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Coronavirus Offshore Voluntary Disclosure: Problems & Opportunities

The advancement of coronavirus in the United States and around the world has significantly disrupted the normal conditions and assumptions for a US taxpayer who engages in an offshore voluntary disclosure of his unreported foreign income and foreign assets. I will refer to a voluntary disclosure conducted in this context of the coronavirus disruptions as Coronavirus Offshore Voluntary Disclosure. In this essay, I would like to discuss the most unique problems and opportunities that arise in the context of a Coronavirus Offshore Voluntary Disclosure.

Coronavirus Offshore Voluntary Disclosure: Most Important Problems

The spread of coronavirus created two important problems to conducting an offshore voluntary disclosure of foreign assets and foreign income.

The first and most significant problem is the ability of taxpayers to obtain the information necessary for the correct completion of US international information returns such as FBAR (FinCEN Form 114), Form 8938, Form 8865, Form 5471, et cetera. Oftentimes, in order to complete these returns, taxpayers have to retrieve information from many years ago.

This is a difficult task even without the coronavirus, because electronic access is often limited to just a few years. In cases that involve small and regional banks, the electronic access to information may simply not exist. Hence, a taxpayer often has to engage in a long process of mailing letters to banks requesting information; it is also a standard practice for taxpayers to personally travel to a foreign financial institution to obtain the necessary information.

The coronavirus prohibitions have made such travel virtually impossible due to cancellation of flights between countries. Even traveling within a country has been severely impacted. Moreover, there have been significant disruptions to ability of taxpayers to access financial institutions in the quarantined areas, such as northern Italy. Many financial institutions have simply closed their branches and ceased to operate in a normal way.

The combination of all of these factors has significantly curtailed taxpayers’ ability to collect the vital information necessary for the completion of an offshore voluntary disclosure.

The second most important problem caused by the coronavirus panic are communication disruptions. During a voluntary disclosure, taxpayers need to have access to their financial advisors and their international tax attorney. I’ve already explained above how the coronavirus bank closures have affected such communications.

The most significant communication issue between a taxpayer and his international tax attorney has been limited to mailing documents, particularly securing an original signature for Certifications of Non-Willfulness, Reasonable Cause Statements, amended tax returns and certain other IRS documents (such as Extension of Statute of Limitations in the context of an IRS audit). The coronavirus containment procedures have affected the flow of regular mail around the world and have caused significant delays in obtaining signed documents from clients.

It should mentioned that the normal communications between a client and his attorney were not significantly impacted. If there were any communication problems, this is most likely the result of the attorney’s failure to take advantage of modern means of communication.

Sherayzen Law Office’s usage of email, phone, Skype, Viber and certain other platforms for information exchange and other modern means of communication has assured continuous and uninterrupted communication between our firm and our clients. We have also encouraged and helped our clients to adopt certain procedures to mitigate other problems that have risen as a result of the coronavirus panic.

Coronavirus Offshore Voluntary Disclosure: Unique Opportunities

The coronavirus panic created not only unusual problems, but also unique opportunities for taxpayers with undisclosed foreign assets and foreign income. I will discuss here the two most important coronavirus opportunities.

First, the spread of this virus has given more time for noncompliant US taxpayers to bring their tax affairs into compliance with US tax laws. Not only has the IRS ability to pursue new international tax cases has been impacted by the virus, but the IRS moved the tax filing deadline to July 15, 2020. This means that taxpayers suddenly have three more months to work on their offshore voluntary disclosures without any interruption with respect to current tax compliance.

Second, more time means that taxpayers now can plan for and adopt more complex and beneficial strategies with respect to their offshore voluntary disclosures. For example, taxpayers who were planning to file extensions can now adopt a strategy to shift their voluntary disclosure period by timely filing their 2019 tax returns and 2019 FBARs.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Your Offshore Voluntary Disclosure

If you have undisclosed foreign bank accounts and other foreign assets, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. We have successfully helped hundreds of US taxpayers to bring their tax affairs into full compliance with US tax laws, and we can help you!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Cambata Case: IRS Wins Against Former U.S. Citizen on Offshore Income

In the Cambata case, the IRS successfully demonstrated once again that renunciation of U.S. citizenship will not protect a taxpayer from being pursued for unreported income from foreign accounts. On February 3, 2016, Mr. Albert Cambata pleaded guilty to filing a false income tax return with respect to his unreported Swiss account income.

