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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!

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.

Ukrainian FATCA Agreement Authorized for Signature

On November 9, 2016, the Ukrainian government authorized the Ukrainian FATCA Agreement for signature. Let’s explore this new development in more depth.

Ukrainian FATCA Agreement and FATCA Background

The Ukrainian FATCA Agreement is one of the many bilateral FATCA implementation agreements signed by the great majority of jurisdictions around the world. The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) was enacted into law in 2010 and quickly became the new standard for international tax information exchange.

FATCA is extremely complex, but its core purpose is very clear – increased US international tax compliance (with higher revenue collection) by imposing new reporting requirements on US taxpayers and especially foreign financial institutions (FFIs). Since FFIs are not US taxpayers, the United States has been working with foreign governments to enforce FATCA through negotiation and implementation of FATCA treaties. The Ukrainian FATCA Agreement is just one more example of these bilateral treaties.

Ukrainian FATCA Agreement is a Model 1 FATCA Agreement

There are two types of FATCA treaties – Model 1 and Model 2. Model 2 FATCA treaty requires FFIs to individually enter into a FFI Agreement with the IRS to report the required FATCA information directly to the IRS (for example, Switzerland signed a Model 2 treaty).

On the other hand, Model 1 treaty requires FFIs in the “partner country” (i.e. the country that signed a Model 1 FATCA agreement) to report the required FATCA information regarding US accounts to the local tax authorities. Then, the tax authorities of the partner country share this information with the IRS.

The Ukrainian FATCA Agreement is a Model 1 FATCA Agreement.

When will the Ukrainian FATCA Agreement Enter into Force?

The Ukrainian FATCA Agreement will enter into force once Ukraine notifies the US government that it has completed all of the necessary internal procedures for the ratification of the Agreement.

What is the Impact of Ukranian FATCA Agreement on Noncompliant US Taxpayers?

The implementation of the Ukrainian FATCA Agreement will mean that the Ukrainian government will force its FFIs to identify all of the FATCA information regarding their US accountholders and share this information with US government.

This further means that any US taxpayers who are currently noncompliant with the US tax reporting requirements (such as FBAR, Form 8938, foreign income reporting, et cetera) are now at an ever increasing risk of detection by the IRS and the imposition of draconian IRS penalties.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help With US Tax Compliance in light of the Ukrainian FATCA Agreement

If you have undisclosed Ukrainian assets (including Ukrainian bank accounts) and Ukrainian foreign income, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office for help as soon as possible. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the globe (including Ukrainians) to bring their US tax affairs in order and we can help you!

UK FATCA Letters

While the United Kingdom signed its FATCA implementation treaty in 2014, UK FATCA letters (i.e. FATCA letters from UK financial institutions) continue to pour into the mailboxes of U.S. taxpayers. In this article, I would like to discuss the purpose and impact of UK FATCA Letters.

UK FATCA Letters

UK FATCA Letters play an integral role in the FATCA Compliance of UK financial institutions. Under the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), the UK foreign institutions are obligated to collect certain information regarding U.S. owners of UK bank and financial accounts and provide this information to the IRS. The collected information must include the name, address and social security number (or, EIN number) of U.S. accountholders.

In order to collect the required information and identify who among their clients is a US person for FATCA purposes, the UK financial institutions send UK FATCA Letters to their clients, asking them to provide the information by the required date. If there is no response within the required period of time (which may be extended), the UK financial institutions report the account to the IRS with the classification as a “recalcitrant account”.

UK FATCA Letters and Undisclosed UK Bank and Financial Accounts

While UK FATCA Letters are important to FATCA compliance of UK financial institutions, they also may have important impact on U.S. taxpayers with undisclosed bank and financial accounts in the United Kingdom, particularly on the ability of such U.S. taxpayers to timely disclose their foreign accounts.

Once a U.S. taxpayer receives UK FATCA Letters, he should be aware that the clock has started on his ability to do any type of voluntary disclosure. This is the case because UK FATCA Letters demand a response within certain limited period of time. Then, the UK financial institutions will report the account to the IRS, which may prompt IRS examination which, in turn, may deprive the taxpayer of the ability to take advantage of any type of a voluntary disclosure option.

