Related-Statute IRC §6103(h) Violation As a Defense Against FBAR Audit

International tax lawyers should focus not only on substantive, but also on procedural defenses against the results of an FBAR audit. One such potential defense against FBAR audit is a related-statute IRC §6103(h) violation.

Related-Statute IRC §6103(h) Violation: Background Information

In a previous article, I already discussed the fact that IRC §6103(a) limits somewhat the ability of the IRS to use tax returns in an IRS FBAR Audit, because IRC §6103(a) designates all tax return information as confidential. However, IRC §6103(h) provides a limited exception to IRC §6103(a) by allowing IRS employees the disclosure of tax return information for the purposes of tax administration.

Under IRC §6103(b)(4), tax administration is interpreted broadly to cover administration, management and supervision of the Internal Revenue Code and “related statutes”. This means that, if the IRS determines that the Bank Secrecy Act (“BSA”) is a related statute for the purposes of a particular FBAR audit, it can release the tax return information to be used against the taxpayer.

The IRS will deem the BSA as a related statute only if there is a good-faith determination that a BSA violation was committed in furtherance of a Title 26 violation or if such a violation was part of a pattern of conduct that violated Title 26. See IRM (07-24-2012). In other words, the tax violation and the FBAR violation has to be related in order for the IRS to disclose tax return information to be utilized in an IRS FBAR Audit.

Related-Statute IRC §6103(h) Violation: Procedural Aspects of Related-Statute Determination

The Internal Revenue Manual (“IRM”) sets forth very specific procedures for making a related-statute determination in the preparation of an IRS FBAR Audit. Generally, this is a two-step process.

First, the examiners are required to prepare a Form 13535, Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts Report Related Statute Memorandum, to establish why the IRS believes that an apparent FBAR violation was in furtherance of a Title 26 violation. Form 13535 must describe tangible objective factors and provide adequate documentation.

Then, Form 13535 goes to the examiner’s Territory Manager. The Territory manager should make his decision at that point. If he believes that the related-statute test was not met, tax returns and return information may not be disclosed for the purposes of starting an IRS FBAR Audit. On the other hand, if the Territory Manager determines that the apparent FBAR violation was in furtherance of a Title 26 violation, then all of the tax returns and tax return information will be released to the IRS agent who conducts the audit.

Can Related-Statute IRC §6103(h) Violation Be Utilized as a Defense in FBAR Audit?

We are now about to answer the question that is at the center of this article: if the IRS fails to follow the IRM procedures for related-party determination pursuant to IRC §6103(h), can it be used as a defense in FBAR Audit? Perhaps, the best way to answer the question above is to look at an analogy of whether the failure to follow IRM procedures for related-party determination under IRC §6103(h) can be utilized to support a claim for damages for unauthorized disclosure under IRC §7431.

Generally, the failure by the IRS to follow IRM procedures and make a related-party determination is likely to be insufficient to support a claim under IRC §7431. In Hom v. United States, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 142818, 2013-2 U.S. Tax Cas. (CCH) P50,529, 112 A.F.T.R.2d (RIA) 6271, 2013 WL 5442960 (N.D. Cal. 2013), aff’d, 645 Fed. Appx. 583, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 5528, 117 A.F.T.R.2d (RIA) 1119, 2016 WL 1161577 (9th Cir. Cal. 2016), the court held that the failure of the IRS to make a related-statute determination as required by the IRM did not provide the plaintiff with a claim for damages under IRC §7431. Rather, a plaintiff would have to prove that the failure to file an FBAR was clearly not in furtherance of a Title 26 violation – i.e. the plaintiff would have to prove that BSA was not a related statute in his case.

If we use this analogy, then it seems that the procedural failures by the IRS to follow the related-party determination under IRC §6103(h) would not be sufficient to be used as a defense in an IRS FBAR Audit. There is a possibility, however, that if the FBAR violation was clearly not related to Title 26, then it may be used as a defense to exclude evidence.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help with Your FBAR Audit

If your FBARs are being audited by the IRS, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. Sherayzen Law Office is an international tax law firm that is dedicated to helping businesses and individuals with their US international tax obligations, including FBARs. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world and we can help you!

