Posts

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!

Disclosure of Swiss Bank Staff Details to the IRS Blocked by Swiss Court

On January 3, 2018, a decision of the Swiss Federal Court (the nation’s highest court) dated December 18, 2017, was published, prohibiting automatic disclosure of the Swiss bank staff details to the IRS and the US DOJ. Let’s analyze this decision in more detail.

Disclosure of Swiss Bank Staff Details: History of the Case

The lawsuit decided in 2017 is not the first time that the Swiss Federal Court is placing limits on the IRS ability to obtain information from Switzerland with respect to Swiss citizens. Already in 2016, the Court ruled that a Swiss bank could not disclose to the US authorities the names of financial advisers who helped US taxpayers set up secret Swiss bank accounts (“facilitators”). The reasoning was based on the inadequate level of data protection in the United States which is far below the Swiss Data Protection Act.

It should be emphasized, however, that in the same opinion, the Court also said that the names of facilitators could be disclosed to the US government despite the data protection concerns if the failure to do so would deepen the legal dispute between Switzerland and a the United States and harm the Swiss reputation as a financial center.

The lawsuit with respect to disclosure of Swiss bank staff details was initiated by an unnamed US taxpayer who lived in Switzerland. He filed a lawsuit to prevent the Swiss equivalent of the IRS, the Federal Tax Administration (“FTA”) from disclosing to the US government the name of third parties who were involved or might have been involved with his financial affairs. The lower Swiss court agreed with the taxpayer.

Automatic Disclosure of Swiss Bank Staff Details to the IRS Prohibited

The Swiss Federal Court also partially agreed with the unnamed US taxpayer, stating that FTA could not automatically turn over to the US government the names of Swiss bankers and others who might have helped US tax residents in evading their US tax reporting obligations. The reasoning behind the decision was based on relevance.

Basically, the Could stated that the Swiss bank staff details in this particular case were not necessary to the US government to prove its tax evasion case against the unnamed US account holder. “What is needed . . . is information about the existence and intervention of these third parties, not their identities,” the Court said.

The Court basically stated that administrative assistance requests should not be used for indirect purposes. In other words, the IRS cannot use such requests “in order to obtain information about the identities of alleged accomplices of the taxpayer . . . that could be subject to criminal prosecution if this information is not relevant to elucidate the tax situation of the same taxpayer.”

Obviously, this reasoning does not offer any decisive protection for Swiss bank staff details. It appears that, if the information would have been necessary for the US tax authorities to prove its tax evasion case, the transfer of Swiss Bank Staff details would have been permitted. Additionally, the decision might have come in a bit late as hundreds of documents with the Swiss bankers’ names have already been turned over to the IRS.

Swiss Bank Staff Case Offers No Protection to US Taxpayer’s Data Transfer

Moreover, the Court’s decision offered no hope for blocking the transfer of US taxpayers’ information. While the Court blocked the transfer of the Swiss bank staff details, it still allowed the FTA to provide to the US government the US account holder’s information. This means that the transfer of data concerning US tax residents from Switzerland to the United States will continue unimpeded.

Swiss Bank Staff Case Offers Insight Into IRS’ Next Target in Switzerland

This case also offers a good insight into the current IRS strategy concerning Switzerland. It appears that the IRS is compiling statistics concerning Swiss bank staff who might have helped US taxpayers evade their US tax reporting obligations. Most likely, the focus is on the bankers who provided this help regularly to a large amount of US taxpayers.

Sherayzen Law Office will continue to observe the IRS latest moves in Switzerland.

Tata Mutual Fund FATCA Letters and Indians in the United States

Tata Mutual Fund FATCA Letters were some of the first FATCA letters received by U.S. investors in India. A lot of these U.S. investors were Indians born in India, but living and working in the United States. However, the process of sending FATCA letters is not over at this point. Therefore, more and more Indian-Americans should expect to receive Tata Mutual Fund FATCA Letters. In this article, I explore the purpose of Tata Mutual Fund FATCA Letters and how these letters affect Indians who live and work in the United States.

FATCA

The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) became a law in 2010. The main purpose of FATCA is to combat tax noncompliance of U.S. taxpayers with foreign accounts. Since its enaction, FATCA was successfully implemented by most countries around the world and became a new global standard for the exchange of tax information. In fact, more than 110 jurisdictions today operate under the worldwide reach of FATCA.

What makes FATCA different from other tax regimes is the fact that its core target are foreign financial institutions and it has “teeth” in the form of 30% tax withholding on transactions done with noncompliant foreign financial institutions. While the 30% tax withholding provision is important, it is not directly relevant to our discussion.

On the other hand, it is very important to understand how FATCA impacts the behavior of foreign financial institutions – FATCA obligates foreign financial institutions to turn over certain information regarding foreign accounts owned by U.S. persons as well as certain information regarding the U.S. owners themselves. In essence, FATCA effectively turns all compliant foreign financial institutions into de-facto IRS informants.

