§318 Sidewise Attribution Limitation | US International Tax Attorney

This article explores the third main limitation on the general IRC (Internal Revenue Code) §318 corporate stock re-attribution rules – §318 Sidewise Attribution Limitation.

§318 Sidewise Attribution Limitation: What is “Sidewise Attribution”?

A sidewise attribution occurs when corporate stock owned by an owner of a business entity (or a beneficiary of a trust or estate) is first attributed to this business entity (or estate or trust) and then re-attributed again to another owner of the same business entity (or another beneficiary of the same trust or estate). In other words, stock deemed to be owned by an entity due to the ownership of that stock by an owner or beneficiary of the entity is re-attributed “sidewise” to another owner or beneficiary of the same entity.

Sidewise attribution may have far-reaching income tax and tax reporting consequences, because it may result in a person with no real ownership of a corporation being treated as an owner of this corporation’s stock simply because a member of another entity (in which the first person also has an ownership interest) happens to own corporate stock of this corporation.

§318 Sidewise Attribution Limitation: §318(a)(5)(C) Prohibition

§318(a)(5)(C) describes the §318 Sidewise Attribution Limitation. Under §318(a)(5)(C), stock constructively owned by a partnership, estate, trust or corporation pursuant to §318(a)(3) is not treated as owned by this partnership, estate, trust or corporation for the purpose of treating a partner, beneficiary, or shareholder as owner of the stock. In other words, the sidewise attribution limitation prevents re-attribution of corporate stock to an owner of an entity where such stock is constructively-owned by an entity solely by virtue of ownership of this stock by another owner of the entity.

Let’s look at the following example to illustrate the §318 Sidewise Attribution Limitation: A and B are unrelated persons, they equally own a partnership P and A owns 100 shares of corporation X’s stock. In this situation, partnership P is a constructive owner of A’s 100 shares of X under §318(a)(3)(A). Without any sideways limitation, B would have been also treated as an owner of these 100 shares of X due to §318(a)(2)(A). Under §318(a)(5)(C), however, none of these stocks are attributed to B.

§318 Sidewise Attribution Limitation: Attribution from Actual Ownership Not Affected

It is important to emphasize that §318(a)(5)(C) applies only to the re-attribution of stock constructively owned as a result of the application of §318(a)(3). This prohibition does not affect the §318(a)(2) attribution of stock actually owned by an entity to its beneficiary, partner, or shareholder.

§318 Sidewise Attribution Limitation: Re-Attribution Under Other Rules

Additionally, stock constructively owned under §318(a)(3) may still be re-attributed under an attribution rule other than §318(a)(2). In other words, stock constructively owned under §318(a)(3) may still be re-attributed under the upstream corporate attribution rules or the option attribution rules of §318(a)(4) (see Treas. Reg. §1.318-4(c)(2)).

Moreover, re-attribution under the §318 family attribution rules still possible. A potential situation for such re-attribution would arise in a situation where corporate stock is attributed from an entity to its member and from this member to a qualified family member of the same entity. Berenbaum v. Commissioner, 369 F.2d 337 (10th Cir. 1966), rev’g T.C. Memo 1965-147.

Let’s look at a couple of examples to understand better the interaction between the §318 Sidewise Attribution Limitation and the re-attribution rules other than §318(a)(2).

Here is the first hypothetical fact pattern: A is a beneficiary of a trust T, B is another beneficiary of T, T is a beneficiary of an estate, and A owns 100 shares of a C-corporation X. Under §318(a)(3)(B), T is a constructive owner of 100 shares of X. Since T is a constructive owner of A’s shares of X, these shares are re-attributed to the estate under §318(a)(3)(A); §318(a)(5)(C) does not apply to this type of a re-attribution since it is not a sidewise attribution. On the other hand, the §318 Sidewise Attribution Limitation would prevent the re-attribution of A’s shares of X to B that otherwise would have occurred under §318(a)(2)(B).

Note, however, that, if B is A’s son (or other qualified relative under the §318 family attribution rules), then the re-attribution of A’s stocks of X to B is possible under §318(a)(1)(A).

Let’s now look at another fact pattern to understand the power of the option rule attribution vis-a-vis §318(a)(5)(C): A and B are beneficiaries of a trust T; T has an option to buy corporate stock from A. The most important point to understand here is the fact that T is considered here as an owner of A’s stock not under the upstream trust attribution rules of §318(a)(3)(B), but under the option attribution rules of §318(a)(4). Hence, the sidewise attribution limitation under §318(a)(5)(C) does not apply and B becomes a constructive owner of a his proportional part of A’s stock under the downstream trust attribution rules of §318(a)(2)(B).

