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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!

2019 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options | International Tax Lawyers

The closure of the IRS flagship 2014 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”) in September of 2018 posed a critical issue of the 2019 offshore voluntary disclosure options available to US taxpayers. This is precisely the issue that I would like to explore today – the 2019 offshore voluntary disclosure options available to US taxpayers who wish to voluntarily resolve their prior US tax noncompliance concerning foreign assets and foreign income.

2019 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options: Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures

With the closure of the OVDP, the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures (“SDOP”) became the main voluntary disclosure option for US taxpayers who reside in the United States. SDOP offers huge benefits to its participants in terms of simplicity of the process, limitations on the years subject to voluntary disclosure and the mildness of its penalty structure. There are some “unfair” provisions, such as subjecting income-compliant accounts to SDOP’s Miscellaneous Offshore Penalty, but, overall, the benefits offered by this option outweigh its deficiencies for most taxpayers.

The main obstacle to using SDOP in 2019 remains its requirement that a taxpayer certifies under the penalty of perjury that he was non-willful with respect to his prior income tax noncompliance, FBAR noncompliance and noncompliance with any other US international information tax return (such as Form 8938, 3520, 5471, et cetera). This is an insurmountable problem for willful taxpayers. It will be up to your international tax lawyer to make the determination on whether you are able to make this certification.

2019 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options: Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures

Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures (“SFOP”) is SDOP’s brother; both options were announced at the same time in 2014 as two distinct parts of the Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures. SFOP is available to US taxpayers who satisfy its eligibility requirements, particularly those related to non-willfulness certification and physical presence outside of the United States. Again, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office to help you determine whether you meet the eligibility requirements of SFOP.

The taxpayers who are able to satisfy SFOP’s eligibility requirements will find themselves in a tax paradise, because SFOP is the closest option to a true amnesty program that the IRS ever provided to US taxpayers. Not only does SFOP preserve the non-invasive and limited scope of voluntary disclosure that characterizes SDOP, but SFOP also does not require US taxpayers to pay any penalties. A taxpayer only needs to pay the extra tax due with interest for the past three years. The announcement by the IRS of this option in 2014 was a true gift to US taxpayers.

2019 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options: Delinquent FBAR Submission Procedures

Another highly beneficial voluntary disclosure option for 2019 is Delinquent FBAR Submission Procedures (“DFSP”). This is not a new option; in fact, in one form or another, it has always existed within the IRS procedures. Prior to 2014, it was even written into the OVDP as FAQ#17.

Since its “independence” in 2014, DFSP is a somewhat more difficult option than what it used to be as FAQ#17. Nevertheless, it is still a zero-penalty option for those taxpayers who are able to satisfy its eligibility requirements. Unfortunately, the eligibility requirements are very strict and even de minimis income tax noncompliance will deprive a taxpayer of the ability to use this option.

2019 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options: Delinquent International Information Return Submission Procedures

Delinquent International Information Return Submission Procedures (“DIIRSP”) has a very similar history to DFSP. In fact, it was “codified” into OVDP rules as FAQ#18. Since it became an independent option in 2014, however, its eligibility requirements became much harsher. Now, US taxpayers are required to provide a reasonable cause explanation in order to escape IRS penalties under this option.

2019 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options: Modified IRS Traditional Voluntary Disclosure Program

The traditional IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“TVDP”) has existed for a very long time. However, it faded into complete obscurity once the IRS opened its first major OVDP option. The recent closure of the OVDP has brought TVDP back to life.

In fact, the IRS is now presenting TVDP as the main, almost default, voluntary disclosure option for US taxpayers who willfully violated their US tax obligations. On November 20, 2018, the IRS has completely revamped the TVDP’s procedural structure and clarified the penalty imposition rules. I am almost tempted to call this new version of TVDP as “2018 TVDP”!

