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FATCA Criminal Penalties | International Tax Lawyer & Attorney

While there are a number of articles in professional publications and attorneys’ blogs covering the civil penalties associated with a failure to comply with the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”), there is almost a complete silence with respect to FATCA criminal penalties. This essay intends to fill this gap by introducing its readers to potential FATCA criminal penalties that the IRS may pursue in case of FATCA noncompliance.

FATCA Criminal Penalties: FATCA Background and FFI Reporting Requirements

Congress enacted the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”) as part of the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (“HIRE”) Act of 2010. The law revolutionized international tax compliance, because, for the very first time, it forced all foreign financial institutions (“FFIs”) to report their US account holders to the IRS, including their names, account numbers and highest values of these accounts.

In other words, FATCA has turned all compliant FFIs into IRS agents. FFIs now carry the entire burden of automatically (and, it is important to emphasize the word “automatically”) disclosing all of the FATCA-required information directly to the IRS. The IRS now only needs to properly process and analyze the data in order to identify noncompliant taxpayers and investigate them.

How did the Congress achieve this goal? It imposed a very harsh penalty on FATCA-noncompliant FFIs without paying much attention to the potential legal and political implications such an over-reaching law has for the sovereignty of other nations. FATCA created a new tax withholding regime under which every noncompliant FFI faces a 30% withholding with respect to any incoming transaction. The penalty is imposed on the gross amount of a transaction, which means that using a noncompliant FFI may result in a net loss for the parties engaged in the transaction.

The net impact of the FATCA FFI penalty is that no bank or person would wish to utilize a noncompliant FFI, effectively cutting off the latter from the any USD-nominated transactions and the world markets.

FATCA Criminal Penalties: FATCA Requirements Imposed on US Taxpayers

FATCA created a new tax reporting obligation specifically for US taxpayers called Form 8938. I have discussed Form 8938 in detail elsewhere on my website and here I will provide just a very simplified description of this requirement. A Specified Person (who can be an individual or an entity) must file Form 8938 if the value of his Specified Foreign Financial Assets (SFFAs) exceeds a certain filing threshold which is determined by the tax return filing status of the Specified Person.

SFFAs are defined very broadly to include pretty much any type of a financial asset, an ownership interest in a foreign business, ownership of a beneficiary interest in a foreign trust, ownership interest in a foreign trust under the IRC Sections 671 through 679, et cetera. Additionally, Form 8938 requires the Specified Person to report foreign income attributable to holding or disposing of SFFAs.

Failure to file Form 8938 may lead to an imposition of a $10,000 civil penalty, subject to reasonable cause exception. An additional $10,000 penalty applies if the taxpayer fails to file Form 8938 within 90 days after the IRS mails notice of the failure to file the form. If the taxpayer persists in his failure to file the form, the IRS will impose additional $10,000 for each thirty-day periods the failure continues up to the maximum of $50,000. It is important to note that the statute of limitations does not start to run if Form 8938 has not been filed.

FATCA Criminal Penalties in General

Interestingly, the US Congress did not create any separate FATCA criminal penalties. The IRS and the US Department of Justice (“DOJ”), however, have not had any problems in engaging into criminal prosecutions of FATCA violations.

There are three major provisions that the IRS and the DOJ can rely upon in their criminal prosecution of FATCA violations. First, 18 U.S.C. section 371 (see below for more details). Second, 26 U.S.C. 7201 – a felony charge for intentional filing of a false Form 8938. Finally, 26 U.S.C. 7203 – a misdemeanor charge for a willful failure to file Form 8938.

So far, the IRS and the DOJ have used Section 371 more than Sections 7201 and 7203. However, as time goes on, I expect that Sections 7201 and 7203 will be used more extensively.

Since Section 371 criminal charges are the most common at this point, let’s explore this type of a criminal prosecution charge in more detail.

FATCA Criminal Penalties: 18 U.S.C. Section 371

As long as there is enough evidence, the IRS and the DOJ can use 18 U.S.C. section 371 to prosecute US taxpayers based on a charge of engaging in a FATCA-related conspiracy. This is likely to become the most favorite tool to prosecute persons for aiding US clients to circumvent FATCA requirements, including tax withholding provisions.

The DOJ already used this tool as early as within two months after FATCA tax withholding obligations became effective in July of 2014. On September 9, 2014, Mr. Robert Bandfield, five other individuals and six corporations were charged under 18 U.S.C. section 371 for a conspiracy to aid US clients with evasion of FATCA reporting requirements.

