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Vadian Bank AG Signs Non-Prosecution Agreement with DOJ

On May 8, 2015, Vadian Bank AG (Vadian) became the second bank to sign a Non-Prosecution Agreement with the US Department of Justice (DOJ) pursuant to the DOJ Program for Swiss Banks.

Program for Swiss Banks: Background Information

On August 29, 2013, the DOJ announced the creation of the “The Program for Non-Prosecution Agreements or Non-Target Letters for Swiss Banks (Program)”. The basic goal of the program was to allow Swiss banks to purge themselves of the prior US tax non-compliance (or complicity with such non-compliance) in exchange for providing DOJ with detailed description of their illegal activities, bank accounts owned by US persons and, in many cases, the payment of monetary penalties.

The Program is a really a version of the 2014 OVDP for foreign banks. However, it was not open to all banks. The banks already under criminal investigation related to their Swiss-banking activities and all individuals were expressly excluded from the program.

As of the time of this writing, the application process has already been completed for the great majority of the Swiss banks, and the Program has entered into the resolution phase (i.e. the review of the banks’ disclosure and penalty calculation).

Vadian bank’s case was the second such case that completed the resolution phase (BSI SA was the first bank to do so).

Vadian Bank Background

Vadian has one office and 26 employees. Prior to 2008, Vadian’s business predominantly consisted of savings accounts, residential mortgage lending and small business loans. In 2007, Vadian hired a marketing firm to assist with its planned growth into private banking, and focused its efforts on attracting external asset managers. In 2008, after it became publicly known that UBS was a target of a criminal investigation, Vadian accepted accounts from U.S. persons who were forced out of other Swiss banks. At this time, Vadian’s management was aware that the U.S. authorities were pursuing Swiss banks that facilitated tax evasion for U.S. accountholders in Switzerland, but was not deterred because Vadian had no U.S. presence. As a result of its efforts, after August 2008, Vadian attracted cross-border private banking business and increased its U.S. related accounts from two to more than 70, with $76 million in assets under management.

Through its managers, employees and/or other individuals, Vadian knew or believed that many of its U.S. accountholders were not complying with their U.S. tax obligations, and Vadian would and did assist those clients to conceal assets and income from the IRS. Vadian’s services included: “hold mail” services; numbered accounts, where the client was known to most bank employees only by a number or code name; opening and maintaining accounts for U.S. taxpayers through non-U.S. entities such as corporations, trusts or foundations; and accepting instructions from U.S.-based accountholders to prevent investments from being made in U.S.-based securities that would require disclosure to U.S. tax authorities.

Vadian Bank: Terms the DOJ Non-Prosecution Agreement

According to the terms of the non-prosecution agreement that was signed on May 20, 2015, Vadian agreed to cooperate in any related criminal or civil proceedings, demonstrate its implementation of controls to stop misconduct involving undeclared U.S. accounts and pay a $4.253 million penalty in return for the department’s agreement not to prosecute Vadian for tax-related criminal offenses.

In resolving its criminal liabilities under the program, Vadian also provided extensive cooperation and encouraged U.S. accountholders to come into compliance.

Consequences of Vadian Non-Prosecution Agreement for Vadian US Accountholders

If you have (or had at any point since the year 2008) undeclared foreign accounts at Vadian, you may still be eligible to participate in the OVDP (assuming that you can pass the IRS-CI Preclearance process). However, the price of participating in the OVDP has almost doubled from the pre-Agreement 27.5% to the current 50% of the highest value of your undisclosed foreign assets.

Of course, if the behavior was non-willful, Streamlined options remain available at the same penalty rates.

What Should Vadian US Accountholders Do?

If you are a US person and an accountholder at Vadian, please contact the experienced international tax law firm of Sherayzen Law Office to explore your voluntary disclosure options as soon as possible.

HSBC FATCA Letter

In a previous article, I explained why FATCA Letters mark a critical event for the voluntary disclosure process of a US taxpayer with undisclosed foreign accounts. While I mentioned that the content of a FATCA letter is usually more or less the same, I emphasized that the actual format of a FATCA letter may differ dramatically from bank to bank. With this article, I am starting a series of article devoted to various FATCA letter formats adopted by various banks around the world. Today, I wish to concentrate on the HSBC FATCA Letter.

HSBC FATCA Letter: General Format

HSBC FATCA Letter follows what I call a “reference format”. Unlike the “comprehensive format” usually followed by FATCA letters issued by Swiss banks, the reference format of the HSBC FATCA Letter means that the HSBC FATCA Letter is fairly concise but it references (hence the name) various forms that need to be completed by the HSBC customers.