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Sarshar Guilty Plea & Undisclosed Israeli Bank Accounts | FBAR Lawyer

On August 1, 2016, the IRS scored another victory in a case involving Israeli Bank Accounts; the IRS and the DOJ announced that Mr. Masud Sarshar, a California businessman, was charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States and one count of corruptly endeavoring to impair and impede the due administration of the internal revenue laws. Mr. Sarshar already signed a plea agreement agreeing to plead guilty and pay more than $8.3 million in restitution to the IRS. If the court accepts the parties’ agreement, Mr. Sarshar will be sentenced to 24 months in prison. Additionally, Mr. Sarshar agreed to pay a civil FBAR penalty in the amount of 50 percent of the high balance of his undeclared accounts for failure to disclose his Israeli bank accounts.

Facts of the Sarshar Case

Mr. Sarshar owned and operated Apparel Limited Inc., a clothing design business. Under his plea, he admitted that, between 2006 and 2009, he used unreported bank accounts at Bank Leumi and two other Israeli banks to hide $21 million of business revenue from the IRS. The accounts were owned by him personally and in the name of entities that he created with assistance of at least two relationship managers at the Israeli banks.

Between 2007 and 2012, Mr. Sarshar also earned more than $2.5 million in interest income from these accounts; none of this income was reported on his individual and corporate tax returns. No FBARs were ever filed.

In order to use the funds on his accounts, Mr. Sarshar utilized a creative stratagem where Bank Leumi would loan funds to Mr. Sarshar through its U.S. branch while the funds in Israel were used as a collateral. Mr. Sarshar was able to bring back to the United States approximately $19 million of his offshore assets without creating a paper trail or otherwise disclosing the existence of the offshore accounts to U.S. authorities.

What is particularly surprising about this case is the creativity of the Israeli bankers in getting the information to Mr. Sarshar. At Mr. Sarshar’s request, none of the banks sent him account statements by mail; rather, they provided them to him in person in Los Angeles. In order to conceal the statements, a Bank Leumi banker would upload the account statements on a USB drive which she concealed in necklace worn during her U.S. trips. Sometimes, the meetings with bankers occurred in Mr. Sarshar’s car. Moreover, the Israeli bankers also advised Mr. Sarshar to obtain Israeli and Iranian passports to prevent him from being flagged as a U.S. citizen by the compliance departments at both banks.

Lessons of the Sarshar Case

Several lessons and conclusions can be drawn from this case. The first conclusion is that the IRS continues to focus on Israeli banks in its tax enforcement efforts. The focus on Israel is something that Sherayzen Law Office has repeatedly stated in the past. Again, we want to repeat our prediction that we will see more cases involving Israel and other countries outside of Switzerland. This means that, if you have undeclared bank accounts in Israel, you are at an increased risk of detection and prosecution by the IRS. This lesson can be expanded into a general statement that you run a high risk of getting caught by the IRS if you have undisclosed foreign accounts in any country that has implemented FATCA.

The second lesson that can be drawn from the Sarshar case is that he should have entered into a voluntary disclosure program while he had a chance to do it. It is very important to understand that, in a willful situation, using the IRS offshore voluntary disclosure program is indispensable to prevent the imposition of higher penalties and a criminal prosecution.

The third lesson is that Sarshar case reaffirms the most common fact pattern that leads to IRS criminal prosecution – willful divergence of U.S. earnings to overseas accounts to avoid taxation, the usage of entities to hide the ownership of foreign accounts and persistence in violation of U.S. laws. Even one of these factors might have been sufficient for the IRS to commence a criminal investigation; in this case, all three were present.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office if You Have Undisclosed Foreign Accounts in Israel or Any Other Country

If you have undisclosed foreign accounts in Israel or any other country, contact Sherayzen Law Office for legal help. Our experienced team of international tax professionals, headed by our founder and international tax attorney Eugene Sherayzen, can help you resolve all of your tax problems in the United States.

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