Sale of Russian Real Estate by US Residents | International Tax Lawyer

Sale of Russian Real Estate by US permanent residents was the subject of a recent guidance letter from the Russian Ministry of Finance (“MOF”). Guidance Letter 03-04-05/66382 (dated October 11, 2011, but released only earlier this week) provides a thorough analysis of questions concerning the sale of real estate in Russia by a US resident and, eventually, comes to conclusion such a sale should be subject to a 30% tax rate. Let’s explore this recent MOF analysis in more detail.

Sale of Russian Real Estate: What is MOF Guidance Letter?

The closest US equivalent to the Russian MOF Guidance Letter is the IRS Private Letter Ruling (“PLR”). Similarly to PLR, the MOF Guidance Letters usually address a fairly specific situation and, generally, have a suggestive rather than normative value. A Guidance Letter does not have a precedential value (again similar to PLR). Nevertheless, the MOF Guidance Letters are good indicators of how the MOF would view similar situations and have a very strong persuasive value.

Sale of Russian Real Estate: Fact Pattern Addressed by Guidance Letter 03-04-05/66382

Guidance Letter 03-04-05/66382 specifically addresses a situation where an individual is a Russian citizen who has resided in the United States since 1996. It is not clear whether the individual actually received his green card in 1996 or he simply commenced to reside in the United States on a permanent basis in 1996. This individual wishes to dispose of (or already sold) a real property in Russia.

Sale of Russian Real Estate: Is the Sale Done by a Russian Taxpayer Who Is Subject to Russian Taxation?

The MOF begins its analysis by establishing that, in accordance with Section 1 of Article 207 of the Russian Tax Code (“Tax Code”), individuals who receive Russian-source income are Russian taxpayers for the purposes of the Russian income tax irrespective of whether they are Russian tax residents or not. Since Article 208, Section 1(5) states that income earned from the sale of Russian real estate is considered to be Russian-source income, an individual selling Russian real estate is considered to be a Russian taxpayer who is subject to Russian taxation.

Sale of Russian Real Estate: Is the Sale Done by a Russian tax resident?

The MOF then continued its analysis to determine whether, in the situation described in the Guidance Letter 03-04-05/66382, the individual is a Russian tax resident. I believe that this was the key reason why the individual in question requested the MOF Guidance letter: he was hoping that he would be found a Russian tax resident under the Russia-US tax treaty due to the fact that he had real estate in Russia (and, hence, subject to lower tax on the proceeds from sale).

The MOF analysis involved two steps: the determination of tax residency under the tax treaty between the United States and the Russian Federation (because the individual in question has resided permanently in the United States since 1996) and, then, the determination of tax residency under the domestic Russian tax laws.

First, the MOF stated that, pursuant to paragraph 1 of Article 4 of the Russia-US Tax Treaty, a person should be recognized as a permanent resident of a contracting state in accordance with the provisions of the national law of that state. In other words, the determination of who is a tax resident of the Russian Federation should be done under the Russian domestic tax law.

Here, the MOF also addressed the critical part of this Guidance Letter – does the ownership of Russian real estate matter for the purposes of establishing the Russian tax residency under the Treaty. The MOF determined that the factor of ownership of real estate matters only in cases where the owner of real estate is recognized as a resident of both contracting states in accordance with the national legislation of both, the United States and Russia. This is the most important part of the MOR Guidance Letter 03-04-05/66382.

Having made this determination, the MOF went into the second half of its analysis – who is considered to be a Russian tax resident under the Russian laws. According to Section 2 of Article 207 of the Tax Code, individuals are considered Russian tax residents if they are physically present in Russia for at least 183 calendar days within a period of 12 consecutive months. Since the individual in question did not satisfy the residency requirement of Article 207, the MOF determined that he was not a tax resident of the Russian Federation.

Sale of Russian Real Estate: Can Russia Tax the Proceeds from the Sale under the Russia-US Tax Treaty?