Facts Related to Mr. Cambata’s Unreported Swiss account income

According to court documents, in 2006, Mr. Albert Cambata established Dragonflyer Ltd., a Hong Kong corporate entity, with the assistance of a Swiss banker and a Swiss attorney. Days later, he opened a financial account at Swiss Bank 1 in the name of Dragonflyer. Although he was not listed on the opening documents as a director or an authorized signatory, Mr. Cambata was identified on another bank document (which the IRS obtained most likely through the Swiss Bank program) as the beneficial owner of the Dragonflyer account. That same year, Mr. Cambata received $12 million from Hummingbird Holdings Ltd., a Belizean company. The $12 million originated from a Panamanian aviation management company called Cambata Aviation S.A. and was deposited to the Dragonflyer bank account at Swiss Bank 1 in November 2006.

On his 2007 and 2008 federal income tax returns, Mr. Cambata failed to report interest income earned on his Swiss financial account in the amounts of $77,298 and $206,408, respectively. In April 2008, Mr. Cambata caused the Swiss attorney to request that Swiss Bank 1 send five million Euros from the Swiss financial account to an account Mr. Cambata controlled at the Monaco branch of Swiss Bank 3. In June 2008, Cambata closed his financial account with Swiss Bank 1 in the name of Dragonflyer and moved the funds to an account he controlled at the Singapore branch of Swiss Bank 2.

In 2012, Mr. Cambata, who has lived in Switzerland since 2007, went to the U.S. Embassy in Bratislava, Slovakia, to renounce his U.S. citizenship and informed the U.S. Department of State that he had acquired the nationality of St. Kitts and Nevis by virtue of naturalization.

Link between the Cambata Case and Swiss Bank Program

It appears that the IRS was able to focus on Mr. Cambata due to information provided by one of the Swiss Bank that participated in the Swiss Bank Program. This led to the IRS investigation that unraveled the whole scheme constructed by Mr. Cambata. Additional information might have been provided to the IRS by one of the Category 1 banks as part of a Deferred Prosecution Agreement.

This affirms what the IRS has stated in the past about its determination to continue to pursue older fraud cases based on the information it already obtained from the Swiss banks. “IRS Criminal Investigation will continue to pursue those who do not pay the taxes they owe to the United States,” said Special Agent in Charge Thomas Jankowski of the Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigation, Washington, D.C. Field Office. “Today’s plea is a reminder that we are committed to following the money trail across the globe and will not be deterred by the use of sophisticated international financial transactions that hide the real ownership of income taxable by the United States.”

The Global Reach of the IRS Investigations Grows

Mr. Cambata’s accounts were spread out among the local branches of Swiss banks in Monaco, Singapore and Switzerland. The funds originated from companies based in Belize and Panama (the information regarding these companies was probably obtained through John Doe summons issued in 2015).

It becomes obvious from this case that our earlier warnings about the spread of the IRS investigations beyond Switzerland were correct. The IRS now reaches far beyond Switzerland and focuses more and more on jurisdictions like Belize, Cayman Islands, Cook Islands, Monaco, Panama, Singapore and other favorite offshore jurisdictions. The Cambata case is a grave warning to U.S. taxpayers who still operate in offshore jurisdictions to hide assets from the U.S. government.

The Cambata Case is a Warning to Taxpayers Who Pursued Quiet Disclosure to Cover-Up Past Tax Noncompliance

One of the most curious aspects about the Cambata case is that the IRS never imposed any FBAR penalties or tax return penalties with respect to the later years. While it is not clear from the documents, it appears that Mr. Cambata probably did a quiet disclosure in the year 2009 and has properly filed his FBARs and tax returns ever since.

The FBAR statute of limitations probably did not allow the IRS to impose the FBAR penalties, but the IRS still ignored the quiet disclosure and pursued criminal penalties for the 2006 and 2007 fraudulent tax returns (in addition to restitution of $84,849 – presumable the tax Mr. Cambata would have owed had he filed his 2006 and 2007 returns correctly).

Therefore, U.S. taxpayers who filed quiet disclosure should heed one of the main lessons of the Cambata case – quiet disclosure will not protect you from the IRS criminal prosecution.

The Cambata Case is also a Warning to Taxpayers Who Renounced U.S. Citizenship to Hide Past Tax Noncompliance

The Cambata case also dispels another myth common to U.S. taxpayers: renouncing citizenship somehow prevents the IRS criminal prosecution for past noncompliance. On the contrary, U.S. taxpayers who renounce citizenship may draw the IRS attention because they have to certify that they are fully compliant with the tax laws of the United States.

