Usefulness of FBARs for the IRS and DOJ | International Tax Law Firm

The usefulness of FBARs for the U.S. tax enforcement agencies may seem to be an odd issue, but, in reality, it concerns every taxpayer with foreign bank and financial accounts. Why the FBAR is important and how the IRS and the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) utilize it in their prosecution tactics is the subject of this essay.

Two Periods of the Usefulness of FBARs

In describing the usefulness of FBARs, one can distinguish two distinct periods of time. The first period lasted from the time FBAR came into existence in the 1970s through most of the year 2001. It is definitely a simplification to place this entire period of time into one category, but this simplification is intentional in order to contrast this first period of usefulness of FBARs with the second one.

The second period commenced right after the FBAR enforcement function was turned over to the IRS in 2001 and it continues through the present time. In this period of time, the usefulness of FBARs was expanded to a completely different level. It is important to point out, however, that it has not lost its original usefulness that dominated the first period of time of its existence.

Usefulness of FBARs Prior to 2001

Prior to 2001, the main purpose of FBAR had been the enforcement leverage in prosecution of financial crimes. This leverage came from the draconian FBAR penalties which often would offer a worse outcome than the statute associated with a criminal activity (especially after a plea deal). Moreover, it was much easier for prosecutors to establish an FBAR violation (any failure to report a foreign account on the FBAR would do) than to prove specific criminal activity.

The usage of FBAR prosecutions was particularly useful in money laundering cases where it was difficult to prove specified unlawful activities and certain criminal tax cases where it was difficult to establish the receipt of illicit income. In such criminal cases, instead of charging criminals solely with tax evasion or money laundering activities, the prosecutors would opt for charging the criminals with a (willful and/or criminal) failure to file an FBAR that occurred while the defendants engaged in a criminal activity. It was easier to get a plea deal this way, because, obviously, criminals would not report the foreign accounts used in a criminal activity on FBARs.

Why was the usefulness of FBARs limited to being an enforcement leverage; in other words, why were FBARs not used for collection of data? After all, FBAR was born out of the Bank Secrecy Act and its stated purpose was to collect data with respect to foreign bank and financial accounts owed by US persons.

The answer is fairly simple – there was no third-party verification mechanism for the data submitted on FBARs. In other words, the FBAR reporting was completely dependent on honest self-reporting (in fact, this is one of the reasons for the creation of FATCA) and, unless, an investigation was conducted with respect to a specific individual, there was no direct way for FinCEN to corroborate the information submitted on FBARs.

It is important to emphasize that, in this first period of its existence, the usefulness of FBARs was primarily non-tax in nature. It was not until after September 11, 2001, that FBAR commenced to acquire a new level of usefulness with which we are familiar today.

Usefulness of FBARs After 2001

The usefulness of FBARs underwent a tremendous change after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. Soon after the 9/11 attacks, the enforcement of FBARs was taken away from FinCEN and given to the IRS.

The IRS decided to shift the scope of the usefulness of FBARs from financial crimes to tax evasion. The Congress wholeheartedly agreed and further expanded the already-severe FBAR penalties in the American Jobs Creation Act of 2004 to their current draconian state. From that point on, FBAR became the top international tax compliance enforcement mechanism for the IRS.

The potential FBAR penalties were so extreme that even non-willful taxpayers preferred to enter the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (and, later, Streamlined Compliance Procedures) and pay the appropriate Offshore Penalties rather than to directly confront the potential consequences of FBAR noncompliance. In other words, the usefulness of FBARs expanded further to indirect tax enforcement.

Furthermore, the UBS case victory in 2008 and the enaction of FATCA in 2010 meant that the IRS could now obtain FBAR-required information from third parties (foreign financial institutions) and verify a taxpayer’s compliance with the FBAR requirements. This further reinforced the FBARs already dominant position in US international tax compliance.

This FBARs dominance in the tax enforcement with respect to foreign accounts continues even today despite the appearance of a rival – Form 8938 (born out of FATCA). While Form 8938 has a broader scope of reportable assets, its penalty structure is highly inferior to the terrifying FBAR penalties.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help with FBAR Compliance

If you have foreign bank and financial accounts that were not disclosed on FBARs as required, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office, Ltd. as soon as possible. Sherayzen Law Office is an experienced international tax law firm that has helped hundreds of US taxpayers with their delinquent FBARs, and we can help you!

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Choosing Your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Lawyer

Choosing the right Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Lawyer is a very important decision that may determine the fate of your entire offshore voluntary disclosure case. While making this choice, I recommend that you consider the following five main factors while choosing your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Lawyer.

1. Areas of Practice of Your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Lawyer

The first factor is to determine whether your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure lawyer really practices in this area of law. There are attorneys (especially in large and general practice law firms) out there who like to “dabble” in various areas of law but who really do not know international tax law in depth. You are well advised to stay away from such firms.