This means that foreign financial institutions report to the IRS the information which, prior to FATCA, the IRS could only obtain after a long and expensive investigation. Therefore, the investigative reach of the IRS has grown enormously and the IRS is now able to find and track down with far more ease noncompliant U.S. taxpayers.

Furthermore, another part of FATCA is targeting U.S. taxpayers themselves by requiring them to report “Specified Foreign Assets” on Form 8938.

Tata Mutual Fund FATCA Letters

FATCA is usually implemented after an adoption of a FATCA implementation treaty. India signed the Model 1 FATCA treaty which came into force on August 31, 2015.

As a foreign financial institution, Tata Mutual Fund is obligated to comply with the obligations accepted by the Indian government under the FATCA agreement. For this purpose, Tata Mutual Fund needs to collect and turn over certain information regarding its U.S. investors.

Tata Mutual Fund FATCA Letters are designed exactly for this purpose – to collect the required FATCA information regarding U.S. investors into Tata Mutual Fund.

Impact of Tata Mutual Fund FATCA Letters on Indian-American Investors

Tata Mutual Fund FATCA Letters may have a profound impact on Indian who live and work in the United States while investing into Tata Mutual Fund, especially if this investment was not timely disclosed to the IRS. I would like to focus here on two issues: identification and voluntary disclosure.

First, Tata Mutual Fund FATCA Letters would allow IRS to identify noncompliant Indian-American investors into Tata Mutual Fund. This can lead to an IRS investigation and imposition of civil and even criminal penalties (depending on the gravity of tax noncompliance).

Second, by reporting noncompliant U.S. investors, Tata Mutual Fund FATCA Letters may trigger an IRS investigation that may prevent these U.S. investors from doing a timely voluntary disclosure. It must be remembered that, one of the fundamental conditions of all IRS voluntary disclosure options is that the U.S. taxpayer is not under IRS examination or investigation.

Hence, when a U.S. taxpayer receives Tata Mutual Fund FATCA Letters, the clock starts on his ability to do timely voluntary disclosure. On the other hand, if the taxpayer refuses to provide the requested information, he may be classified as a “recalcitrant taxpayer” (although, the Indian FATCA Agreement offers better treatment to recalcitrant taxpayers than most other FATCA treaties).

Contact Sherayzen Law Office if You Received a FATCA Letter from India

If you are an Indian-American or just an Indian who lives and works in the United States and you received a FATCA letter from your Indian financial institution, please contact Sherayzen Law Office for experienced help. Our professional legal team will thoroughly analyze your situation, propose the best strategy with respect to responding to the FATCA Letter, review your voluntary disclosure options and prepare all legal and tax documents required to complete your voluntary disclosure.

Call Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Jordanian Bank FATCA Letters

As FATCA continues its triumphant march across the globe, banks from more and more countries continue to send out FATCA letters to their US customers. Recently, the banks in the Kingdom of Jordan sent out additional FATCA letters (hereinafter, “Jordanian Bank FATCA Letters”). Jordanian Bank FATCA letters caught many U.S. taxpayers by surprise; some even refuse to believe that they are obligated to provide this type of information to their banks. Yet, noncompliance with the requests of Jordanian Bank FATCA Letters may have grave consequences for US taxpayers.

FATCA Background

The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) was enacted in 2010 to target tax noncompliance of U.S. taxpayers with foreign accounts. Since its enaction, this law established a new global standard for tax information exchange. More than 110 jurisdictions today operate under the worldwide reach of FATCA.

In essence, FATCA is used by U.S. authorities to obtain information regarding foreign accounts held by U.S. persons directly from foreign financial institutions by forcing these institutions to collect and send to the IRS information required by FATCA. Hence, FATCA effectively turns all FATCA-compliant foreign banks into IRS informants.

Additionally, FATCA requires U.S. taxpayers to report “Specified Foreign Assets” (this is a term of art in international tax law) on Forms 8938. Forms 8938 should be attached to the taxpayers’ U.S. tax returns and filed with the IRS.

Jordanian Bank FATCA Letters

FATCA is implemented worldwide through a network of bilateral treaties, which are divided in to Model 1 and Model 2 treaties. However, individual banks can also comply with FATCA without Model 1 and Model 2 treaties. A minority of countries follow this path, and the Kingdom of Jordan is one of them.

This means that Jordanian Bank FATCA Letters are sent out by Jordan banks not due to any Model 1 or Model 2 treaties between the United States and Jordan, but, rather, through direct FATCA compliance (i.e. Jordanian banks register with the IRS and provide the required information directly to the IRS).

The purpose of the Jordanian Bank FATCA Letters are similar to all other FATCA Letters – obtain the information required to be reported under FATCA by foreign financial institutions to the IRS. In particular, this includes information relevant to the account owner’s U.S. tax residency.