It is important to point out that criminal charges under 18 U.S.C. section 371 are especially dangerous for foreigners who help US taxpayers with tax evasion.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With a Willful Failure to File Forms 8938

For persons who willfully failed to file their Forms 8938, the best strategy to avoid a criminal prosecution is to engage in a voluntary disclosure of their undisclosed foreign assets before the IRS finds out about your willful FATCA violations. Sherayzen Law Office can help you!

While the IRS flagship Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”) was closed on September 28, 2019, the IRS updated its traditional voluntary disclosure program in November of 2018 to help willful taxpayers voluntarily disclose their prior tax noncompliance. I will refer to this option as Modified Traditional Voluntary Disclosure (“MTVD”).

Sherayzen Law Office can help you with MTVD and any other type of a voluntary disclosure. Our highly-experienced team of tax professionals has helped hundreds of US taxpayers to successfully conduct an offshore voluntary disclosure of their undisclosed foreign assets and foreign income. We have prevented the initiation of numerous criminal prosecutions and saved tens of millions of dollars in penalties for our clients. We Can Help You!

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.

Specified Domestic Entity: Closely-Held Test | 8938 Lawyer & Attorney

In a previous article, I introduced the key term of the Specified Domestic Entity (“SDE”) Definition for corporations and partnerships that may be required to file FATCA Form 8938: “formed or availed of”. At that point, I stated that this term required that a business entity satisfies two legal tests. One of these tests is a Closely-Held Test.

Closely-Held Test: Background Information

Starting tax year 2016, certain business entities and trusts that are classified as SDEs may be required to file Form 8938 with their US tax returns. Treas. Reg. §1.6038D-6(a) states that “a specified domestic entity is a domestic corporation, a domestic partnership, or a trust described in IRC Section 7701(a)(30)(E), if such corporation, partnership, or trust is formed or availed of for purposes of holding, directly or indirectly, specified foreign financial assets.”

In a previous article, I discussed the fact that “formed or availed of” is a term of art which has no relationship to the actual finding of intent. Rather, in the context of corporations and partnerships, the “formed or availed of” requirement is satisfied if two legal tests are met. One of these tests is a Closely-Held Test, which is the subject of this article.

Closely-Held Test: General Requirements

In order to meet the closely-held test, a corporation or partnership must be closely held by a specified individual. There are two separate parts of this test that need to be analyzed: (a) who is considered to be a specified individual, and (b) what percentage of ownership meets the “closely held” requirement.

Closely-Held Test: Specified Individual

In another article, I already defined the concept of a Specified Individual. It is, however, worth re-stating the definition here again for convenience purposes. Treas. Reg. §1.6038D-1(a)(2) defines Specified individual as anyone who is: (I) US citizen; (ii) resident alien of the United States for any portion of the taxable year; (iii) nonresident alien for whom an election under 26 U.S.C. §6013(g) or (h) is in effect; or (iv) nonresident alien who is a bona fide resident of Puerto Rico or a section 931 possession.

Closely-Held Test: Ownership Percentage for Corporations and Partnerships

The ownership requirement of the Closely-Held Test is explained in Treas. Reg. §1.6038D-6(b)(2) with respect to both, corporations and partnerships. A domestic corporation is considered to be “closely held” if “at least 80 percent of the total combined voting power of all classes of stock of the corporation entitled to vote, or at least 80 percent of the total value of the stock of the corporation, is owned, directly, indirectly, or constructively, by a specified individual on the last day of the corporation’s taxable year.” Treas. Reg. §1.6038D-6(b)(2)(I).

A domestic partnership is “closely held” if “at least 80 percent of the capital or profits interest in the partnership is held, directly, indirectly, or constructively, by a specified individual on the last day of the partnership’s taxable year.” Treas. Reg. §1.6038D-6(b)(2)(ii).

It is important to emphasize that the 80% threshold is met not only through direct ownership, but also through indirect and constructive ownership. So, one must closely look at the attribution rules of 26 U.S.C. §267 to determine whether the Closely-Held Test is met. Moreover, the constructive ownership rules for the purposes of the Closely-Held Test also contain an additional provision for the addition of spouses of individual family members.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Experienced Help with US International Tax Compliance Requirements for Corporations and Partnerships

If you are a minority or a majority owner of a corporation or partnership that either operates outside of the United States or has foreign assets, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help with US international tax compliance requirements. Our firm specializes in the are of US international tax law. We can Help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Specified Individual | FATCA International Tax Lawyers and Attorneys

Specified Individual is a key tax term that must be correctly understood in order to properly identify the persons who are required to file FATCA Form 8938. In this brief article, I will describe the general definition of a Specified Individual for Form 8938 purposes.

