IRS Reveals an Aggressive Offshore Tax Enforcement Strategy (2018)
IRS Reveals an Aggressive Offshore Tax Enforcement Strategy (2018)
If you have been following our website over the past year or two, we have been writing extensively on issues involving international criminal tax, tax evasion, tax fraud, and cash structuring, etc.
Here are few links to some related resources:
- Offshore Tax Evasion Examples
- International Tax Crime
- Cryptocurrency Tax Basics
- Cryptocurrency International Reporting
- Cash Structuring Transaction Case Study
- FATCA, Tax Evasion & Money Laundering Case Study
The IRS Has Been Strategizing
While we don’t have a crystal ball, in recent months it has become evident from the recent IRS and DOJ developments that the IRS is ramping up enforcement of offshore tax related matters. Especially since the IRS has been cooperating with many of the world’s other superpowers, in developing strategies to aggressively enforce offshore and foreign tax matters.
Since the penalties associated with misrepresenting, or omitting foreign income, accounts, assets or investments to the IRS can be severe, it is important to be aware of the recent IRS trends – which leads us to one brief preliminary issue facing many taxpayers as of lately.
Were You Convinced To Go Streamlined When You Were Willful
There are a handful of general practitioner tax firms that we are aware have submitted individuals to the streamlined program (which is strictly for people who were non-willful) when both the client and Attorney knew they were willful. This opens the clients up to potentially very serious tax and criminal consequences.
Over the last year, several clients have contacted us after dealing with the same few general tax firms, and are now stuck in a major rut.
Oftentimes the attorneys are general tax practitioners who bait you in with a free initial consultation, intentionally misinform you about Offshore Disclosure, collect their fees, and leave you in a worse position than when you started.
The IRS Has Been Planning its Strategy for Years
Here is a breakdown/timeline of how over the past 5-10 years, the IRS has steadily brought Offshore Tax Evasion enforcement to the forefront.
FATCA is the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. It was developed in 2010, and enforcement began in 2014. More than 110 countries and 300,000 Foreign Financial Institutions have entered into agreements and have already started providing U.S. account holder information to the IRS.
The IRS wanted to find a way to obtain US account holder information regarding foreign money, investments, assets, income, and accounts that US account holders had overseas, but never reported to the IRS. By having foreign countries disclose this information to the IRS, the IRS does not need to rely upon individuals to voluntarily disclose this information in the same manner they did when the OVDP ‘program’ was initiated in 2009.
Result of FATCA
In March of 2018, the IRS announced that OVDP was terminating on September 28, 2018. Therefore, after September 28, 2018 if you were willful or acted with reckless disregard, you will no longer have the opportunity to disclose voluntarily through the traditional OVDP Program. There is another alternative available, but it is not as straightforward as OVDP.
The IRS has not developed any substitute program for OVDP.
International Tax Enforcement Groups
International Tax Enforcement Group Background
Over the last year, the Internal Revenue has developed several International tax enforcement groups. The purpose of these enforcement groups is to train agents specifically on very complex international tax issues so that each particular group has their own focus. Each group will be highly-trained and dedicated to examining individuals/businesses that are out of compliance for not filing and/or for making intentional misrepresentations or omissions to the IRS on very specific international tax issues.
International Tax Enforcement Group Strategy
Instead of having to train agents for OVDP — requiring the agents to have knowledge on many different areas of tax law they may encounter during an OVDP case — the IRS is splitting agents into different groups, and providing them expert training on various complex international tax issues, with each group focusing on one or two specific issues.
International Tax Enforcement Group Result
These IRS agents will presumably uncover the fraud or non-reporting of foreign money and then initiate an audit, examination or referral to an IRS criminal investigation before the person has a chance to “voluntarily disclose.”
OVDP Ends on September 28, 2018
OVDP — Background
The traditional OVDP program has been in existence since 2009 (when it was called OVDI). Since then, the program has morphed multiple times, with increased penalties, increased reporting responsibilities, and more comprehensive disclosure requirements.