Basically, this means that the HSBC FATCA Letter itself does not ask any questions, but it acts as kind of a checklist for various supplementary forms that need to be completed by the account holder in order to provide the bank with the information necessary for its own FATCA compliance. Failure to provide such information would result in the bank classifying the US taxpayer as a “recalcitrant account holder”.

An interesting aspect about the format that the HSBC FATCA Letter follows is that some (but not all) of the supplementary forms were developed and modified by the bank for the sole purpose of FATCA compliance. Thus, there are two types of supplementary forms that are referenced by HSBC FATCA letter: US standard forms (W-8, W-9, et cetera) and proprietary forms developed by the HSBC itself (SW, S1, S3, et cetera).

HSBC FATCA Letter: US Supplementary Forms

Similar to every FATCA letter issued by other banks around the world, HSBC FATCA letter references the main relevant forms developed by the US government – Form W8 (usually, W8BEN) and Form W9. Form W9 is of course the critical form that must be provided to a foreign bank in order to verify the US taxpayer’s social security number. Form W8, on the other hand, provides the critical information for the foreign bank for the purpose of tax withholding under relevant tax treaties. It also allows the bank to indirectly confirm the account holder’s non-US tax status.

HSBC FATCA Letter: Proprietary Forms Developed by HSBC

HSBC FATCA letter references a variety of forms developed or modified by HSBC according to FATCA requirements. The most common documents are S1, S2 and S3. Form S1 is basically asks for a government-issued ID establishing non-US status. Form S2 is a copy of Individual Certification of Loss of Nationality (again for establishing the Non-US Citizenship status) which is very relevant in the limited 9(though, rapidly growing) situation where a US taxpayer gives up his US citizenship.

Form S3 is one of the most important forms referenced by the HSBC FATCA letter. Officially titled as “Explanation of a US address and/or US Phone Number”, Form S-1 requires a fairly intrusive explanation of whether the account holder has US phone number and US telephone address, and why. What is very interesting about Form S3 issued by HSBC is that it requires the taxpayer to make a detailed determination whether the substantial presence test has been met. It even contains a fairly detailed explanation of the test itself.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help with HSBC FATCA Letter

If you have undisclosed bank accounts with HSBC (whether Hong Kong, India, or any other country except the United States itself), you should immediately begin the exploration of your voluntary disclosure options before HSBC discloses your account to the IRS.

This is why you will need the professional help of Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, an experienced international tax lawyer who already has helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world with respect to their US tax compliance. We can also help you!

Contact US to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation Now!

New IRS Regulations to Address Transactions to De-Control CFCs

On September 22, 2014, the Department of the Treasury (“Treasury”) and the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) issued Notice 2014-52, “Rules Regarding Inversions and Related Transactions” (“Notice”) in the wake of the recent wave of inversions. In a previous article, we covered the new regulations to be issued regarding Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) Section 956 so-called “Hopscotch loans” and related transactions. In this article, we will examine the new Treasury and IRS regulations to be issued to address transactions to de-control or significantly dilute controlled foreign corporations (“CFCs’”) under Notice Section 3.02.

This article is intended to provide explanatory material regarding the new inversion regulations as they relate to IRC Section Sections 954, 964, and 367 de-control aspects; the article does not convey legal or tax advice. Please contact the experienced international tax law practice of Sherayzen Law Office, PLLC for questions about your tax and legal needs.

Transactions to De-Control or Significantly Dilute CFCs

In general, foreign subsidiaries of acquired U.S. corporations will continue to hold CFC status following most expatriation transactions; such status makes these CFCs subject to U.S. taxation under the IRC subpart F provisions. Prior to the Notice, however, companies could structure inversions so that the newly-formed foreign parent would purchase sufficient stock in order to remove control (or “de-control”) of an expatriated foreign subsidiary away from the former U.S. parent company so that the foreign subsidiary would no longer be treated as a CFC.

By ceasing to be a CFC, as noted in the Notice, companies could thus “Avoid the imposition of U.S. income tax, so as to avoid U.S. tax on the CFC’s pre-inversion earnings and profits. For example, after an inversion transaction, a foreign acquiring corporation could issue a note or transfer property to an expatriated foreign subsidiary in exchange for stock representing at least 50 percent of the voting power and value of the expatriated foreign subsidiary. The expatriated foreign subsidiary would stop being a CFC, and the U.S. shareholders would no longer be subject to subpart F of the Code with respect to the expatriated foreign subsidiary…” Such an effect could also be achieved if the foreign acquiring corporation acquired enough stock to substantially dilute a U.S. shareholder’s ownership of the CFC; U.S. taxation of the CFC’s pre-inversion earnings and profits could be avoided if the CFC later redeemed on a non-pro rata basis, its stock held by the foreign acquiring corporation. (The Notice also provides other similar examples of pre-Notice tax avoidance strategies).