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§267 Constructive Ownership Rules | International Tax Lawyer & Attorney

In a previous article, I discussed the related person definition for the purposes of the Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) §267. That article, however, focused on the definition itself rather than on a host of supplementary rules necessary to fully understand this definition. In this article, I would like to discuss one set of these rules – §267 constructive ownership rules.

§267 Constructive Ownership Rules: Purpose of §267(c)

During my initial discussion of the §267 related person definition, I focused only on the actual ownership by related persons. Congress, however, realized that the actual ownership limitations can be easily circumvented by utilizing individuals and entities closely connected to the related persons.

Hence, it enacted §267(c) and §267(e)(3) to expand the application of the related person definition to include the ownership by closely-connected individuals and entities. In other words, even where an individual or entity does not meet any of the §267(a) and (b) tests through his actual ownership, these tests may be met when his actual ownership is added to other persons’ ownership through the operation of §267(c) and §267(e) rules. These are the so-called §267 constructive ownership rules.

§267 Constructive Ownership Rules: Two Parts of the Rules

As explained in a previous article, the related person definition can be found in two different parts of §267 – thirteen categories of §267(b) and one category of §267(a)(2). Similarly, the constructive ownership rules are divided into two separate sections: §267(c) applies to the entire section and §267(e)(3) applies only to §267(a)(2).

§267 Constructive Ownership Rules: Three General Types of Ownership Attribution

§267(c) sets forth three general types of constructive ownership attribution rules:

  1. Entity-to-owner or beneficiary stock attribution – i.e. “stock owned, directly or indirectly, by or for a corporation, partnership, estate, or trust shall be considered as being owned proportionately by or for its shareholders, partners, or beneficiaries” §267(c)(1). I wish to emphasize there that §267(c)(1) applies to any type of an entity: corporations, partnerships, estates and trusts;
  2. Family member stock attribution – i.e. stocks owned by family members are treated as constructively owned by the related person (see §267(c)(2)). §267(c)(4) defines “family of an individual” to include: “only his brothers and sisters (whether by the whole or half blood), spouse, ancestors, and lineal descendants”; and
  3. Partner-to-partner stock attribution – i.e. “an individual owning … any stock in a corporation shall be considered as owning the stock owned, directly or indirectly, by or for his partner” §267(c)(3). This is a unique rule which is rarely found among other constructive ownership rules of the Internal Revenue Code.

§267 Constructive Ownership Rules: Chain Ownership Attribution

Generally, a taxpayer who is deemed to own stock under the §267 constructive ownership rules is treated as the actual owner of the stock. In other words, the stock that he constructively owns can be used for further attribution of ownership to others – this is the so-called “chain ownership attribution”.

There are three exceptions to this rule. I will mention here only one: §267(c)(5) limits attribution of ownership through a chain of related persons in the case of family member or partnership attribution.

§267 Constructive Ownership Rules: Fourth Type of Ownership Attribution

§267(e)(3) sets forth special constructive ownership rules for determining ownership of a capital or profits interest in a partnership; as it was mentioned above, this rule applies only to the deduction limitation rules of §267(a)(2). This fourth type of ownership attribution is basically an exception to the first three types of §267(c).

§267(e)(3) states that, for the purposes of determining ownership of a capital interest or profits interest of a partnership, §267(c) constructive ownership rules apply except that: (1) partner-to-partner stock attribution of §267(c)(3) shall not apply, and (2) with respect to interest owned (directly and indirectly) by and for C-corporation “shall be considered as owned by or for any shareholder only if such shareholder owns (directly or indirectly) 5 percent or more in value of the stock of such corporation” §267(e)(3)(B).

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FBAR Tax Attorney St Louis: Another Swiss Banker Pleads Guilty to Tax Evasion

On March 12, 2014, the IRS and the DOJ announced that Andreas Bachmann, 56, of Switzerland, pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) in connection with his work as a banking and investment adviser for U.S. customers. It appears (at least from the perspective of an FBAR Tax Attorney St Louis) that Mr. Bachmann helped his U.S. customers conceal assets in secret Swiss Bank Accounts and other tax havens.

FBAR Tax Attorney St Louis: Background Information

In a statement of facts filed with the plea agreement, Mr. Bachmann admitted that between 1994 and 2006, while working as a relationship manager in Switzerland for a subsidiary of an international bank, he engaged in a wide-ranging conspiracy to aid and assist U.S. customers in evading their income taxes by concealing assets and income in secret Swiss bank accounts. Moreover, Mr. Bachmann traveled to the United States twice each year to provide banking services and investment advice to his U.S. customers (note from FBAR Tax Attorney St Louis: this could have been critical information for building the IRS case against Mr. Bachmann).

According to the IRS, Mr. Bachmann also engaged in cash transactions while traveling in the United States. In the course of arranging meetings with U.S. customers, some clients would request that Mr. Bachmann either provide them with cash as withdrawals from their undeclared accounts or take cash from them as a deposit to their undeclared accounts. As part of that process, Mr. Bachmann agreed to receive cash from U.S. customers and used that cash to pay withdrawals to other U.S. clients.