OVDP — Strategy
The goal of OVDP was to provide applicants with an opportunity to get into compliance before it was too late. Just as important, it was an opportunity for the IRS to uncover new tax scams, tax havens and other methods for hiding foreign money that the IRS was not previously aware of.
Ending OVDP Result
The IRS has developed offshore enforcement alternatives which includes more comprehensive (and cost-effective) methods for obtaining the information, and OVDP is no longer necessary to the IRS.
DOJ Requests Funding for an Offshore Tax Evasion Division
DOJ Offshore Tax Evasion Background
Recently, the Department of Justice made a request for funding in order to develop five attorneys and one paralegal focused specifically on offshore tax evasion.
As provided in the budget request
“The Department of Justice is seeking more than a half-million dollars in order to structure a team of five (5) attorneys with the sole intent of locating and enforcing offshore compliance. DOJ has made it clear that offshore tax evasion is one of the top litigation priorities.
“Use of foreign tax havens by U.S. taxpayers has been on the rise, aided by increasingly sophisticated financial instruments and the ease of moving money around the globe, irrespective of national borders. While the Division’s enforcement focused initially on cross-border activities in Switzerland, it has expanded to include wrongdoing by U.S. accountholders, financial institutions, and other facilitators globally, including publicly disclosed enforcement concerning banking activities in India, Israel, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Belize, Hong Kong and the Caribbean.”
DOJ Offshore Tax Evasion Strategy
The DOJ’s goal is to develop a highly trained team of tax attorneys with laser focus on uncovering, analyzing, investigating and possibly indicting individuals guilty of offshore tax related matters.
It would appear the process would include the following: one of the several tax enforcement groups uncovers information leading to offshore tax evasion and refers the matter to the Department of Justice. Thereafter, the U.S. Government as a whole will be fully equipped to provide a full-court press against any individual, or individuals committing tax evasion.
DOJ Offshore Tax Evasion Result
It will be much harder to avoid a criminal investigation for offshore tax related matters.
J5: The Next Piece to the Puzzle
J5 – Background
Since offshore tax division is becoming a global epidemic, it would only make sense that many of the nation superpowers have banned together to develop a plan to enforce offshore tax related matters.
The name of the enforcement group is J5, and consists of the heads of tax crime and senior officials from multiple organizations such as:
- Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC)
- Australian Taxation Office (ATO)
- Canada Revenue Agency (CRA),
- Dutch Fiscal Information and Investigation Service (FIOD)
- Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC), and
- Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI).
What is important to note, is the group was founded in accordance with concerns made by Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
In addition to FATCA, there is another offshore enforcement initiative called CRS. CRS is the Common Reporting Standard. Interestingly, while many countries have agreed to enforce CRS through (AEOI aka Automatic Exchange of Information), the United States is not yet one of the countries that has signed onto CRS…
…Nevertheless, the U.S. has agreed to participate in J-5, which may be a sign of things to come.
The IRS wants to align itself with various superpowers worldwide in order to make sure it gets its piece of the pie regarding offshore tax evasion income it has already missed out on.
Moreover, it also shows that the IRS is serious when it comes to offshore tax evasion, and that combined with the proceeding paragraphs, it is clear that once the IRS finds you and uncovers your undisclosed foreign accounts — you may be in big trouble.
As an individual with unreported foreign accounts, income, asset, or investments, it is important that you research this area of law before taking any action, interview experienced IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Attorneys, and consider entering the traditional Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program before it is too late.
What If the IRS Finds Me First?
If the IRS finds you first and you are under audit or examination, you are disqualified from entering any of the programs. In addition, the IRS can issue severe fines and penalties against you, including:
IRS Offshore Penalty List
A Penalty for failing to file FBARs
United States citizens, residents and certain other persons must annually report their direct or indirect financial interest in, or signature authority (or other authority that is comparable to signature authority) over, a financial account that is maintained with a financial institution located in a foreign country if, for any calendar year, the aggregate value of all foreign financial accounts exceeded $10,000 at any time during the year. The civil penalty for willfully failing to file an FBAR can be as high as the greater of $100,000 or 50 percent of the total balance of the foreign financial account per violation. See 31 U.S.C. § 5321(a)(5). Non-willful violations that the IRS determines were not due to reasonable cause are subject to a $10,000 penalty per violation.