Specified Individual: FATCA Form 8938 Background

In 2010, one of the most important events in modern history of US taxation happened – the passage and signing of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act or FATCA. FATCA completely revolutionized the entire landscape of international tax law, elevating the international exchange of tax-related and account-related information to an unprecedented level. FATCA also created a brand-new requirement called Form 8938.

Form 8938 requires US taxpayers to report to the IRS their Specified Foreign Financial Assets (“SFFA”) together with the taxpayers’ US tax returns. Prior to tax year 2016, only a Specified Individual was required to report his SFFA to the IRS. Starting tax year 2016, a Specified Domestic Entity is also required to disclose its SFFA on Form 8938.

Specified Individual Definition

Treas. Reg. §1.6038D-1(a)(2) defines a “specified individual” as anyone who is: (I) US citizen; (ii) resident alien of the United States for any portion of the taxable year; (iii) nonresident alien for whom an election under 26 U.S.C. §6013(g) or (h) is in effect (i.e. nonresident alien who makes an election to be treated as a resident alien in order to file a joint US tax return); or (iv) nonresident alien who is a bona fide resident of Puerto Rico or a section 931 possession (as defined in Treas. Reg. §1.931-1(c)(1) – i.e. Guam, American Samoa and Northern Mariana Islands).

Resident alien includes anyone who is a US permanent resident or meets the substantial presence test.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help With Form 8938 If You Are a Specified Individual

If you are a specified individual who has undisclosed foreign accounts or any other SFFA, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible to explore your offshore voluntary disclosure options. Sherayzen Law Office is a highly experienced international tax law firm that specializes in offshore voluntary disclosures, including Streamlined Compliance Procedures (both Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures and Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures), Delinquent FBAR Submission Procedures, Delinquent International Information Return Submission Procedures and Reasonable Cause (so-called Noisy) Disclosures.

We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers all around the globe to bring their US tax affairs into full compliance with US tax laws, and We can Help You! Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Guam & American Samoa Are Non-Cooperative Tax Jurisdictions | News

On December 5, 2017, the European Union (the EU) Council published its list of the non-EU non-cooperative tax jurisdictions. The list included American Samoa and Guam unleashing strenuous objections from the United States.

Full List of Non-Cooperative Tax Jurisdictions

A total of seventeen countries made it to the list of non-cooperative tax jurisdictions: American Samoa, Bahrain, Barbados, Grenada, Guam, Korea (Republic of), Macao SAR, Marshall Islands, Mongolia, Namibia, Palau, Panama, Saint Lucia, Samoa, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia and United Arab Emirates.

Criteria for Inclusion in the List of Non-Cooperative Tax Jurisdictions

The list of non-cooperative tax jurisdictions was formed out of tax jurisdictions that failed to meet three criteria at the same time: transparency, fair taxation and the implementation of anti-base-erosion and profit-shifting measures.

The EU Reasoning for Including American Samoa and Guam on the List of Non-Cooperative Tax Jurisdictions

The EU reasoning for including American Samoa and Guam on the list of non-cooperative tax jurisdictions is a peculiar one because it does not seem to care about the fact that both jurisdictions are only US territories with no authority to separately sign international tax commitments (i.e. everything is done through the United States).

In particular, the EU Council specifically criticized American Samoa and Guam for three failures. First, American Samoa and Guam did not implement the automatic information exchange of financial information. Second, both jurisdictions did not sign the OECD Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters. Finally, neither American Samoa nor Guam followed the EU’s BEPS minimum standards.

US Objections to the Inclusion of Its Territories on the List of Non-Cooperative Tax Jurisdictions

In his letter to the Council of the European Union, the Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin strenuously objected to the inclusion of American Samoa and Guam on the list of non-cooperative tax jurisdictions. The Treasury Secretary set forth the following reasons.

First, he objected to the publication of the list per se as being “duplicative” of the efforts at the G-20 and OECD level.

Second and most important, Mr. Mnuchin stated that the EU reasoning does not make sense, because American Samoa and Guam “participate in the international community through the United States”. The fact that the United States agreed to implement BEPS minimum standards and the tax transparency standards should be considered as the agreement of American Samoa and Guam to do the same. In other words, he argued that American Samoa, Guam and the Untied States should be considered as one whole legal framework.

Based on this reasoning, Mr. Mnuchin urged the EU to immediately remove American Samoa and Guam from its list of non-cooperative tax jurisdictions. It should be noted that several other jurisdictions also rejected their inclusion on the list.

Sherayzen Law Office will continue to watch for any new developments with respect to this issue.