2019 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options: Reasonable Cause Disclosure

This was the most popular voluntary disclosure option prior OVDP; then, after 2009 (and between various OVDP options), Reasonable Cause disclosure continued to play the role of the most important alternative to the OVDP. Since 2014, however, the appearance of SDOP and SFOP has substantially deflated the appeal of Reasonable Cause disclosures. The fact that the IRS closed the physical address for such disclosures and tried to make this option as unpopular as possible further contributed to the decline of Reasonable Cause disclosures. Starting the end of 2018, however, Reasonable Cause disclosure experienced some resurgence due to the closure of the OVDP, sometimes for all the wrong reasons.

Reasonable Cause disclosure (a/k/a “Noisy Disclosure”) is based on the actual statutory language; it is not part of any IRS program. Special care must be taken in using this option, because this is a high-risk, high-reward option. If a taxpayer is able to satisfy his high burden of proof, then, he will be able to avoid IRS penalties. If the IRS audits the Reasonable Cause disclosure and disagrees, this taxpayer may face significant IRS penalties and, potentially, years of IRS litigation.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Analysis of Your 2019 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Options

If you have not been able to comply with your US international tax obligations concerning foreign assets and foreign income, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office for professional help.

Sherayzen Law Office is a leading international tax law firm in the area of offshore voluntary disclosures. Our highly specialized legal team, led by a known international tax attorney Mr. Eugene Sherayzen, has successfully helped hundreds of US taxpayers with assets in more than 70 countries to bring their tax affairs into full compliance with US tax laws.

We can Help You! Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

IRS Prioritizes Combating Offshore Tax Cheating | Offshore Tax Lawyer

On March 20, 2018, the IRS announced that offshore tax cheating – i.e. hiding money and other assets in unreported foreign accounts – remains on the IRS “Dirty Dozen” tax scams for the year 2018.

Offshore Tax Cheating: What is the “Dirty Dozen” List?

The IRS uses the “Dirty Dozen” list to describe various scams that a taxpayer may encounter and which form the focus of the IRS enforcement efforts. Some of these schemes peak during the tax filing season.

Illegal scams can lead to significant penalties and even possible criminal prosecution. The IRS Criminal Investigation Division works closely with the Department of Justice to shut down scams and prosecute the criminals behind them.

What is Offshore Tax Cheating?

In its most basic form, offshore tax cheating is a long-running scheme that uses foreign accounts to hide money in order to avoid paying US taxes. The taxpayers then use debit cards, credit cards or wire transfers to access the hidden accounts. More complex schemes include the usage of foreign corporations, foreign trusts, employee-leasing schemes, private annuities, insurance plans and other third-parties to conceal the real US owner of foreign accounts.

The most modern offshore tax cheating scheme has involved cryptocurrencies traded overseas and exchanged into a foreign currency by using an offshore account. The IRS has already begun addressing tax evasion based on virtual currencies, but we have not yet seen a fully-developed IRS enforcement in this area.

Offshore Tax Cheating is the Long-Standing Focus of the IRS

The IRS warns that taxpayers should be wary of these schemes, especially given the continuing focus on this issue by the IRS and the Justice Department.

In fact, since mid-2000s, offshore tax cheating has been one of the primary targets of the IRS. The IRS already conducted thousands of offshore-related civil audits that resulted in the payment of tens of millions of dollars in unpaid taxes. The IRS has also pursued criminal charges leading to billions of dollars in criminal fines and restitutions.

Every investigation yields important information that is used to learn about noncompliance patterns and commence other investigations. Some of these investigations may focus on bankers and financial advisors who helped set up a scheme that led to offshore tax cheating.

Offshore Voluntary Disclosure as a Way to Settle Prior Tax Noncompliance

If a taxpayer participated in scheme that the IRS may characterize as offshore tax cheating, he should consider doing a voluntary disclosure as soon as possible. It is very likely that the IRS will consider tax noncompliance associated with such a scheme as willful. Hence, the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (“OVDP”) may be the primary choice for such taxpayers.

In fact, according to the IRS, more than 56,400 disclosures were made through various versions of OVDP since 2009. The IRS collected more than $11.1 billion from the OVDP during that time period.

Additionally, more than 65,000 taxpayers who claimed that they were non-willful in their prior tax noncompliance participated in the Streamlined Compliance Procedures. As I stated above, however, a taxpayer should be very careful about participating in the Streamlined Compliance Procedures if he participated in a scheme that the IRS may classify as offshore tax cheating.