Regulations to Address Transactions to De-Control or Significantly Dilute CFCs

In response to the concerns addressed in the previous paragraphs, under Notice Section 3.02, Treasury and the IRS will issue regulations under IRC Section 7701(l) to “Recharacterize certain transactions that facilitate the avoidance of U.S. tax on the expatriated foreign subsidiary’s pre-inversion earnings and profits”, and they also intend to issue new regulations to modify the application of IRC Section 367(b) in order to require, “[I]ncome inclusion in certain nonrecognition transactions that dilute a U.S. shareholder’s ownership of a CFC.”

Under IRC Section 7701(l), Treasury and the IRS intend to issue regulations providing that a “specified transaction” will be recharacterized under the procedures of the Notice. A specified transaction is defined to be a, “[T]ransaction in which stock in an expatriated foreign subsidiary… is transferred (including by issuance) to a ‘specified related person.’” A specified person is defined to mean a, “[N]on-CFC foreign related person… a U.S. partnership that has one or more partners that if completed during is a non-CFC foreign related person, or a U.S. trust that has one or more beneficiaries that is a non-CFC foreign related person.”

Under the Notice, “if an expatriated foreign subsidiary issues specified stock to a specified related person, the specified transaction will be recharacterized as follows: (i) the property transferred by the specified related person to acquire the specified stock (transferred property) will be treated as having been transferred by the specified related person to the section 958(a) U.S. shareholder(s) of the expatriated foreign subsidiary in exchange for instruments deemed issued by the section 958(a) U.S. shareholder(s) (deemed instrument(s)); and (ii) the transferred property or proportionate share thereof will be treated as having been contributed by the section 958(a) U.S. shareholder(s) (through intervening entities, if any, in exchange for equity in such entities) to the expatriated foreign subsidiary in exchange for stock in the expatriated foreign subsidiary.” (See Notice for further information).

Further, under IRC Section 367(b), Treasury and the IRS also intend to amend the section’s regulations, in general, to require that “an exchanging shareholder described in §1.367(b)-4(b)(1)(i)(A) will be required to include in income as a deemed dividend the section 1248 amount attributable to the stock of an expatriated foreign subsidiary exchanged in a “specified exchange”. A specified exchange is defined to mean an exchange “in which a shareholder of an expatriated foreign subsidiary exchanges stock in the expatriated foreign subsidiary for stock in another foreign corporation pursuant to a transaction described in §1.367(b)-4(a).” Exceptions may be applicable in certain cases under the Notice. (See Notice for more details).

Effective Date for Notice Section 3.02(e)

The effective dates of Notice Section 3.02(e) will apply to specified transactions and specified exchanges (see definitions above) completed on, or after, September 22, 2014 (but only if the inversion transaction is completed on, or after, September 22, 2014). The Notice is currently in the comment period.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Complex International Tax Planning

With the new Treasury and IRS Notice, the need for successful international tax and legal planning will only increase. If you need legal and tax assistance, please contact Attorney Eugene Sherayzen at Sherayzen Law Office, Ltd. for questions about your tax and legal needs.

IRS Notice 2014-52 Regarding Inversions and “Hopscotch Loans”

On September 22, 2014, the Department of the Treasury (“Treasury”) and the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) issued Notice 2014-52, “Rules Regarding Inversions and Related Transactions” (“Notice”) in the wake of recent inversions conducted by many US companies such as by Medtronic, Chiquita Brands, Pfizer and others.  Treasury and the IRS highlighted in the Notice that they were “concerned that certain recent inversion transactions are inconsistent with the purposes of sections 7874 and 367 of the Internal Revenue Code… certain inversion transactions are motivated in substantial part by the ability to engage in certain tax avoidance transactions after the inversion that would not be possible in the absence of the inversion.”

To address these concerns regarding inversions, Treasury and the IRS announced in the Notice that they intend to issue new regulations under Internal Revenue Code (“IRC”) Sections 304(b)(5)(B), 367, 956(e), 7701(l), and 7874. In this article we will briefly explain the new regulations intended to be issued under IRC Section 956 that seek to prevent the avoidance of tax in this section “[T]hrough post-inversion acquisitions by controlled foreign corporations (“CFC’s”) of obligations of (or equity investments in) the new foreign parent corporation or certain foreign affiliates”. Such obligations are also commonly referred to as “Hopscotch loans”. Notice Section 3.01, “Regulations to Address Acquisitions of Obligations and Stock that Avoid Section 956” specifically addresses such issues.

