely to be disastrous (the IRS is likely to find out the truth in any case) and may result in criminal charges filed against the client, even if his original tax noncompliance was non-willful.
Being honest is of utmost importance in a Streamlined Audit Interview. This, however, does not preclude an attorney from employing certain strategies as described above to prevent unnecessary complications by the failure of a taxpayer to express himself clearly or creating a temptation on the part of the IRS to go on a “fishing expedition”.
Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With an Audit of Your Streamlined Submission and a Streamlined Audit Interview
If your Streamlined Submission is being audited by the IRS, contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible for professional help. Sherayzen Law Office is a highly experienced international tax law firm that specializes in all stages of offshore voluntary disclosures, including IRS audits of a Streamlined Submission and federal court representation.
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