Reuters ran an interesting piece on St. Kitts’ economic citizenship programme today, which inevitably touched on the issue of renunciation of U.S. citizenship. However, I was disappointed that the author missed the opportunity to fact-check the U.S. government in the following paragraph:
Adam Bilzerian, a professional poker player and the son of former corporate raider Paul Bilzerian, said he worked through Henley to get citizenship in Austria. But put off by the cost and exclusivity of Austria’s program, he purchased property in St. Kitts, filled out some paperwork, and within a year, became a Kittitian. Then, he became one of 231 Americans to renounce his U.S. passport in 2008. In 2011, government records show, the number of Americans renouncing their citizenship reached 1,788 – the highest number since the government began keeping track in 1997.
Except that Bilzerian’s name does not appear in those “government records”. Though the journalist does not mention the Federal Register by name, it’s clear that it’s the ultimate source in question, given the claimed numbers of renunciants and the statement that “the government began keeping track in 1997″ (a reference to provisions in the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act passed the previous year which directed the IRS to begin publishing the names of renunciants) — though she may have got the number from a secondary source. Anyone who knows about this obscure “name and shame” list can confirm that Bilzerian’s name was not one of the 231 published in 2008. If you search the Federal Register for “Bilzerian”, you will not find Adam Bilzerian’s name listed. The only result whatsoever for that name is unrelated to loss of citizenship — a Federal Trade Commission notice which makes a passing reference to the Securities Exchange Commission’s case against Mr. Bilzerian’s father. (If you mistrust the search function or suspect his name may be present with a spelling error, you can visually inspect the lists for Q1/Q2/Q3/Q4 2007, Q1/Q2/Q3/Q4 2008, and even Q1/Q2/Q3/Q4 2009.)
There are three legitimate reasons I can think of why Bilzerian’s name might not appear:
- his legal name differs from the name he uses in public (e.g. he uses his mother’s surname);
- he mistakenly assumes that ceasing the use of his U.S. passport is the same as renunciation, and did not go through with the renunciation procedure; or
- he did not actually intend to renounce, but simply took out a second citizenship and moved abroad while continuing to pay U.S. taxes
I don’t see any evidence for the first possibility. The only other Adams listed as losing U.S. citizenship between 2007 and 2009 were Adam Aitken, Adam Cooper, and Adam Lee Ohlstein. No one named Steffen (Paul Bilzerian’s wife’s surname) is listed at any time. (Someone who sought to avoid publicity and knew about the Federal Register list might have changed his legal name entirely before renouncing — but then you wouldn’t find him giving interviews to a Reuters journalist on the topic of renunciation!) The second possibility is equally unlikely; Bilzerian was advised by the costly expert citizenship lawyers at Henley and Partners, and it’s very doubtful they would have failed at such a basic part of their duty to a client as not making him aware of the difference between losing a passport and losing nationality. And as for the third possibility, you can judge for yourself from Bilzerian’s tweets (@AdamBilzerian), his book, and his comments to Reuters whether he sounds like a man who wants to keep his U.S. citizenship:
Many Americans give up their citizenship to escape US taxes, but Bilzerian says his desire to leave was different. As a child, he saw his father go to prison for a panoply of financial crimes. In 2001, he watched as FBI agents raided his house. Then, while studying at Vanderbilt, he says he grew more politically conscious. “When (George W.) Bush was elected for the second time, I felt that the country was going to be in such a downward spiral,” Bilzerian said. “They were eliminating freedoms, restricting the bill of rights. It’s so hard to keep yourself out of trouble. If the IRS thinks you’re doing something wrong and audit you, they make your life a nightmare … they run you to the ground.”
Which means that we have yet another name which should appear in the Federal Register and yet does not. And here’s where it starts to get really interesting. The most common theory among those who believe that the Federal Register list of renunciants is incomplete is that it ignores the minnows and only includes whales — “covered expatriates”. But Bilzerian almost certainly meets the net asset test to qualify as a “covered expatriate”, given that he previously considered citizenship-by-investment in Austria (which allegedly requires millions of dollars). And yet his name did not appear. Perhaps next quarter, we’ll see the Federal Register scrambling to include it, like they belatedly did with stateless man Mike Gogulski’s name after he wrote publicly about its absence. (Gogulski is also a “covered expatriate”, though due to his failure to file tax returns rather than his wealth.)
A final snippet from the article:
Demand for a second passport is “way up,” says David Lesperance, a Canadian immigration lawyer. Among his recent clients: an Egyptian pro-democracy activist who worries about instability in his country, and a Chicago businessman who is convinced that the Occupy movements will lead to riots.
On the whole, the article is worth a read, though once again it leaves the American newspaper-reading public with a mistaken impression of the renunciation issue as one of people renouncing and then leaving the country with their riches, rather than than the far more common case of people leaving the country with little or nothing, finding they can make a good living outside the US, settling down in their new country, and then renouncing. And on top of the number of Americans naturalising in EU countries which do not allow dual citizenship, we have yet another piece of evidence that the Federal Register understates the true number of renunciants.