This article is intended to provide explanatory material regarding the new inversion regulations as they relate to IRC Section 956 aspects; the article does not convey legal or tax advice. Please contact experienced international tax attorney Eugene Sherayzen for questions about your tax and legal needs.

Inversions and the Use of “Hopscotch Loans” to Avoid U.S. Taxation under Pre-Notice Rules

In general, under IRC Section 956, if a CFC subsidiary of a U.S. parent makes a loan to (or equity investment in) the U.S. parent, it will be treated as a deemed repatriation of the CFC’s earnings and profits, even though no actual dividend may be distributed. IRC Section 956(c)(1) specifically provides that U.S. property is “[A] any property acquired after December 31, 1962, which is… (B) stock of a domestic corporation; (C) an obligation of a United States person…” (See Section 956 for additional definitions of “U.S. property” for the purposes of this provision).

This deemed repatriation will be taxable to the CFC’s U.S. shareholders. As stated in the Notice, the taxable amount for any taxable year is the lesser of, “(1) the excess (if any) of—(A) such shareholder’s pro rata share of the average of the amounts of United States property held (directly or indirectly) by the controlled foreign corporation as of the close of each quarter of such taxable year, over (B) the amount of earnings and profits described in section 959(c)(1)(A) with respect to such shareholder, or (2) such shareholder’s pro rata share of the applicable earnings of such controlled foreign corporation.”

This is why many U.S. parents and CFC subsidiaries sought to avoid taxation by doing inversions in which new foreign parent companies would be formed that were not CFCs; the existing CFC would then make a loan to the new foreign parent (the “Hopscotch loan”), and the amount could at some future point then be lent to the former U.S. parent. As Treasury and the IRS stated in the Notice, “The ability of the new foreign parent to access deferred CFC earnings and profits would in many cases eliminate the need for the CFCs to pay dividends to the U.S. shareholders, thereby circumventing the purposes of section 956.”

Changes to Inversions under Notice 2014-52, Section 3.10(b)

Under IRC Section 956(e) the Treasury Secretary is directed to prescribe regulations to prevent tax avoidance of the provisions of section 956 through reorganizations or otherwise, and the Notice specified that inversions constitute such transactions. To address the inversions strategy, Treasury and the IRS noted that they intend to issue regulations, “[P]roviding that, solely for purposes of section 956, any obligation or stock of a foreign related person (within the meaning of section 7874(d)(3) other than an “expatriated foreign subsidiary”) (such person, a “non-CFC foreign related person”) will be treated as United States property within the meaning of section 956(c)(1) to the extent such obligation or stock is acquired by an expatriated foreign subsidiary during the applicable period (within the meaning of section 7874(d)(1)).”

An “expatriated foreign subsidiary” is defined in the Notice (except as provided in the succeeding paragraph) as a “CFC with respect to which an expatriated entity… is a U.S. shareholder”, but it does not include a “CFC that is a member of the EAG immediately after the acquisition and all transactions related to the acquisition are completed (completion date) if the domestic entity is not a U.S. shareholder with respect to the CFC on or before the completion date” (“EAG” is defined in the Notice to mean an “expanded affiliated group”). Additionally, under the Notice, “[A]n expatriated foreign subsidiary that is a pledgor or guarantor of an obligation of a non-CFC foreign related person under the principles of section 956(d) and §1.956-2(c) will be considered as holding such obligation.”

Effective Dates of the New Regulation Concerning Inversions

Subject to certain exceptions, the regulations under Notice section 3.01(b), “[W]ill apply to acquisitions of obligations or stock of a non-CFC foreign related person by an expatriated foreign subsidiary completed on or after September 22, 2014, but only if the inversion transaction is completed on or after September 22, 2014.”

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Help With International Tax Matters

International tax matters often involve very complex issues, and it is advisable to seek the assistance of a tax attorney in this area. If you have questions regarding taxation of CFC’s, are in need of international tax planning, or have any other tax and legal questions, please contact Sherayzen Law Office, PLLC.