FATCA Form 8938
Beginning with the 2011 tax year, a penalty for failing to file Form 8938 reporting the taxpayer’s interest in certain foreign financial assets, including financial accounts, certain foreign securities, and interests in foreign entities, as required by IRC § 6038D. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns is $10,000, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency, up to a maximum of $50,000 per return.
A Penalty for failing to file Form 3520
Annual Return to Report Transactions With Foreign Trusts and Receipt of Certain Foreign Gifts. Taxpayers must also report various transactions involving foreign trusts, including creation of a foreign trust by a United States person, transfers of property from a United States person to a foreign trust and receipt of distributions from foreign trusts under IRC § 6048. This return also reports the receipt of gifts from foreign entities under IRC § 6039F. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns, or for filing an incomplete return, is the greater of $10,000 or 35 percent of the gross reportable amount, except for returns reporting gifts, where the penalty is five percent of the gift per month, up to a maximum penalty of 25 percent of the gift.
A Penalty for failing to file Form 3520-A
Information Return of Foreign Trust With a U.S. Owner. Taxpayers must also report ownership interests in foreign trusts, by United States persons with various interests in and powers over those trusts under IRC § 6048(b). The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns or for filing an incomplete return, is the greater of $10,000 or 5 percent of the gross value of trust assets determined to be owned by the United States person.
A Penalty for failing to file Form 5471
Information Return of U.S. Persons with Respect to Certain Foreign Corporations. Certain United States persons who are officers, directors or shareholders in certain foreign corporations (including International Business Corporations) are required to report information under IRC §§ 6035, 6038 and 6046. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns is $10,000, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency, up to a maximum of $50,000 per return.
A Penalty for failing to file Form 5472
Information Return of a 25% Foreign-Owned U.S. Corporation or a Foreign Corporation Engaged in a U.S. Trade or Business. Taxpayers may be required to report transactions between a 25 percent foreign-owned domestic corporation or a foreign corporation engaged in a trade or business in the United States and a related party as required by IRC §§ 6038A and 6038C. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns, or to keep certain records regarding reportable transactions, is $10,000, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency.
A Penalty for failing to file Form 926
Return by a U.S. Transferor of Property to a Foreign Corporation. Taxpayers are required to report transfers of property to foreign corporations and other information under IRC § 6038B. The penalty for failing to file each one of these information returns is ten percent of the value of the property transferred, up to a maximum of $100,000 per return, with no limit if the failure to report the transfer was intentional.
A Penalty for failing to file Form 8865
Return of U.S. Persons With Respect to Certain Foreign Partnerships. United States persons with certain interests in foreign partnerships use this form to report interests in and transactions of the foreign partnerships, transfers of property to the foreign partnerships, and acquisitions, dispositions and changes in foreign partnership interests under IRC §§ 6038, 6038B, and 6046A. Penalties include $10,000 for failure to file each return, with an additional $10,000 added for each month the failure continues beginning 90 days after the taxpayer is notified of the delinquency, up to a maximum of $50,000 per return, and ten percent of the value of any transferred property that is not reported, subject to a $100,000 limit.
Fraud penalties imposed under IRC §§ 6651(f) or 6663
Where an underpayment of tax, or a failure to file a tax return, is due to fraud, the taxpayer is liable for penalties that, although calculated differently, essentially amount to 75 percent of the unpaid tax.
A Penalty for failing to file a tax return imposed under IRC § 6651(a)(1)
Generally, taxpayers are required to file income tax returns. If a taxpayer fails to do so, a penalty of 5 percent of the balance due, plus an additional 5 percent for each month or fraction thereof during which the failure continues may be imposed. The penalty shall not exceed 25 percent.
A Penalty for failing to pay the amount of tax shown on the return under IRC § 6651(a)(2)
If a taxpayer fails to pay the amount of tax shown on the return, he or she may be liable for a penalty of .5 percent of the amount of tax shown on the return, plus an additional .5 percent for each additional month or fraction thereof that the amount remains unpaid, not exceeding 25 percent.