Furthermore, UK FATCA Letters start the clock for the taxpayers to do their voluntary disclosure in an indirect way. If the taxpayers do not complete their voluntary disclosure within reasonable period of time (which may differ depending on circumstances) after they receive the letters, the IRS may proceed based on the assumption that prior noncompliance with U.S. tax requirements by the still noncompliant taxpayers was willful.

Finally, UK FATCA Letters may impact a U.S. taxpayer’s legal position with respect to current and future tax compliance, because UK FATCA Letters can be used by the IRS as evidence to prove awareness of U.S. tax requirements on the part of noncompliant U.S. taxpayers. This is particularly relevant for taxpayers who receive these letters right before the tax return and FBAR filing deadlines.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office if You Received UK FATCA Letters

If you received one or more UK FATCA Letters from foreign financial institutions, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible. Attorney Eugene Sherayzen is one of the world’s leading professionals in the area of offshore voluntary disclosures and he will personally analyze your case and create the appropriate voluntary disclosure strategy. Then, under his close supervision, his legal team will implement this strategy, including the preparation of all required tax forms.

Call Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

DOJ Non-Prosecution Agreement with Bank Linth LLB AG

On June 19, 2015, the Department of Justice announced that Bank Linth LLB AG (Bank Linth) signed a Non-Prosecution agreement pursuant to the DOJ’s Swiss Bank Program.

Bank Linth Background

Bank Linth, one of the largest regional banks in Eastern Switzerland, was founded in 1848. It is headquartered in Uznach, Switzerland, which is approximately 35 miles southeast of Zurich. Bank Linth provided private banking and asset management services to U.S. taxpayers through private bankers based in Switzerland. It opened, serviced and profited from accounts for U.S. clients with the knowledge that many were likely not complying with their tax obligations.

Bank Linth’s cross-border banking business aided and assisted U.S. clients in opening and maintaining undeclared accounts in Switzerland and concealing the assets and income they held in these accounts. Bank Linth provided this assistance to U.S. clients in a variety of ways, including the following:

Opening and maintaining accounts in the names of sham entities;

Providing U.S. taxpayers with numbered accounts that hid the taxpayers’ identities;

Facilitating U.S. taxpayers’ withdrawal of cash from undeclared accounts; and

Agreeing to hold bank statements and other mail relating to accounts rather than sending them to U.S. taxpayers in the United States.

On several occasions, Bank Linth opened accounts for U.S. taxpayers through an external asset manager, and one of these accounts was opened in the name of a sham foundation. In that instance, Bank Linth knowingly accepted and included in account records forms provided by the directors of the sham foundation that falsely represented the ownership of the assets in the account for U.S. federal income tax purposes.

Participation in the Swiss Bank Program and the Non-Prosecution Agreement

In accordance with the terms of the Swiss Bank Program, Bank Linth described in detail the structure of its banking business, including its management and supervisory structure, and provided the names of management and legal and compliance officials. Bank Linth further provided detailed and specific information related to its illegal U.S. cross-border business, including the bank’s misconduct, policies that contributed to that misconduct and the names of the relationship managers overseeing the bank’s U.S.-related business. Bank Linth also obtained affidavits from bank employees regarding the bank’s conduct and related matters.

According to the terms of the non-prosecution agreements signed today, Bank Linth agreed to cooperate in any related criminal or civil proceedings, demonstrate its implementation of controls to stop misconduct involving undeclared U.S. accounts and pay penalties in return for the department’s agreement not to prosecute Bank Linth for tax-related criminal offenses.

Since August 1, 2008, Bank Linth held 126 U.S.-related accounts, with over $102 million in assets. Bank Linth will pay a penalty of $4.15 million (this is a post-mitigation penalty).

Consequences for US Taxpayers with Undisclosed Bank Linth Accounts

Most U.S. taxpayers who enter the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program to resolve undeclared offshore accounts will pay a penalty equal to 27.5 percent of the high value of the accounts. On August 4, 2014, the IRS increased the penalty to 50 percent if, at the time the taxpayer initiated their disclosure, either a foreign financial institution at which the taxpayer had an account or a facilitator who helped the taxpayer establish or maintain an offshore arrangement had been publicly identified as being under investigation, the recipient of a John Doe summons or cooperating with a government investigation, including the execution of a deferred prosecution agreement or non-prosecution agreement. This means that, starting June 19, 2015, noncompliant Bank Linth U.S. accountholders will now pay that 50 percent penalty to the IRS if they wish to enter the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.