FBAR Reporting of Foreign Gold and Silver Storage Accounts

There is a great deal of confusion about the reporting of foreign gold and silver storage accounts on the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR). In this article, I would like to set forth the general legal framework for the analysis of the reporting requirements for the foreign gold and silver storage accounts. However, it should be remembered that this article is for educational purposes only and it does not provide any legal advice; whether your particular foreign gold and silver accounts should be reported on the FBAR is a legal question that should be analyzed by an international tax attorney within your particular fact setting.

FBAR Background

FBAR’s official name is FinCEN Form 114 (formerly form TD F 90-22.1). Generally, the FBAR is used by US persons to report foreign bank and financial accounts whenever the aggregate balance on these accounts exceeds the threshold of $10,000. The FBAR applies to accounts which are directly, indirectly and constructively owned; it further applies to situations where a US person has signatory or other authority over a foreign account.

The above description contains numerous terms of art that have very specific meaning (even with respect to such common terms as “US person” and “accounts”). I only provide a very general definition of the FBAR here, but there is plenty of FBAR articles on sherayzenlaw.com that you can read to learn more about this requirement.

General Rule for Reporting of Foreign Gold and Silver Storage Accounts

In general, if you have a foreign gold and silver storage accounts, they are reportable on the FBAR as long as the threshold requirement is satisfied. However, as almost everything in international tax law, you have to look closely at the definition of terms. In this case, the critical issue is what situations fall within the definition of foreign gold and silver storage accounts.

What are Foreign Gold and Silver Storage Accounts?

It is important to understand that certain facts and details may play a great role in determining whether one has foreign gold and silver storage accounts – this is why it is so important to have an international tax attorney review the particular facts of your case.

Nevertheless, there are certain general legal concepts that provide helpful guidance to international tax attorneys in their FBAR analysis. The most important FBAR factors for determining whether a particular arrangement is defined as foreign gold and silver storage accounts are two interrelated concepts of “custodial relationship” and “control”.

Generally, where another person or entity has access and/or control of assets or funds on your behalf, the IRS is very likely to find that a custodial relationship exists and all such arrangements would be reportable on the FBAR as foreign gold and silver storage accounts. For example, if one buys gold and silver through BullionVault or Goldmoney (whether allocated or non-allocated), one creates foreign gold and silver storage accounts because BullionVault or Goldmoney would handle the transaction on your behalf and store the precious metals on your behalf (and, as mentioned above, even allocate your holdings to a particular gold or silver bar).

A word of caution: the IRS tends to interpret the definitions of “account” and “custodial relationship” very broadly and one must not indulge oneself with false thoughts of security because one thinks that he was able to circumvent a particular fact setting. Again, the existence of foreign gold and silver storage accounts is a legal question that should be reviewed by an experienced international tax lawyer.

Foreign Gold and Silver Storage Accounts: What about a Safe Deposit Box?

There is a situation that comes up often in my practice (particularly for clients with Australian, Hong Kong and Swiss accounts) with respect to FBAR reporting of precious metals – putting gold, silver and other precious metals in a foreign safe deposit box. There is a dangerous myth that safe deposit boxes are never reportable – this is incorrect.

In general, it is true that precious metals held in a safe deposit box are not reportable, but if and only if no account relationship exists. If there is an account relationship with respect to a safe deposit box, then it would be considered a reportable foreign gold and silver storage account for the FBAR purposes.

What does this mean? Let’s go back to the definition of a custodial relationship cited above – an account relationship exists whenever another person or entity has control of funds or assets on your behalf. If one applies this definition to a safe deposit box, then it is likely that the IRS will interpret any situation where an institution or person has access to a safe deposit box as an existence of an account. Moreover, the IRS is likely to find that foreign gold and silver storage accounts exist where an owner (direct or indirect) of the safe deposit box can instruct the institution to sell the gold from the safe deposit box.

Other Reporting Requirements May Apply to Foreign Gold and Silver Storage Accounts

It is important to mention that FBAR is just one of potential reporting requirements under US tax laws. Other reporting requirements (such as Form 8938, 8621, 5471, 8865 and so on) may apply depending on the nature of the foreign gold and silver storage accounts, form of ownership, whether a foreign entity is involved, and numerous other facts. You will need to contact an experienced international tax lawyer to determine your international tax reporting requirements under US tax laws.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with Reporting of Foreign Gold and Silver Accounts

If you have unreported foreign gold and silver storage accounts, contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help. Owner Eugene Sherayzen is an experienced international tax attorney who will thoroughly analyze your case, determine the extent of your current reporting requirements and potential non-compliance liability, analyze your voluntary disclosure options, and implement the preferred legal option (including preparation of all legal documents and tax forms).

Contact Us to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation Now!