An Accuracy-Related Penalty on underpayments imposed under IRC § 6662
Depending upon which component of the accuracy-related penalty is applicable, a taxpayer may be liable for a 20 percent or 40 percent penalty
Possible Criminal Charges related to tax matters include tax evasion (IRC § 7201)
Filing a false return (IRC § 7206(1)) and failure to file an income tax return (IRC § 7203). Willfully failing to file an FBAR and willfully filing a false FBAR are both violations that are subject to criminal penalties under 31 U.S.C. § 5322. Additional possible criminal charges include conspiracy to defraud the government with respect to claims (18 U.S.C. § 286) and conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud the United States (18 U.S.C. § 371).
A person convicted of tax evasion
Filing a false return subjects a person to a prison term of up to three years and a fine of up to $250,000. A person who fails to file a tax return is subject to a prison term of up to one year and a fine of up to $100,000. Failing to file an FBAR subjects a person to a prison term of up to ten years and criminal penalties of up to $500,000. A person convicted of conspiracy to defraud the government with respect to claims is subject to a prison term of up to not more than 10 years or a fine of up to $250,000. A person convicted of conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud the United States is subject to a prison term of not more than five years and a fine of up to $250,000.
IRS Voluntary Disclosure of Offshore Accounts
Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Tax law is very complex. There are many aspects that go into any particular tax calculation, including the legal status, marital status, business status and residence status of the taxpayer.
When Do I Need to Use Voluntary Disclosure?
Voluntary Disclosure is for individuals, estates, and businesses who are out of compliance with the IRS and the Department of Treasury. What does that mean? It means that for one or more years, you were required to file a U.S. tax return, FBAR or other International Informational Return and you did not do so timely, then you are out of compliance.
Common Un-filed IRS International Tax Forms
Common un-filed international tax forms, include:
- 1040 (Tax Returns)
- Schedule B (Ownership or Signature Authority over Foreign Accounts)
- FBAR (FinCEN 114)
- FATCA (Form 8938)
- Form 3520 (Gift from Foreign Person)
- Form 5471 (Foreign Corporations)
- Form 8621 (Foreign Investments, aka PFIC)
- Form 8865 (Foreign Partnership)
If the IRS discovers that you are out of compliance, you may become subject to extensive fines and penalties – ranging from a warning letter all the way up to tax liens, tax levies, seizures, and criminal investigations. To combat this, you can take the proactive approach and submit to IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure.
Getting into Compliance
There are five main methods people/businesses use to get into compliance. Four of these methods are perfectly legitimate as long as you meet the requirements for the particular mechanism of disclosure. The fifth alternative, which is called a Quiet Disclosure a.k.a. Silent Disclosure a.k.a. Soft Disclosure, is ill-advised as it is illegal and very well may result in criminal prosecution.
5 IRS Methods for Offshore Compliance
- Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures
- Streamlined Foreign Offshore Procedures
- Reasonable Cause
- Quiet Disclosure (Illegal)
We are going to provide a brief summary of each program below. We have also included links to the specific programs. If you are interested, we have also prepared very popular “FAQs from the Trenches” for FBAR, OVDP and Streamlined Disclosure reporting. Unlike the technical jargon of the IRS FAQs, our FAQs are based on the hundreds of different types of issues we have handled over the many years that we have been practicing international tax law and offshore disclosure in particular.
After reading this webpage, we hope you develop a basic understanding of each offshore disclosure alternative and how it may benefit you to get into compliance. We do not recommend attempting to disclose the information yourself as you may become subject to an IRS investigation insofar as you will have to answer questions directly to the IRS, which you can avoid with an attorney representative.
If you retain an attorney, then you will get the benefit of the attorney-client privilege which provides confidentiality between you and your representative. With a CPA, there is a relatively small privilege which does provide some comfort, but the privilege is nowhere near as strong as the confidentiality privilege you enjoy with an attorney.
