Excerpted from AngloInfoBlog
Posted on September 21, 2017
by Virginia La Torre Jeker J.D.
My heart fell when I saw this tweet this morning, though I told myself it likely won’t affect any “minnows.” Haven’t we had more than our “fair share” of bad news? Will there never be an end to this perverse & persistent notion that #AmericansAbroad, #AccidentalAmericans et al are automatically guilty of tax evasion?
RS CID Chief: “Significant” International Tax Investigations Under Way
— V. La Torre Jeker JD (@VLJeker) September 21, 2017
So the IRS is forming a new International Tax Enforcement Group in Washington DC.The group will be comprised of IRS personnel in DC as well as IRS agents from other IRS locations around the nation, personnel from the Justice Department’s Tax Division as well as international partners.
International partners? What does this mean? Presuming solicitor client privilege will rule out tax lawyers, will accountants be expected to “turn” on their clients? Or does it refer to further involvement of foreign tax agencies? Will privacy of taxpayer information simply disappear completely?
We know that the IRS has a tremendous volume of raw data about US taxpayers and their foreign financial assets. This has been obtained from various sources, including the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Programs which, in one form or another, have now been running for 8 years. Since 2009 with the inception of the first IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP), numerous taxpayers have provided detailed information to the IRS which has been steadily fed into its E –Trak System. More data was obtained via the Swiss Bank Non-prosecution Program, various whistleblowers and investigative journalist leaks, and more recently from data supplied by foreign governments and foreign financial institutions pursuant to the “Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act” (FATCA). It is planned that this new International Tax Enforcement Group will be more efficiently mining this data and Ford believes that this could result in tax investigations in “other countries” and “other jurisdictions” that have as yet, not been in the IRS criminal crosshairs.
Perhaps this is the “big” moment we’ve waited for from the beginning. A huge (re)action on the part of the IRS that will bring expats together in new ways to fight back? Will we finally see some financial support from people who can truly afford to do so? Civil disobedience? I have often wondered why any of us would worry about info gathered from the Swiss bank program, whistleblowers, the Panama Papers, etc. This would appear to apply only to those with far more money in foreign accounts than any of us have. And good gawd what other countries & jurisdictions ?
But the little nagging bit is the last item – from FATCA. No one save the IRS & the foreign tax agencies know what information has been turned over. And the banks have not adhered to the lower thresholds because the IGA’s allow them to do so. There will probably be many, many mistakes which will cost a lot of grief, time and money when no income tax is even owed.
Here’s the other little gem in the announcement:
One of the campaigns involves “OVDP Declines and Withdrawals”; its focus is on OVDP applicants who applied for pre-clearance into the program but were either denied access to OVDP or withdrew from the program of their own accord. They are now the subject of more intense IRS scrutiny for audit. I know of many frightened taxpayers often telling the same sad story – it usually went something like this — their tax return preparer (or other advisor) convinced them to enter OVDP. However, upon fully understanding the facts of their case, it was determined that entry into OVDP was a clear case of “overkill” and was unwarranted. Some of these individuals successfully withdrew from OVDP and obtained tax compliance perhaps through a penalty-free IRS Streamlined initiative. Now, these individuals may be targeted under this latest IRS “campaign”. How lovely!
This stinks. It has that same aroma of FAQ 35.
From form 14653 (required for Streamlined Foreign)
I acknowledge the possibility that amended income tax returns I am submitting under the Streamlined Domestic Offshore Procedures may report income for tax years beyond the three-year assessment limitations period under I.R.C. § 6501(a). Other assessment limitations periods in I.R.C. § 6501 may allow the Internal Revenue Service to assess and collect tax. If I seek a refund for any tax or interest paid for the omitted income that I am reporting on my amended income tax returns because I feel that my payments were made beyond the assessment limitations period, I understand that I will forfeit the favorable terms of the Streamlined Procedures.
I recognize that if the Internal Revenue Service receives or discovers evidence of willfulness, fraud, or criminal conduct, it may open an examination or investigation that could lead to civil fraud penalties, FBAR penalties, information return penalties, or even referral to Criminal Investigation.
If one has managed to obtain “reasonable cause” via the IRS Form 14653, (a very detailed 5 page form), filed Streamlined, paid applicable tax etc, why would having opted-out of OVDP automatically invite suspicion? This sounds a lot like this delightful little tidbit; according to the Taxpayer Advocate, the agency assumes individuals with offshore accounts are suspect of fraudulent activity. Or what about if one had already renounced, assuming there were no further issues with IRS and then comes this?
— V. La Torre Jeker JD (@VLJeker) September 21, 2017
Bedrosian v United States of America, Department of the Treasury & the IRS
US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
September 20, 2017
Mr. Bedrosian was seeking a refund of $9,757.89 paid when he was found to be “willful”in failing to report a 2nd Swiss account on his 2007 FBAR; the government counterclaimed for the entire amount of the penalty of $1,007,345.48. !!!
The Court had posed 2 questions to the parties:
- 1) Does any precedent exist for finding willfulness based on conduct similar to Bedrosian
- 2) Did the government sustain its burden of proof regarding the calculation of the penalty amount
I won’t try to summarize the court’s discussion of all the factors it weighed to determine (non) willfulness. Frankly, I never can follow all the ins-and-outs of the legal process. The court concluded:
“Although we apply the lower, civil standard of willfulness here, we nevertheless do not see Bedrosian’s as the sort of conduct intended by Congress or the IRS to constitute a willful violation. Because we find the government failed to meet its burden as to the requirement of willfulness, we decline to engage in an analysis concerning the calculation of the penalty amount.”
In addition, the court ruled that the $9,757.89 was illegally extracted from Bedrosian and that the government owes him that sum.
After the recent depressing cases of Pomerantz and Dewees, this ruling does indeed, give one reason to smile. The IRS can be beat!