Having determined that the owner of the Russian Real Estate was not a Russian tax resident, the next issue was whether Russia can still tax the proceeds from the sale. The MOF stated that, under paragraph 3 of Article 19 of the Treaty, the gains from the sales of real estate located in one contracting state received by a permanent resident of the other contracting state can be taxed in accordance with the domestic tax legislation of the state where the property is located. Hence, Russia can tax the sale of Russian Real Estate made by a US permanent resident.

As a side note, Russia can also tax a disposition of shares or other rights of participation in the profits of a company in which Russian real estate makes up at least 50 percent of the assets.

Sale of Russian Real Estate: What is the Applicable Tax Rate?

The final point addressed by the MOF was the applicable tax rate for the sale of Russian real estate by a US permanent resident and a nonresident of Russia. Pursuant to Section 3 of Article 224 fo the Tax Code, the MOF decided that tax rate in this situation should be 30 percent.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional International Tax Help

If you are looking for a professional advice concerning US international tax law, contact Sherayzen Law Office. Our legal team, headed by attorney Eugene Sherayzen, is highly experienced in US international tax law, including international tax compliance filing requirements, international tax planning and offshore voluntary disclosures.

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Voluntary Compliance with US Tax Laws | International Tax Attorney Austin

The IRS has repeatedly stated that the US tax system is a voluntary compliance system. Yet, what does “voluntary compliance” mean in this context? Does it mean that US taxpayers only need to comply with US tax laws whenever they wish to do it? Does it mean that any US taxpayer has a right to refuse to comply with US tax laws or file his tax returns whenever he feels like doing it?

A lot of people tried to take this position and failed. The IRS has always won on the issue that US taxpayers have an obligation to comply with US tax laws, whether they want to do it or not.

Then, what is so “voluntary” about our tax system? Let’s explore this question in more detail.

Voluntary Compliance with US Tax Laws is Obligatory

Let us start with the affirmative statement that the word “voluntary” does not refer to the actual obligation of US taxpayers to comply with US tax laws. In other words, the compliance with US tax laws is compulsory and any noncompliance with US tax laws is punishable to the extent permitted by the law. Intentional noncompliance may even result in incarceration of a noncompliant taxpayer.

The IRS Inability to Engage in Full Enforced Tax Compliance

Since the word “voluntary” does not apply to the actual obligation to comply with US tax laws, we must look at the assessment of US tax liability to understand what voluntary compliance means. In particular, our focus should be on what is known as “enforced tax compliance” – i.e. direct assessment of tax liability and the audit of tax returns.

Here, we encounter an obvious yet interesting fact: the IRS does not have the resources to audit every one of the hundreds of millions of US taxpayers (resident and non-resident, individual and business), especially on an annual basis. Similarly, the IRS also lacks the ability to audit every single tax return every year; in fact, it only audits about 3% of all tax returns per year.

This means that the IRS does not have the capacity to sustain a system of enforced tax compliance and the vast majority of US taxpayers operate outside of this system.

The Definition of Voluntary Compliance

This lack of the IRS ability to engage in 100% enforced tax compliance leads to the inevitable conclusion that it has to rely on US taxpayers to timely file their own tax returns, assess their own tax liability and pay this tax liability to the IRS. It is precisely in this sense that US tax compliance system is “voluntary”.

In other words, voluntary compliance means that US taxpayers do their own self-assessment of their US tax liability (hopefully, in accordance with the IRS guidance) instead of the IRS doing it for each of them. Underlying this voluntary compliance, however, is the threat that the IRS can audit the tax returns and impose noncompliance penalties.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with Your Voluntary Compliance Concerning US International Tax Laws

The IRS focus on the enforced tax compliance regarding the US international tax obligations of US taxpayers has caused an unprecedented rise in the voluntary compliance in this area of law. Noncompliant US taxpayers are at a historically-high risk of detection by the IRS and may face draconian IRS penalties, including jail time.

This means that, if you have foreign assets and foreign income, you need the professional help of Sherayzen Law Office to bring your tax affairs into full compliance with US tax laws. Our firm is highly experienced in the area of US international tax compliance with hundreds of successful cases closed and millions of dollars saved in US taxes and potential penalties! We can help you!