Since you will be dealing with the Internal Revenue Service and they are not known to play nice or fair – it is in your best interest to obtain an experienced Offshore Disclosure Attorney.
OVDP is the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program — a program designed to facilitate taxpayer compliance with IRS, DOT, and DOJ International Tax Reporting and Compliance. It is generally reserved for individuals and businesses who were “Willful” (aka intentional) in their failure to comply with U.S. Government Laws and Regulations.
The Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program is open to any US taxpayer who has offshore and foreign accounts and has not reported the financial information to the Internal Revenue Service (restrictions apply). There are some basic program requirements, with the main one being that the person/business who is applying under this amnesty program is not currently under IRS examination.
The reason is simple: OVDP is a voluntary program and if you are only entering because you are already under IRS examination, then technically, you are not voluntarily entering the program – rather, you are doing so under duress.
Any account that would have to be included on either the FBAR or 8938 form as well as additional income generating assets such as rental properties are accounts that qualify under OVDP. It should be noted that the requirements are different for the modified streamlined program, in which the taxpayer penalties are limited to only assets that are actually listed on either an FBAR or 8938 form; thus the value of a rental property would not be calculated into the penalty amount in a streamlined application, but it would be applicable in an OVDP submission.
An OVDP submission involves the failure of a taxpayer(s) to report foreign and overseas accounts such as: Foreign Bank Accounts, Foreign Financial Accounts, Foreign Retirement Accounts, Foreign Trading Accounts, Foreign Insurance, and Foreign Income, including 8938s, FBAR, Schedule B, 5741, 3520, and more.
What is Included in the Full OVDP Submission?
The full OVDP application includes:
- Eight (8) years of Amended Tax Return filings;
- Eight (8) Years of FBAR (Foreign Bank and Account Reporting Statements);
- Penalty Computation Worksheet; and
- Various OVDP specific documents in support of the application.
Under this program, the Internal Revenue Service wants to know all of the income that was generated under these accounts that were not properly reported previously. The way the taxpayer accomplishes this is by amending tax returns for eight years.
Generally, if the taxpayer has not previously reported his accounts, then there are common forms which were probably excluded from the prior year’s tax returns and include 8938 Forms, Schedule B forms, 3520 Forms, 5471 Forms, 8621 Forms, as well as proof of filing of FBARs (Foreign Bank and Financial Account Reports).
The taxpayer is required to pay the outstanding tax liability for the eight years within the disclosure period – as well as payment of interest along with another 20% penalty on that amount (for nonpayment of tax). To give you an example, let’s pick one tax year during the compliance period. If the taxpayer owed $20,000 in taxes for year 2014, then they would also have to include in the check the amount of $4,000 to cover the 20% penalty, as well as estimated interest (which is generally averaged at about 3% per year). This must be done for each year during the compliance period.
Then there is the “FBAR/8938” Penalty. The Penalty is 27.5% (or 50% if any of the foreign accounts are held at an IRS “Bad Bank”) on the highest year’s “annual aggregate total” of unreported accounts (accounts which were previously reported are not calculated into the penalty amount).
For OVDP, the annual aggregate total is determined by adding the “maximum value” of each unreported account for each year, in each of the last 8 years. To determine what the maximum value is, the taxpayer will add up the highest balances of all of their accounts for each year. In other words, for each tax year within the compliance period, the application will locate the highest balance for each account for each year, and total up the values to determine the maximum value for each year.
Thereafter, the OVDP applicant selects the highest year’s value, and multiplies it by either 27.5%, or possibly 50% if any of the money was being held in what the IRS considers to be one of the “bad banks.” When a person is completing the penalty portion of the application, the two most important things are to breathe and remember that by entering the program, the applicant is seeking to avoid criminal prosecution!
2. Streamlined Domestic Offshore Disclosure
The Streamlined Domestic Offshore Disclosure Program is a highly cost-effective method of quickly getting you into IRS (Internal Revenue Service) or DOT (Department of Treasury) compliance.
What am I supposed to Report?
