The Swiss Federal Administrative Court has announced that an agreement with the US, allowing Swiss bank UBS to disclose account information of clients suspected by the US Government of tax evasion, is binding.
A Jurist report states that the agreement, approved last month by the Swiss Parliament, allows UBS to turn over information of 4 450 US clients to the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and may prevent the US Department of Justice (DOJ) from resuming a lawsuit against UBS in which it had sought the names of 52 000 UBS clients.
The court also announced that they have rejected a challenge to the law by a UBS client who had objected to the data transfer. In announcing its ruling, the court noted the importance of the US-Swiss agreement, saying ‘the economic interests of Switzerland as well as the interests in fulfilling obligations that have been entered into in international law are of major significance and outweigh the individual interests of the complainant in this case’.
The report says that the ruling could potentially affect 100 other appeals from UBS clients, which are currently pending.
By Jonathan Stempel, Reuters.com (7/1/30)
A former UBS AG client in New Jersey who once played for the Soviet Union’s national soccer team pleaded guilty on Thursday to concealing $2.6 million he had held in an offshore account from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service.
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The HIRE Act gives the IRS assessment and collection remedies unavailable with respect to the FBAR penalty.
A 40% accuracy-related penalty is imposed for underpayment of tax attributable to transactions involving undisclosed foreign financial assets. Undisclosed foreign financial assets include foreign financial assets that are subject to information reporting but the required information was not provided by the Taxpayer.
The 40% accuracy-related penalty is imposed for underpayment of tax that is attributable to an undisclosed foreign financial asset understatement (IRC §6662(b)(7) and (j) as added by the HIRE Act 2010). An undisclosed foreign financial asset understatement for any tax year is the portion of the understatement for the year that is attributable to any transaction involving an undisclosed foreign financial asset.
In contrast to the FBAR penalty which is limited to collection through the U.S. Financial Management System (which collects non-tax debts for the government), the HIRE Act penalties give the IRS the ability to assess and collect these new penalties through its administrative powers (including tax levy and tax lien).
The new penalties under the HIRE Act are for the understatement of tax and impose a lesser burden of proof and threshold for imposition of the penalty than the willful FBAR penalty.
U.S. Taxpayers who hold any interests in specified foreign financial assets during the tax year must attach their tax returns for the year certain information with respect to each asset if the aggregate value of all assets exceeds $50,000. An individual who fails to furnish the required information is subject to a penalty of $10,000. An additional penalty may apply if the failure continues for more than 90 days after a notification by the IRS to a maximum of $50,000. The penalty may be avoided if the Taxpayer shows a reasonable cause for the failure to comply.
The Joint Committee on Taxation, Technical Explanation of the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment Act (JCX-4-10) clarifies that although the nature of the information required to be disclosed is similar to the information disclosed on an FBAR, it is not identical.
For example, a beneficiary of a foreign trust who is not within the scope of the FBAR reporting requirements because his interest in the trust is less than 50%, may still be required to disclose the interest with his tax return if the $50,000 value threshold is met. In addition, this provision is not intended as a substitute for compliance with the FBAR reporting requirements which remain unchanged.
For purposes of IRC Code §6038(D) as added by the HIRE Act, a specified foreign financial asset includes:
1. Any depository, custodial, or other financial account maintained by a foreign financial institution, and
2. Any of the following assets that are not held in an account maintained by a financial institution:
a. Any stock or security issued by a person other than a U.S. Person
b. Any financial instrument or contract held for investment that has an issuer or counterparty other than a U.S. Person, and
c. Any interest in a foreign entity (IRC §6038(D)(b) as added by the 2010 HIRE Act).
The information required to be disclosed with respect to any asset must include the maximum value of the asset during the tax year (IRC §6038(D)(c) as added by the 2010 HIRE Act).
For a financial account, the Taxpayer must disclose the name and address of the financial institution in which the account is maintained and the number of the account.
In the case of any stock or security, the disclosed information must include the name and address of the issuer and such other information as is necessary to identify the class or issue of which the stock or security is a part.
In the case of any instrument, contract, or interest, a Taxpayer must provide any information necessary to identify the instrument, contract, or interest along with the names and addresses of all issuers and counterparties with respect to the instrument, contract, or interest.
Under these rules, a U.S. Taxpayer is not required to disclose interests held in a custodial account with a U.S. financial institution. In addition, the U.S. Taxpayer is not required to identify separately any stock, security instrument, contract, or interest in a disclosed foreign financial account.
An individual who fails to furnish the required information with respect to any tax year at the prescribed time and in the prescribed manner is subject to a penalty of $10,000 (IRC §6038(D)(d) as added by the 2010 HIRE Act). If the failure to disclose the required information continues for more than 90 days after the day on which the notice was mailed (from the Secretary of Treasury), the individual is subject to an additional penalty of $10,000 for each 30-day period (or a fraction thereof) with the maximum penalty not to exceed $50,000.
In addition to the $10,000 penalty (up to $50,000) under IRC §6038(D) a 40% accuracy-related penalty is imposed on any understatement of tax attributable to a transaction involving an undisclosed foreign financial asset.
The statute of limitations for omission of gross income attributable to foreign financial assets (omission of gross income in excess of $5,000 attributable to a foreign financial asset), is extended to six years.
The IRC §6038(D) penalties are not imposed on any individual who can show that the failure is due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect. (IRC §6038D(g), as added by the 2010 HIRE Act.)