OVDP Will Close on September 28, 2018

Taxpayers who wish to participate in the OVDP should consult Sherayzen Law Office as soon possible. The IRS recently announced that the OVDP will close on September 28, 2018.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office if You Wish to do an Offshore Voluntary Disclosure That Involves a Scheme Classified as Offshore Tax Cheating

If you participated in a scheme that the IRS may classify as offshore tax cheating, you should contact Sherayzen Law Office to explore your voluntary disclosure options as soon as possible.

Sherayzen Law Office is a leading international tax law firm that specializes in offshore voluntary disclosures, including OVDP and Streamlined Compliance Procedures. We have helped hundreds of US taxpayers around the world to bring their US tax affairs into full compliance with US tax laws, and We Can Help You!

Contact Us Today to Schedule Your Confidential Consultation!

Secret Bank Accounts in Israel and Switzerland Result in a Guilty Plea

The earlier IRS and DOJ (U.S. Department of Justice) investigations of secret bank accounts in Israel and Switzerland continue to produce new guilty pleas. On September 28, 2016, Mr. Markus Hager, a New York City resident, pleaded guilty to tax evasion for the tax years 2003-2005 and 2007-2010 with respect to his secret bank accounts in Israel and Switzerland.

Facts of the Case: Secret Bank Accounts in Israel and Switzerland

The facts of the Hager case are somewhat typical, but contain an exhilarating story of Mr. Hager’s attempts to conceal his ownership of the account – the fact that the IRS and the DOJ were able to uncover the entire history of these transfers of his funds under different names is impressive.

According to information presented in court, between 1987 through 2011, Mr. Hager utilized various secret bank accounts in Israel and Switzerland to hide his foreign funds and foreign income from the IRS. In order to do it, he opened a sham BVI (British Virgin Islands) entity which owned three accounts (two of them were numbered accounts) at UBS. It appears that, until 2008, Mr. Hager also owned some fo his UBS accounts personally. By the end of 2004, the value of his undeclared UBS accounts exceeded $7.3 million.

With the IRS victory over UBS in 2008, Mr. Hager closed his UBS accounts and transferred all of his assets to a new opened account at Clariden Leu (which was already controlled at that time mostly by Credit Suisse; in 2012, the bank was integrated into the Credit Suisse corporate structure); the account was held in the name of his BVI entity.

Shortly thereafter, Mr. Hager closed the account at Clariden Leu and transferred the assets to a newly opened account held in the name of the BVI entity at a different Swiss bank. Mr. Hager caused that Swiss bank to falsely record Hager’s Belgian cousin as the owner of the assets on the account. Approximately six months later, he closed this account at the Swiss bank and transferred the assets to an account at a bank in Israel that Mr. Hager caused to be opened in the name of yet another Belgian cousin.

Between 2005 to 2011, Hager also controlled an undeclared bank account at Bank Leumi in Israel, which he falsely held under the name of a relative who was not a U.S. person and who resided outside the United States. In February of 2010, after obtaining an Israeli Identity Card, Hager opened an account in his own name at Bank Leumi in Israel but falsely reported that he lived in the United Kingdom and signed a document, under the penalty of perjury, declaring that he was not a U.S. citizen.

According to the information filed, Mr. Hager repatriated some of the funds from his secret bank accounts in Israel and Switzerland by having his attorney draft a sham loan agreement between himself and the BVI entity. The funds were wired from some of his undeclared bank accounts in Israel and Switzerland into the attorney’s escrow account.

During the relevant years, Mr. Hager filed false federal and New York State income tax returns on which he failed to report the income from his bank accounts in Israel and Switzerland and failed to pay tax on that income. It appears that Mr. Hager evaded approximately $652,580 in federal taxes for tax years 2003 through 2005 and 2007 through 2010. Hager also failed to file his FBAR even though an accounting firm had informed Hager of his obligation to do so and advised him of the civil and criminal penalties he could suffer for the failure to do so.