The IRS describes how, in one instance, Mr. Bachmann received $50,000 in cash from one U.S. customer in New York City and intended to deliver the money to another U.S. client in Southern Florida. Airport officials in New York discovered the cash but let Mr. Bachmann keep the money after questioning him (note from FBAR Tax Attorney St Louis: by that time, the IRS was probably already taking interest in Mr. Bachmann). The client in Florida refused to take the money after the client learned about the questioning by New York airport officials, and Mr. Bachmann returned to Switzerland with the $50,000 in cash in his checked baggage. Mr. Bachmann advised the executive management of the subsidiary about the incident with the cash.

The IRS further alleges that Mr. Bachmann also understood that a number of his U.S. customers concealed their ownership and control of foreign financial accounts by holding those accounts in the names of nominee tax haven entities, or structures, which were frequently created in the form of foreign partnerships, trusts, corporations or foundations.

FBAR Tax Attorney St Louis: IRS is Pleased

The IRS and the DOJ seem to be pleased with the result of their investigation. “Today’s plea is just the latest step in our wide-ranging investigations into Swiss banking activities and demonstrates the Department of Justice’s commitment to global enforcement against those that facilitate offshore tax evasion,” said Deputy Attorney General Cole. “We fully expect additional developments over the course of the coming months.”

Mr. Bachmann was charged in a one-count superseding indictment on July 21, 2011, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in prison when he is sentenced on August 8, 2014.

FBAR Tax Attorney St Louis: IRS and DOJ Are Stepping Up Criminal Enforcement of FBARs and International Tax Laws of the United States

As I predicted earlier, the IRS and the DOJ are in high gear of criminal enforcement of FBARs and international tax laws of the United States. As they work through the mountains of information that they received from the U.S. taxpayers participating in the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (now closed) and the defendants, like Mr. Bachmann, I fully expect the enforcement efforts to increase in the near future.

Moreover, with the new information disclosed by the Swiss banks as part of the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) The Program for Non-Prosecution Agreements or Non-Target Letters for Swiss Banks (the “Program”), the IRS will get an unprecedented new fountain of information that will allow it to reach ever further.

FBAR Tax Attorney St Louis: U.S. Taxpayers with Undisclosed Bank Accounts Should Consider Their Voluntary Disclosure Options As Soon As Possible

Given the fact that a large number of Swiss banks that participate in the Program will disclose all of their U.S.-held bank accounts by April 30, 2014 (assuming they have not already disclosed them), U.S. taxpayers with undisclosed accounts in Switzerland must act as soon as possible and consider their voluntary disclosure options. Failure to do so may result in the imposition of willful civil and even criminal penalties.

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Quiet Disclosure: The Russian Roulette of FBAR Disclosures

There used to be a time when quiet disclosures with respect to offshore income and accounts were routinely recommended by accountants and even attorneys. Even as the tide turned against non-compliant U.S. taxpayers with offshore accounts in 2008-2009 with the spectacular IRS success in the UBS case and the announcement of the 2009 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, these tax professionals persisted in advising their clients to follow the “quiet” course of action. Amazingly enough, even in March of 2014, I still see clients who have been advised to conduct quiet disclosures without adequate assessment of risks that such course of action entails.

In this article, I will argue that the era of quiet disclosures is over and a non-compliant taxpayer who embarks on this course is assuming the risks comparable to engaging in a game of a Russian Roulette with the IRS.

Definition of “Quiet Disclosure”

The definition of what constitutes “quiet disclosure” has changed over time; at some point, there were tax professionals who used it in such as a broad manner as to include something that we would not consider as quiet disclosure today but rather “reasonable cause disclosures” (also known as “modified voluntary disclosures” or “noisy disclosures”).

Today, the term generally refers to disclosures where a taxpayer would file amended returns, pay any related tax and interest (oftentimes, the payment of accuracy-related penalties is included in such a disclosure) for previously unreported offshore income, and file the current year’s information returns without otherwise notifying the IRS.

Note the two critical aspects of this definition that differentiate quiet disclosures from any other types of voluntary disclosures. First and foremost – “without otherwise notifying the IRS”. This is the “quiet” aspect of the disclosure. At no point is the taxpayer notifying the IRS about his non-compliance; he just simply hopes to pay the tax with interest without attracting IRS attention to his prior non-compliance.

The second critical aspect of quiet disclosures is compliance with current year’s information returns (such as FBARs, Forms 5471, et cetera), but not prior years’ information returns. Filing prior years’ information returns would imply providing IRS with evidence of prior non-compliance and, without adequate explanation, a set of penalties may be imposed on the taxpayer. This is why, in a quiet disclosure, the non-compliant taxpayer only files the current year’s FBAR.