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US Continental Shelf Definition of the United States | US Tax Attorney

The US continental shelf presents a unique problem to the tax definition of the United States. It is governed by a special tax provision that sets it apart from any other tax definition. If fact, the US continental shelf is only considered to be part of the United States with respect to specific taxpayers who are engaged in a particular activity on or over the continental shelf. In this article, I will explore certain features of the US continental shelf definition of the United States that distinguishes it from any other tax provision in the Internal Revenue Code (IRC).

Definition of the US Continental Shelf

For the purposes of the US income tax, the IRC § 638(1) states that the United States “when used in a geographical sense includes the seabed and subsoil of those submarine areas which are adjacent to the territorial waters of the United States and over which the United States has exclusive rights, in accordance with international law, with respect to the exploration and exploitation of natural resources.” The opening clause of IRC § 638 specifically states that this definition of the United States applies only to the activities “with respect to mines, oil and gas wells, and other natural deposits.”

Analysis of the Definition of the US Continental Shelf

Two aspects need to be noted with respect to the definition above. First, the reference to international tax law means that the US government considers 200 miles of land underneath the ocean as its territory (the so-called “Exclusive Economic Zone” or “EEZ”). An interesting assumption that underlies IRC § 638 is that the continental shelf and the EEZ are the same.

Second, I want to emphasize that this is the definition that is tied to land only, not the water above the land – even more precisely, to certain activities on the ocean’s floor rather than in the water. This is a highly important aspect of IRC § 638, because it produces interesting results.

On the one hand, anyone (including foreign vessels and foreign contractors) drilling or exploring oil in the US continental shelf is considered to be engaged in a trade or business in the United States, which subjects these individuals and companies to US income tax. This also means that US tax withholding needs to be done with respect to foreign contractors. Moreover, even personal property (located over the US continental shelf) of a taxpayer engaged in the drilling or the exploration of the US continental shelf would most likely be classified as US personal property within the meaning of IRC § 956.

On the other hand, fishing in a boat in the same zone will not be considered as an activity within the United States, because it is not linked to mines, oil and gas wells, and other natural deposits.

This means that the application of the US Continental Shelf’s definition of the United States depends on the activity of the taxpayer, not just his location.

US Continental Shelf Rules and Foreign Countries

There is one more interesting aspect of the US continental shelf definition of the United States: its application to foreign countries. The first part of IRC § 638(2) states that the same definition of the continental shelf will also apply to foreign countries – i.e. the seabed and subsoil adjacent to the foreign country or possession and over which the country has EEZ rights.

At the end, however, IRC § 638(2) contains an interesting limitation: “ but this paragraph shall apply in the case of a foreign country only if it exercises, directly or indirectly, taxing jurisdiction with respect to such exploration or exploitation.” In other words, if a foreign country exercises its taxing jurisdiction over the continental shelf, then it is considered to be part of a foreign country. Otherwise, it will be considered as “international waters” (since it is also outside of the US continental shelf).

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with US Tax Issues

The definition of the United States in the context of the US continental shelf is just one of many examples of the enormous complexity of US tax laws. While even US citizens with domestic assets only have to struggle with these issues, the complexity of US tax laws is multiplied numerous times when one deals with a foreign individual/company or even US taxpayers with foreign assets. It is just too easy to get yourself into trouble.

This is why you need the help of the professional international tax law firm of Sherayzen Law Office. Our firm specializes in helping US and foreign taxpayers with their annual tax compliance, tax planning and dealing with past US tax noncompliance.

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Streamlined Disclosure Attorney Austin | FATCA OVDP Lawyer

If you are a resident of Austin, Texas, and you have undisclosed foreign accounts, it is highly likely that you have searched for Streamlined Disclosure Attorney Austin. Let’s analyze this search term – Streamlined Disclosure Attorney Austin – to understand exactly what kind of an attorney fits this search.

Streamlined Disclosure Attorney Austin Search Applies to SDOP and SFOP

Let’s first look into the search for “Streamlined Disclosure”. In reality, this is a search for an attorney who offers legal help with respect to two types of Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures: SDOP (Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures) and SFOP (Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures).

