Panama Papers: The Case for FATCA Global Adoption

The disclosure of the Panama Papers promises to cause global unrest as exemplified by the recent protests in Iceland.  As more and more leaders are tied to illicit offshore bank accounts, continued unrest is sure to follow.  FATCA, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act, at first appeared to be a time-consuming nuisance for banks is now proving to be a potent weapon of democratic society.

FATCA was implemented to target non-compliant United States taxpayers by forcing banks around the world to report bank balances of U.S. taxpayers to the United States government. U.S. taxpayers of every type must come forward and not only declare foreign accounts but also pay undeclared tax.  It forces all U.S. taxpayers to play by the same rules.  A true democracy cannot be had unless monetary rules are leveled for all involved.

The reportable bank balances are those of United States taxpayers, but not of foreign nationals who have no duty to report under United States laws.  As a result, many of those identified in the Panama Papers were unlikely reportable taxpayers pursuant to FATCA.  Consequently, countries throughout the world would find it prudent to contemplate adopting a FATCA-like disclosure model to maintain peace, disrupt political corruption, and level the monetary playing field.

What is a “Willful” Failure to Disclose Offshore Bank Account

This is the central question as to whether a taxpayer enters Offshore Voluntary Disclosure or Streamline.  It also fixes potential penalties under 31 U.S.C. §5321.

31 U.S.C. 5314 is the statute that requires reporting of foreign bank accounts.  Pursuant to the statute, reporting is required by the following:

  1. a United States Citizen,
  2. a resident of the United States or
  3. a person in, and doing business in the United States.

Incidentally, the term “person” has broad meaning, which includes corporations.

Pursuant to 31 U.S.C. §5321, the amount of penalty shall not exceed $10,000 unless the case is “willful“.  In cases of willfulness, the maximum penalty increases to the greater of  $100,000 or 50 percent of the account balance.  It is also noteworthy that, pursuant to subsection (d), a criminal penalty may be stacked on top of this civil penalty.

A lot is riding on the meaning of “willful” so let’s turn our focus to it.  If you would like to read what is required of the Secretary of Treasure to prove an FBAR case, click here to read the 7 elements.

Legal standard and Burden of Proof

To affix the civil penalty under 31 U.S.C. §5321 the Secretary of Treasury must establish willfulness by the preponderance of the evidence.  This is a lower standard than beyond a reasonable doubt.  The Burden of Proof is on the United States Government.

Meaning of “Willful”

31 U.S.C. §5321 does not define “willful”.  In United States of America v. McBride, 908 F. Supp. 1186 (D.Utah 2012), The United State District Court analyzed the meaning of “willful” as it is used in 31 U.S.C. §5321.  The Court gave heavy weight to the fact that taxpayer signed the tax return.

Signature alone is sufficient proof of a taxpayer’s knowledge of the instructions contained in the tax return form and in other contexts, the Court stated.  This is an inference of “willful” conduct by mere signature alone. The Court went on to analyze the proposition that signature by itself does not prove knowledge, but knowledge may be inferred from the signature and the signature is prima facie evidence that the signer knows the contents of the return.

In either case, taxpayer’s signature shifts the burden of proof to taxpayer to prove non-willfulness.  The Court held that knowledge of the law, including knowledge of the FBAR, requirements, is imputed to taxpayer, which is sufficient to inform taxpayer of the requirement to file Form TD F 90-22.1.  The Court held that signature alone imputed knowledge to taxpayer of the FBAR requirement.

It is noteworthy that the Court analyzed taxpayer’s credibility in detail.  Taxpayer alleged that he did not know he had a legal duty to file FBAR’s, which is common and understandable assertion.  Rather than just dismiss this argument on the basis of his signature on tax return, the Court found taxpayer not credible because of prior testimonial inconsistencies.

Implicitly, there is a defense that taxpayer did not know of FBAR requirements despite signature on a tax return.  After all a signature is prima facie evidence of willfulness, not the end-all and be-all of willfulness.