Impact of Jordanian Bank FATCA Letters on U.S. taxpayers with Undisclosed Foreign Accounts

Jordanian Bank FATCA Letters may have very important impact on U.S. taxpayers with undisclosed foreign accounts. In this article I want to emphasize the timing aspects of such letters.

By requesting FATCA information, Jordanian Bank FATCA Letters create a timetable for timely voluntary disclosure of the concerned U.S. taxpayers. First of all, the taxpayers who receive Jordanian Bank FATCA Letters have a deadline (ranging usually between 30-45 days, and, occasionally, 90 days) to file the letter with the bank. Since the bank sends the information supplied by U.S. taxpayers to the IRS, these U.S. taxpayers have a limited window of opportunity to timely disclose their foreign accounts. If a taxpayer refuses to provide the required information, the bank may still report him to the IRS as a “recalcitrant taxpayer” and even close his accounts.

Additionally, there is a more subtle impact of Jordanian Bank FATCA Letters on U.S. taxpayers – a notice of existence of FATCA and other U.S. tax reporting requirements. A lot of U.S. taxpayers are able to utilize Streamlined Procedures due to the fact that they did not know about the U.S. tax reporting requirements with respect to foreign accounts and foreign income. However, once U.S. taxpayers receive Jordanian Bank FATCA Letters, they can only claim their lack of knowledge with respect to prior years. It will be very difficult to sustain this argument with respect to current and future tax years.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office if You Received a FATCA Letter (from Jordan or from Any Other Country)

If you received a FATCA Letter from a foreign bank, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. Our experienced legal team will thoroughly analyze your situation, propose the best strategy with respect to responding to the FATCA Letter, review your voluntary disclosure options and prepare all legal and tax documents to complete your voluntary disclosure.

Call Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Main Differences between Model FATCA IGAs

As FATCA is being adopted by more and more countries, it is important to understand that there are two types of model FATCA IGAs (i.e. intergovernmental agreements to implement FATCA) that are signed between various countries and the United States. Both model FATCA IGAs were issued by the US Treasury Department and both model FATCA IGAs are perfectly valid, but some countries prefer one model FATCA IGA over the other. In this article, I would like briefly discuss the main differences between the two model FATCA IGAs.

Model FATCA IGAs Background

FATCA (Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act) was enacted by US Congress in 2010 to target tax non-compliance of U.S. taxpayers with foreign accounts. Since that time, this law has established the global standard for promoting tax transparency and has been adopted by a very large number of countries around the globe.

The adoption of FATCA usually occurs as a two-step process. First, a foreign jurisdiction signs one of the two model FATCA IGAs with the IRS. Second, the foreign jurisdiction’s legislature modifies domestic law to implement the provisions of whatever one of the two model FATCA IGAs that the country signed.

Model FATCA IGAs: Model 1

The first of the two Model FATCA IGAs is called “Model 1IGA”. Its principal feature is that it requires foreign financial institutions (FFIs) to report all information required under FATCA to their domestic government tax agencies. The domestic tax agencies would collect all of the FATCA information and turn it over of the IRS.

Since the FFIs would do all of their reporting domestically to their own agencies, Model 1 IGA is sometimes negotiated as a reciprocal agreement. This means that some Model 1 IGAs require the IRS to provide certain information with respect to the tax residents of the country that signed such a reciprocal Model 1 IGA.

Finally, the FFIs covered by a Model 1 IGA do not need to sign an FFI agreement. However, the FFIs will still need to register on the IRS’s FATCA Registration Portal or file IRS Form 8957.

Model FATCA IGAs: Model 2

The second of the two Model FATCA IGAs is called “Model 2 IGA”. Unlike the other model IGA, Model 2 IGA requires FFIs to report the FATCA-related information directly to the IRS and without any intermediaries.

Since the FFIs report all FATCA-related information directly to he IRS, they need to register with the IRS and sign an FFI agreement (which should reflect the specific changes to the model FATCA IGAs negotiated by the foreign jurisdiction).

Both Model FATCA IGAs Lead to Disclosure of Foreign Accounts Held by US Persons

Irrespective of the type of the agreement, it is important to remember that both model FATCA IGAs are designed to perform the same function – disclosure of foreign accounts held by US persons (directly or indirectly). This means that the spread of both types of model FATCA IGAs presents a direct threat to any undisclosed foreign accounts of US persons with potentially catastrophic consequences for these US persons, including potential criminal prosecution and willful FBAR penalties in excess of the balances of these secret accounts.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help with Undisclosed Foreign Accounts

If you have undisclosed foreign accounts, please contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible. Our international tax lawyers will first carefully review the facts of your case and identify the best voluntary disclosure options available to you.  Our international tax professionals will conduct your voluntary disclosure process from the beginning through the end, including the preparation all of the required legal documents and tax forms.

Contact Us Now to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!