You should be looking for an attorney who has devoted the great majority of his practice to international tax law, particularly Offshore Voluntary Disclosure. Remember, Offshore Voluntary Disclosure involves not only the sophisticated analysis of the voluntary disclosure options of the foreign bank and financial accounts (i.e. issues associated with the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts – “FBAR”), but also the complex interaction of various other parts of international tax compliance requirements (such as PFICs, ownership of foreign business entities, ownership of Foreign trusts and so on).

Sherayzen Law Office is a law firm that specializes in international tax law and specifically in Offshore Voluntary Disclosures. Virtually our entire practice is devoted to helping clients throughout the world to comply with the complex requirements of U.S. international tax law, particularly voluntary disclosure of foreign income, offshore bank and financial accounts, foreign gifts and inheritance, and ownership of foreign business entities and trusts.

2. Experience of Your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Lawyer

After making sure that he really practices in the area of Offshore Voluntary Disclosure, you should find out about the experience of your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure lawyer. What you should be looking for is the concentration of the experience as well as number of years that the attorney practices law (at least five years).

Do not be fooled by someone who says that he has thirty years of Offshore Voluntary Disclosure experience – this is a relatively new and quickly developing area of practice. the IRS implemented its first voluntary disclosure program (which was quite unknown at that time) in 2003. The first voluntary disclosure program of real importance was the 2009 OVDP and it served as a prototype for the highly successful 2011 OVDI and the later 2012 OVDP and 2014 OVDP (which closed in 2018).

Since 2005, Sherayzen Law Office has developed a unique expertise in the area of Offshore Voluntary Disclosure helping clients throughout the world, and it has practiced international tax law with the emphasis on offshore voluntary disclosures during the existence of all major IRS Voluntary Disclosure Programs.

3. Personal Attention of Your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Lawyer to Your Voluntary Disclosure Case

The key point here is that, since offshore voluntary disclosures are highly fact-dependent, it is very important the experienced offshore voluntary disclosure lawyer that you wish to retain for your case is the one who will actually handle the entire case, not just the voluntary disclosure. Similarly, you want to make sure that your offshore voluntary disclosure lawyer is able to communicate with you personally with respect to the case.

Unfortunately, it is common practice for large law firms to divide up the work between the partner and the associates to the extent that the partner (usually an experienced attorney) contributes very little beyond getting you to sign the retainer agreement while less-experienced and even complete inexperienced associates do most of the work, potentially jeopardizing your entire voluntary disclosure.

Eugene Sherayzen, the founder and owner of Sherayzen Law Office, will personally handle your initial consultation and your entire case. Of course, parts of the case will be given to associates, accountants and staff members; however, Mr. Sherayzen invests a substantial amount of his time in training and supervision of all members of Sherayzen Law Office, making sure that the high quality of our firm’s work is maintained while certain cost benefits are passed through to the client. Moreover, Mr. Sherayzen is personally available for personal communication throughout the progress of your case.

4. Ethical Creativity of Your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Lawyer

Offshore voluntary disclosures require consideration of interaction of various strategies and possibilities before the your disclosure options are finalized. This requires a healthy degree of ethical creativity that must be displayed by your offshore voluntary disclosure lawyer as early as the initial consultation.

If the offshore voluntary disclosure lawyer only proposes one option without considering any facts or without at least mentioning the other options and why they are rejected, then you may wish to get a second opinion. Similarly, if the attorney only concentrates on the OVDP penalty without discussion of the FBAR penalty structure, something may not be right.

Also, stay away from attorneys (and accountants) who propose unethical solutions which involve concealment of truth from the IRS or who propose easy solutions. Your voluntary disclosure is required to be truthful and complete; anything short of this standard may get you in deep troubles with the IRS and result in high civil and even criminal penalties.

Sherayzen Law Office follows a very high standard for ethical creativity, making sure that the required disclosures are honestly made the IRS while implementing ethical creative solutions based on legitimate interpretations of the Internal Revenue Code and Treasury regulations. In the end, we strive to achieve the combination of the required transparency with the tax and penalty reductions permitted by the Code.

5. Trust in Your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Lawyer

This fifth factor of “trust” is highly important. If, after your initial consultation, you have a feeling of distrust and suspicion of the voluntary disclosure lawyer or his tactics, my suggestion is to try another attorney.

The stakes in the offshore voluntary disclosure can be very high and the information involved can be very sensitive. In such situations, at least some feeling of trust in the abilities and honesty of your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Lawyer is crucial to the success of your case.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office to Retain The Right Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Lawyer for Your Case

If you are thinking about doing an Offshore Voluntary Disclosure with respect to your foreign assets and foreign income, contact Sherayzen Law Office for experienced professional help.

Over the years, Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, an experienced Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Lawyer has developed a unique expertise in the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure which allows Sherayzen Law Office to successfully help clients throughout the United States and the world. We offer a comprehensive approach which produces realistic voluntary disclosure options assessment on which you can rely. Then, once the voluntary disclosure option is chosen, we will implement the necessary ethical strategies (including drafting of legal documents and completing the necessary tax forms) and rigorously defend your position against the IRS.

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