In the end, “willfulness” is determined by the facts and circumstances of each case that must be analyzed in the context of that particular time period in question.

 

Partnership Basis in Contributed Promissory Notes and Guarantees: Tax Tips

Partners of a partnership sometimes contribute promissory notes to the partnership.  As an example, a partner drafts a note payable to the partnership promising to pay the partnership a sum of money.  The question then becomes whether the partner has an increase in partner basis for this.  The other question is what is the partnership’s basis in the promissory note.

Another related scenario is where a partner guarantees a partnership debt owed to a third party.  The question is whether this guarantee increases the basis of the partner in the partnership.

Partnerships don’t pay income tax, but they do file  information returns, and partners are supposed to use the numbers from those returns on their own individual returns. See IRC secs. 701, 6031, 6222(a).  Partnership basis is important because it determines where a distribution such as cash is taxed or not.  It also determines the amount of taxable gain or loss upon sale. An increase in a partner’s basis is desirable.  We provide legal and tax services to partnerships.

The value of what a partner contributes to his partnership can be tricky when he contributes something other than cash–like promissory notes or guarantees. a partnership’s basis in property contributed by a partner is the adjusted basis of that property in the hands of the contributing partner at the time of the contribution. IRC sec. 723.

The Tax Court has held that the contribution of a partner’s own note to his partnership isn’t the equivalent of a contribution of cash, and without more, it will not increase his basis in his partnership interest. See Dakotah Hills Offices Ltd. P’ship v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 1998-134, 75 T.C.M. (CCH) 2122.

As such, the partner’s basis does not increase and the partnership’s basis in the notes is zero.

However, a guarantee of a partnership debt to a third party does increase a partner’s basis.

For example, in Gefen v. Commissioner, 87 T.C. 1471 (1986) a partner executed a limited guaranty as a condition of her acquisition of an interest in a limited partnership. Under its terms, she assumed personal liability to the partnership’s existing creditor for her pro rata share of the partnership’s recourse indebtedness to that creditor. She also agreed that the partnership could
call on her to contribute to the partnership an amount equal to the partnership’s outstanding debt.  The Tax Court upheld the partner’s increase in basis for her limited guarantee.

This can be a tricky area.  However, here are tax tips:

  1. Consider guaranteeing a preexisting third party debt rather than contributing a promissory note to the partnership.
  2. Document that the partner is providing personal credit to partnership vendors.
  3. The partner should be obliged to make additional contributions under the guarantee.
  4. The guarantee must create a liability to a third party, not the partnership.

Breaking News: IRS Changes to the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP)

IRS Reduces OVDP Penalty to 5% in non-willful offshore compliance cases.

For eligible U.S. taxpayers residing in the United States, the only penalty will be a miscellaneous offshore penalty equal to 5 percent of the foreign financial assets that gave rise to the tax compliance issue.

Other positive changes for taxpayers living in the United States:

  • Eliminating a requirement that the taxpayer have $1,500 or less of unpaid tax per year;
  • Eliminating the required risk questionnaire;
  • Requiring the taxpayer to certify that previous failures to comply were due to non-willful conduct.

The IRS increases its effort to make OVDP accessible to everyone.  This is a step in the right direction.  The goal is to get taxpayers in compliance.

Non-willful conduct is conduct that is due to negligence, inadvertence, or mistake or conduct that is the result of a good faith misunderstanding of the requirements of the law.

Other good news: If you made an OVDP submission prior to July 1, 2014 you may elect to have your case considered under Streamline so long as a closing agreement has not been executed.

We specialize in Offshore Account Compliance. We represent taxpayers entering the 2012 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative Program (OVDP)

See our page on OVDP / OVDI

Please contact Tax Attorney Philip Falco, Attorney, CPA to discuss these new measures and how they apply to you (303) 626-7000.

 

Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (OVDI) (OVDP) Program

The clock is ticking on this tax amnesty program provided by the IRS.