There are three main reporting aspects: (1) foreign account(s), (2) certain specified assets, and (3) foreign money. While the IRS or DOJ will most likely not be kicking in your door and arresting you on the spot for failing to report, there are significantly high penalties associated with failing to comply.
In fact, the US government has the right to penalize you upwards of $10,000 per unreported account, per year for a six-year period if you are non-willful. If you are determined to be willful, the penalties can reach 100% value of the foreign accounts, including many other fines and penalties… not the least being a criminal investigation.
Reporting Specified Foreign Assets – FATCA Form 8938
Not all foreign assets must be reported. With that said, a majority of assets do have to be reported on a form 8938. For example, if you have ownership of a foreign business interest or investment such as a limited liability share of a foreign corporation, it may not need to be reported on the FBAR but may need to be disclosed on an 8938.
The reason why you may get caught in the middle of whether it must be filed or not is due largely to the reporting thresholds of the 8938. For example, while the threshold requirements for the FBAR is when the foreign accounts exceed $10,000 in annual aggregate total – and is not impacted by marital status and country of residence – the same is not true of the 8938.
The threshold requirements for filing the 8938 will depend on whether you are married filing jointly or married filing separate/single, or whether you are considered a US resident or foreign resident.
Other Forms – Foreign Business
While the FBAR and Form 8938 are the two most common forms, please keep in mind that there are many other forms that may need to be filed based on your specific facts and circumstances. For example:
- If you are the Beneficiary of a foreign trust or receive a foreign gift, you may have to file Form 3520.
- If you are the Owner of a foreign trust, you will also have to file Form 3520-A.
- If you have certain Ownerships of a foreign corporation, you have to file Form 5471.
- And (regrettably) if you fall into the unfortunate category of owning foreign mutual funds or any other Passive Foreign Investment Companies then you will have to file Form 8621 and possibly be subject to significant tax liabilities in accordance with excess distributions.
Reporting Foreign Income
If you are considered a US tax resident (which normally means you are a US citizen, Legal Permanent Resident/Green-Card Holder or Foreign National subject to US tax under the substantial presence test), then you will be taxed on your worldwide Income.
It does not matter if you earned the money in a foreign country or if it is the type of income that is not taxed in the country of origin such as interest income in Asian countries. The fact of the matter is you are required to report this information on your US tax return and pay any differential in tax that might be due.
In other words, if you earn $100,000 USD in Japan and paid 25% tax ($25,000) in Japan, you would receive a $25,000 tax credit against your foreign earnings. Thus, if your US tax liability is less than $25,000, then you will receive a carryover to use in future years against foreign income (you do not get a refund and it cannot be used against US income). If you have to pay the exact same in the United States as you did in Japan, it would equal itself out. If you would owe more money in the United States than you paid in Japan on the earnings (a.k.a. you are in a higher tax bracket), then you have to pay the difference to the U.S. Government.
3. Streamlined Foreign Offshore Disclosure
What do you do if you reside outside of the United States and recently learned that you’re out of US tax compliance, have no idea what FATCA or FBAR means, and are under the misimpression that you are going to be arrested and hauled off to jail due to irresponsible blogging by inexperienced attorneys and accountants?
If you live overseas and qualify as a foreign resident (reside outside of the United States for at least 330 days in any one of the last three tax years or do not meet the Substantial Presence Test), you may be in for a pleasant surprise.
Even though you may be completely out of US tax and reporting compliance, you may qualify for a penalty waiver and ALL of your disclosure penalties would be waived. Thus, all you will have to do besides reporting and disclosing the information is pay any outstanding tax liability and interest, if any is due. (Your foreign tax credit may offset any US taxes and you may end up with zero penalty and zero tax liability.)
*Under the Streamlined Foreign, you also have to amend or file 3 years of tax returns (and 8938s if applicable) as well as 6 years of FBAR statements just as in the Streamlined Domestic program.
4. Reasonable Cause
Reasonable Cause is different than the above referenced programs. Reasonable Cause is not a “program.” Rather, it is an alternative to traditional Offshore Voluntary Disclosure, which should be considered on a case by case basis, taking the specific facts and circumstances into consideration.
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