Current International Tax Enforcement of FBAR Compliance; Impact of FATCA

It is my argument that, in the current international tax enforcement environment, the quiet discloser strategy is likely to have a counter-productive effect and may actually lead to disastrous results later. So, what is so different about today’s world versus the one in 2007?

Two words summarize the difference: “UBS” and “FATCA”. The IRS victory in the UBS case in 2008 marked a radical change to the worldwide tax compliance and completely overthrew the traditional conception of the bank secrecy laws (at least, with respect to U.S. taxpayers). The IRS proved that it can get to U.S. taxpayers wherever they have their accounts despite the sovereign objections of other countries; most shockingly, the IRS proved it in a country the name of which was synonymous with “bank secrecy” for centuries. This is one of the reasons why the 2009 OVDP, 2011 OVDI and the current 2012 OVDP programs proved to be such a success.

If the UBS case seriously crippled the bank secrecy laws in Switzerland, the enaction of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (“FATCA”) by the U.S. Congress in 2010 dealt a death blow to the bank secrecy laws worldwide with far reaching consequences. FATCA not only swept away the bank secrecy considerations in Switzerland, but the great majority of other jurisdictions such as Liechtenstein, Monaco, Jersey Islands, Lebanon, Panama, the various Caribbean islands, and other places where bank secrecy laws protected non-compliant U.S. taxpayers.

Moreover, by turning foreign banks into U.S. reporting agents who voluntarily report information on all of their U.S. accountholders, the IRS is gradually achieving its long-term goal of worldwide tax compliance with only a fraction of the costs that would otherwise be necessary if the IRS were to investigate each bank in the world individually (something that the IRS simply would not have the resources to do).

In such a tax enforcement environment, it is dangerously naive to expect prior FBAR non-compliance would not be discovered by the IRS – an assumption that forms the core of the quiet disclosure strategy.

Swiss Program for Banks; Willful and Criminal Penalties

In addition to the tectonic shifts in the international tax compliance as a result of the UBS Case and FATCA, the U.S. government pushed the concept of the “voluntary compliance” to the extreme through the U.S. Department of Justice (“DOJ”) Program for Non-Prosecution Agreements or Non-Target Letters for Swiss Banks (the “Program”). In essence, this is a voluntary disclosure program for the Swiss Banks, where the Swiss Banks have to disclose information with respect to U.S. taxpayers in exchange for the DOJ”s promise not to sue them.

There is one particular aspect of the Program that I want to emphasize because of its relevance to the quiet disclosure strategy – the disclosure of U.S. accountholders goes back to August 1, 2008. This means that if a U.S. taxpayer with unreported Swiss accounts from 2008 made a quiet disclosure in the tax year 2009, his former non-compliance will be exposed by the Program.

Not only that, but, at this point, his prior non-compliance is likely to be considered willful and the prospect of gigantic willful civil and criminal penalties becomes almost imminent (especially, if his ability to enter the OVDP is hindered for one reason or another). See, for example, this passage from the FAQ instructions to OVDP: “When criminal behavior is evident and the disclosure does not meet the requirements of a voluntary disclosure under IRM, the IRS may recommend criminal prosecution to the Department of Justice” (see FAQ 16).

It is important to note that there are very good reasons to believe that the “Swiss Program for Banks” scenario is likely to be repeated elsewhere with uncertain look-back periods.

FBAR Quiet Disclosure Is Likely to Lead to Untenable Willful FBAR Non-Compliance in the Event of IRS Discovery

Now, we are approaching the core reasoning behind my earlier argument that quiet disclosure is similar to playing a Russian roulette. We have already established that the possibility of the IRS discovery of prior non-compliance has become increasingly likely under FATCA. We have also determined that willful failure to file an FBAR under the quiet disclosure strategy may lead to the imposition of willful civil and, possibly, criminal penalties. Finally, we also considered that a third-party disclosure (most likely, a bank that discloses under FATCA or the Program) is likely to prevent the taxpayer from entering the OVDP.

The effect of putting these three propositions together is obvious and explosive at the same time: engaging in a quiet disclosure policy may result in the discovery of prior FBAR non-compliance, such non-compliance is likely to be considered by the IRS as willful, and the taxpayer is likely to lose the safe harbor of the OVDP. The end result may be absolutely disastrous: FBAR willful civil penalties of up to $100,000 per account per year with potential FBAR criminal penalties (huge monetary penalties and incarceration).

The IRS has stated this openly in its FAQ instructions to the OVDP: “Taxpayers are strongly encouraged to come forward under the OVDP to make timely, accurate, and complete disclosures. Those taxpayers making ‘quiet’ disclosures should be aware of the risk of being examined and potentially criminally prosecuted for all applicable years” (see FAQ #15).

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