If the IRS is able to prove that these taxpayers are not fully tax-compliant, then, as the Cambata case clearly demonstrates, the IRS can pursue criminal penalties against former U.S. citizens. It is possible that one of the chief purposes of the IRS in this case was to scare other U.S. citizens who renounced their citizenship to hide their past tax noncompliance.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Legal Help with Your Foreign Accounts

If you have undisclosed foreign accounts, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office as soon as possible. Whether your case involves complex beneficial ownership structures or you own your foreign accounts personally, our highly experienced team of tax professionals can help you!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Cayman Islands FATCA Registration Portal

On March 20, 2015, the Cayman Islands FATCA Registration Portal was launched by the Department for International Tax Cooperation (which is a department within Cayman Islands Tax Information Authority).

Cayman Islands FATCA Background 

The Cayman Islands FATCA Registration Portal is part of the long process of Cayman Islands FATCA compliance. Cayman Islands FATCA IGA (Model 1) was signed with the United States on November 29, 2013. At the same time, Cayman Islands signed the amended Tax Information Exchange Agreement. Both of these developments led to the creation of the Portal as a way to automatically exchange information required by FATCA between Cayman Islands and the United States.

It is also important to point out that Cayman Islands FATCA compliance was not only driven by the US considerations, but also by the UK considerations. As an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, Cayman Islands had to come to an agreement with the United States that could not have been better the terms negotiated between the UK and Cayman Islands with respect to the exchanges of tax-related information.

Purchase of the Portal

The Portal plays a critical role in Cayman Islands FATCA compliance, because it allows Cayman’s financial institutions (including the investment funds based in Cayman islands) to report information required by FATCA to the Cayman Islands Tax Information Authority, which, as it is mandated by Model 1 FATCA agreement, will turn over the required information to the IRS.

Registration

As part of Cayman Islands FATCA compliance, the Cayman Islands Tax Information Authority warned the island’s financial institutions that they much must register via the Portal by April 30, 2015 and provide their names, FATCA classification, principal point of contact and other information.

Reporting Deadline by May 31, 2015

The deadline for reporting the 2014 (calendar year) information by the Cayman’s financial institutions must be done by May 31, 2015. The information that will have to be submitted through the Portal is the one usually required by FATCA, including:

1. US person’s name, address and tax identification number (and date of birth, where applicable);
2. US person’s account number or its equivalent;
3. Name and ID of the reporting financial institution; and
4. Year-End Balance of the account.

Interestingly enough, the UK FATCA requirement for Cayman Islands is much later – May 31, 2016.

Caymans Islands FATCA Compliance Is Not Unique

Cayman Islands FATCA compliance through a Portal is now a common theme throughout the world. In fact, it is expected that most of the Model 1 FATCA countries around the world have either complied with 2014 US FATCA requirements or will do so soon, and they are likely to be using a Portal of some kind.

For example, it is expected that the following jurisdictions will do their FATCA reporting through an information reporting system (deadlines in parenthesis): Ireland (June 30, 2015), Luxembourg (June 30, 2015), United Kingdom (May 31, 2015), Canada (May 2, 2015), and so on.

What Portal Means for US Persons with Undisclosed Cayman Islands Accounts

If you are a US person with undisclosed foreign accounts in Cayman Islands (any many other jurisdictions around the world), you are very likely to have very little time left before your account will be disclosed to the IRS. The penalties (especially FBAR and Form 8938 penalties) for failure to report foreign accounts can be draconian, including potential incarceration. Moreover, once the IRS learns about the existence of your account and initiates an invest, you may not be able to do a voluntary disclosure to reduce your penalties.

This means that US persons with undisclosed foreign accounts need to immediately contact an experienced international tax lawyer to explore their voluntary disclosure options in order to timely file their request for Preclearance.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help With Disclosing Your Foreign Accounts

Sherayzen Law Office, Ltd. is the experienced international tax firm that can help you with the voluntary disclosure of your foreign accounts. We have already successfully helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world to conduct various types of voluntary disclosures (OVDP, SDOP (Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures), SFOP (Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures), Delinquent Information Returns, Delinquent FBAR Submission, and Noisy/Reasonable Cause disclosures), and We can help You!

Contact Us to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!