Countries from around the world have disclosed or are in the process of disclosing United States account holder information.  If a taxpayer is caught before entering OVDI / OVDP the penalties are draconian.  Penalties likely include criminal prosecution.

If the taxpayer has offshore accounts or properties, it is critical that the taxpayer speak with a tax attorney and not an accountant.  The accountant privilege does not apply to criminal proceedings.  However, the attorney-client privilege does apply to criminal proceedings.  The accountant could be subpoenaed to testify against the taxpayer at the criminal trial.

As a duly licensed Attorney and Certified Public Accountant, Philip Falco will work on your case to gain acceptance in OVDI / OVDP.

Quiet disclosures are not the answer.  This is where a taxpayer begins to file proper schedules on his or her tax return without entering OVDI / OVDP.  The IRS has specifically reserved the right to pursue criminal prosecution in these cases.

Because of the vast disclosures from foreign countries, participation in OVDI / OVDP is becoming more difficult every day.

The disclosures required for  OVDI / OVDP are massive and must be done precisely.  The worst fear would be accusation of a half-truth facing criminal prosecution.

We can prepare the required amendments to your returns and prepare the complete package to the IRS as required by OVDI / OVDP.

In the opinion of Philip Falco, Attorney, CPA, the offshore initiative is the most significant tax development since the 1986 revisions to the internal revenue code that cracked down on tax shelters (revisions to passive activities and at-risk tax rules).

See our page on OVDP / OVDI

 

IRS Pre-Audit Investigations

Audit “Flags” – Straight from the Internal Revenue Manual

Large Unusual Questionable Items (LUQs)

The definition of a large, unusual, or questionable item will depend on the examiner’s perception of the return as a whole and the separate items that comprise the return. Some factors to be considered when identifying LUQs are:

  1. Comparative size of the item — an expense item of $6,000.00 with total expenses of $30,000.00 would be a large item; however, if total expenses are $300,000.00, the item would not be generally considered a large item.
  2. Absolute size of the item — despite the comparability factor, size by itself may be significant. For example, a $50,000 item may be significant even though it represents a small percentage of taxable income.
  3. Inherent character of the item — although the amount of an item may be insignificant, the nature of the item may be significant; e.g., airplane expenses claimed on a plumber’s Schedule C.
  4. Evidence of intent to mislead — this may include missing schedules, incomplete schedules, misclassified entries, or obviously incorrect items on the return.
  5. Beneficial effect of the manner in which an item is reported — expenses claimed on a business schedule rather than claimed as an itemized deduction.
  6. Relationship to other items — incomplete transactions identified on the tax return. For example, the taxpayer reported sales of stock but no dividend income.
  7. Whipsaw issues — occur when there is a transaction between two parties and characteristics of the transaction will benefit one party and harm the other. Examples include alimony vs. child support, sale vs. rental/royalty, employee vs. independent contractor, gift vs. income.
  8. Missing items — consideration should be given to items which are not shown on the return but would normally appear on the returns of similar taxpayers. This applies not only to the examination of income, but also to expenses, deductions, etc., that would result in tax changes favorable to the taxpayer.

The foregoing is an excerpt from the Internal Revenue Manual.  These are some of the recommended procedures to IRS Agents when doing background work before a taxpayer is contacted.

The tax return would have been flagged already.  It is now in the hands of the scrutinizing IRS Agent.  These are some of the items the agent will look at closely before contacting the taxpayer.

Click here to read about IRS Audits including IRS letters.

Judge Learned Hand on Taxes

By Philip Falco, tax attorney. In an opinion penned in 1934, Judge Learned Hand endorsed the use of tax planning.  In Helvering v. Gregory, 69 F.2d 809, Judge Learned Hand wrote:

“Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury. There is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes. Over and over again the Courts have said that there is nothing sinister in so arranging affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everyone does it, rich and poor alike and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands.”

To put it another way, there is no patriotic duty to pay more tax than the least tax payable under the tax code. This is the essence of tax planning in a nutshell.

A solid understanding of the tax code is what it takes to navigate to the least tax payable under the tax law.