Streamlined Disclosure Attorney Austin Search Applies to Attorneys Who Offer Legal Services in Austin

Now, we need to analyze the geographical aspect of this search – i.e. Austin. What does it mean when one says that he is looking for an Austin attorney? Obviously, it applies to attorneys who reside in Austin and who offer streamlined disclosure services in Austin.

Furthermore, this search for a Streamlined Disclosure Attorney Austin also applies to attorneys who reside outside of Austin but offer their legal services to the residents of Austin. The reason for this conclusion lies in the federal nature of the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures – this is purely an IRS program and it has no local input from Austin (except the IRS office in the city). Since this is federal law, the actual residence of your Austin attorney does not matter.

What really matters is whether he offers legal services in Austin and whether he is competent in the matters concerning Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures. This leads to the final part of the search for Streamlined Disclosure Attorney Austin – what kind of a specialized “attorney” are you searching for?

Streamlined Disclosure Attorney Austin Search Applies Only to International Tax Attorneys

By searching for Streamlined Disclosure Attorney Austin, you are really trying to find a very specific kind of an attorney – an international tax attorney. SFOP, SDOP, OVDP and any other voluntary disclosure options are just IRS programs (though, important programs) within the framework of the much larger legal area of US international tax law practice.

Hence, a Streamlined Disclosure Attorney Austin search is an attempt to find an international tax attorney who not only understands Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures, but who also possesses deep understanding of the US international tax system, its laws and regulations, and the place SDOP and SFOP occupies within this system. This understanding is crucial to an attorney’s ability to properly analyze the case and choose the best legal strategy for his client.

Sherayzen Law Office can be Your International Tax Attorney

Sherayzen Law Office, Ltd. is an international tax law firm that specializes in all types of offshore voluntary disclosures, including OVDP, SDOP and SFOP. Our professional tax team, led by attorney Eugene Sherayzen, is highly experienced in helping US clients around the globe with their US international tax issues, including offshore voluntary disclosure. This is why Sherayzen Law Office should be your top candidate when you search for Streamlined Disclosure Attorney Austin.

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EU Automatic Exchange of Banking and Beneficial Ownership Data Approved

On November 22, 2016, the European Parliament approved the automatic exchange of banking and beneficial ownership data across the European Union. The directive received an overwhelming support from the Parliament: 590 members voted “yes”, 32 – “no”, and 64 did not vote.

Since the original proposal was already approved by the EU Council on November 8, 2016, the only issue left before the directive will come into force will be the final adoption of the directive by EU Council. Once the directive on the automatic exchange of banking and beneficial ownership data is adopted by the Council, the member states will have until December 31, 2017, to implement it.

The directive represents a major undertaking with respect to the automatic exchange of banking and beneficial ownership data. Once it is adopted, the directive will allow tax authorities of every EU member state to automatically share the banking information such as account balances, interest income and dividends. Moreover, the directive also requires the EU member states to create registers recording the beneficial ownership of companies and trusts. This means that the tax authorities of all EU member states will finally acquire access to the information regarding the true beneficiaries of foreign trusts and opaque corporate structures.

The idea behind the new legislation on the automatic exchanges of banking and beneficial ownership data is to provide the EU member states with tools to fight cross-border fraud and tax evasion, preserving the integrity of their domestic tax systems.

However, it appears that there are still serious implementation issues with respect to the new directive. The most serious problem is that the directive merely allows the automatic exchange of banking and beneficial ownership date in the EU, but it does not obligate the member states to do so. Furthermore, the banking industry’s role in the facilitation of tax evasion is not addressed at all by the legislature.

After the directive on the automatic exchange of banking and beneficial ownership date is adopted, the European Parliament is going to take up the legislation to provide for a cross-border method for accessing the shared information.

An interesting question for US taxpayers is whether any of the information acquired through the EU sharing mechanism will be shared with the IRS through FATCA. The likelihood of this scenario is fairly strong and may further expose noncompliant US taxpayers to IRS detection.