Sentencing for Failure to Disclose Assets and Income from Secret Bank Accounts in Israel and Switzerland

Sentencing has been set for January 4, 2017. Hager faces a statutory maximum sentence of five years in prison, as well as a term of supervised release and monetary penalties. According to the plea agreement, Hager agreed to pay restitution to the IRS. It is not clear if the FBAR penalty has been resolved by the plea.

Secret Bank Accounts in Israel and Switzerland: Lessons from the Hager Case

The Hager Case contains a full range of facts that lead to a criminal prosecution by the DOJ: the use of a sham foreign corporation in a tax shelter, the conscious and intentional effort to conceal the ownership of the funds by closing and opening bank accounts under different names, the failure to report the ownership of secret bank accounts in Israel and Switzerland even after Mr. Hager was advised by his accounting firms about the existence of the FBAR and its penalties, the failure to report the income from accounts, the filing of false tax returns and the repatriation of funds through a sham loan agreement and using his attorney’s escrow account. All of these items are a checklist of things that one should not do in order to avoid a DOJ criminal prosecution.

One interesting aspect of this case is the number of years for which Mr. Hager was charged with tax evasion. Apparently his especially egregious conduct had earned a total of seven years instead of the usual five years of counts of tax evasion. It is also interesting that the year 2006 was skipped in the plea; it is not clear from the plea why this was the case. My supposition is that the omission of the tax year 2006 was related to the statute of limitations concerns.

Contact Sherayzen Law Office for Professional Help with Disclosure of Your Bank accounts in Israel and Switzerland

If you have undisclosed bank account in Israel, Switzerland or any other country, please contact Sherayzen Law Office, Ltd. for help as soon as possible. Attorney Eugene Sherayzen and his highly-knowledgeable team of tax professionals have helped hundreds of U.S. taxpayers around the world to bring their tax affairs into compliance. You can also benefit from their knowledge, experience, creativity and devotion to their clients’ cases by scheduling a Confidential Consultation today!

Hapoalim Prepares for Settlement with DOJ | FATCA Tax Attorney

On October 6, 2016, Israeli bank Hapoalim Ltd. announced that, in order to cover the costs of a future settlement with the US Department of Justice (DOJ), it will add a $70 million charge to an existing $50 million provision in its third-quarter results. The expected settlement will cover Hapoalim’s role in helping US tax residents to evade their US tax obligations.

In its news release, Hapoalim stated that its representatives held an initial discussion with the DOJ on September 30, 2016, to discuss the future settlement. The bank did not indicate whether $120 million in charges that it booked to date is the actual amount that Hapoalim will pay under its settlement with the DOJ. Rather, the news release emphasizes the uncertainty that still exists with respect to the actual amount.

The issue of the DOJ investigation dates back to the year 2011. In its recent (June 30, 2016) financial statements Hapoalim confirmed that its Swiss subsidiary Bank Hapoalim (Switzerland) Ltd. had been notified by Swiss authorities in 2011 that it was being investigated by the US government as a result of the DOJ’s suspicions that the bank had assisted US clients in evading federal taxes. The Swiss subsidiary could not resolve this issue in 2013 in the DOJ’s Swiss Bank Program due to the fact that it could not be classified as a Category 2 bank.

It is important to remember that the DOJ is not the only institution that is going after Hapoalim. The State of New York is conducting its own review. In its news release, Hapoalim indicated that the $120 million charge is not related to the New York investigation.

While all of this legal uncertainty makes it difficult for Hapoalim to assess its future liability under any deferred prosecution agreement, one can compare its situation with Bank Leumi. In 2014, Bank Leumi Group entered into a Deferred Prosecution Agreement with the DOJ under which it paid $270 million ($157 million of this penalty was allocated to Bank Leumi’s Swiss accounts held by US taxpayers).

If we rely on this precedent, it appears that Hapoalim is greatly underestimating its penalty, because Bank Leumi and Hapoalim are fairly similar in size as well as their actions in soliciting US clients. One also must not forget about the possible future indictments of Hapoalim’s employees (at least in the United States) by the DOJ.