The information disclosure with respect to foreign financial assets supplements the FBAR reporting regime. The HIRE Act broadens reporting requirements and extends the rules to ownership of foreign assets such as foreign stocks, securities, interests in foreign companies not covered by the FBAR reporting. The threshold reporting requirement amount for FBARs ($10,000) is increased to $50,000. While the FBAR reporting covers those having signatory or other authority, the new reporting regime focuses on ownership.
On March 18, 2010, President Obama signed the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (“HIRE”) Act (P.L. 111-147) (The “Act”) which included the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act containing new foreign account tax compliance rules.
Under the Act, new reporting and disclosure requirements for foreign assets will be phased in between 2010 – 2013:
1. Foreign Institutional Reporting: Foreign Institutions have new reporting and withholding obligations for accounts held by U.S. Persons (generally effective after 12/31/12, commencing 1/1/13).
2. Foreign Financial Assets ($50,000): Individuals with an interest in a “Foreign Financial Asset” have new disclosure requirements. If foreign financial assets are valued in excess of $50,000, the U.S.
Taxpayer must attach certain information to their income tax returns for tax years beginning after March 18, 2010. (U.S. Taxpayers are not required to disclose interests that are held in a custodial account with a U.S. financial institution).
The penalty is substantial ($10,000, plus additional amounts for continued failures, up to a maximum of $50,000 for each applicable tax period). The penalty may be waived if the individual can establish that the failure was due to reasonable cause and not willful neglect.
3. 40% Penalty: A 40% accuracy-related penalty is imposed for underpayment of tax that is attributable to an undisclosed foreign financial asset understatement. Applicable assets are those subject to mandatory information reporting when the disclosure requirements were not met. The penalties are effective for tax years beginning after March 18, 2010.
4. 6 Year Statute of Limitations: Statute of limitations re: omission of income in connection with foreign assets: The statute of limitations for assessments of tax is extended to six (6) years if there is an omission of gross income in excess of $5,000 attributable to the foreign financial asset. The six year statute of limitations is effective for tax returns filed after March 18, 2010, as well as for any other tax return for which the assessment period has not yet expired as of March 18, 2010.
5. Passive Foreign Investment Companies: The Act imposes an information disclosure requirement on U.S. Persons who are PFIC shareholders.
A PFIC is any foreign corporation if:
a. 75% or more of the gross income of the corporation for the taxable year is passive income; or
b. The average percentage of assets held by such corporation during a taxable year which produce passive income or which are held for the production of passive income are at least 50%.
6. Foreign Trusts with U.S. Beneficiaries: The Act clarifies if a foreign trust is treated as having a U.S. Beneficiary, an amount accumulated is treated as accumulated for the U.S. Person’s benefit even if that Person’s trust interest is contingent. The Act clarifies that the discretion to identify beneficiaries may cause the trust to be treated as having a U.S. Beneficiary. This provision is effective after March 18, 2010.
7. Rebuttable Presumption/Foreign Trust – U.S. Beneficiary: The Act creates a rebuttable presumption that a foreign trust has a U.S. Beneficiary if a U.S. Person directly or indirectly transfers property to a foreign trust (unless the transferor provides satisfactory information to the contrary to the IRS). This provision is effective for property transfers after March 18, 2010.
8. Uncompensated Use of the Foreign Trust Property: The Act provides that the uncompensated use of the foreign trust property by a U.S. Grantor, a U.S. Beneficiary (or a U.S. Person, related to either of them), is treated as a distribution by the trust.
The use of the trust property is treated as a distribution to the extent of the fair market value of the property’s use to the U.S. Grantor/U.S. Beneficiary, unless the fair market value of that use is paid to the trust.
The loan of cash or marketable securities by a foreign trust, or the use of any other property of the trust, to or by any U.S. Person is also treated as paid or accumulated for the benefit of the U.S. Person. This provision applies to loans made and uses of property after March 18, 2010.
9. Reporting Requirements, U.S. Owners of Foreign Trusts: This provision requires any U.S. Person treated as the owner of any portion of a foreign trust to submit IRS-required information and insure that the trust files a return on its activities and provides such information to its owners and distributees.
This new requirement imposed on U.S. Persons treated as owners is in addition to the current requirement that such U.S. Persons are responsible for insuring that the foreign trust complies with its own reporting obligations. This provision is effective for taxable years beginning after March 18, 2010.
10. Minimum Penalty re: Failure to Report Certain Foreign Trusts: This provision increases the minimum penalty for failure to provide timely and complete disclosure on foreign trusts to the greater of $10,000 or 35% of the amount that should have been reported.
In the case of failure to properly disclose by the U.S. Owner of a foreign trust of the year-end value, the minimum penalty would be the greater of $10,000 or 5% of the amount that should have been reported.
This provision is effective for notices and returns required to be filed after December 31, 2009.
By Janet Novack and William P. Barrett, Forbes.com
For 24 years Vincent A. Spondello toiled away as an accountant for a group of related companies known as Monex, a large Newport Beach, Calif. precious metals dealer. A trusted employee, he prepared tax returns and was given such tasks as overseeing the destruction of old corporate documents. It turns out that some records that were supposedly destroyed he took home instead.
In May Spondello sent 25 boxes of original Monex papers to the Internal Revenue Service–documents that could buttress the IRS’ claim that Monex’s owners fraudulently moved around assets to avoid a $378 million tax bill. He made his document drop after hiring lawyers and filing a claim for a whistleblower reward that could total $57 million or more. Monex denies it owes anything, has fired Spondello and is demanding back its documents.
“He’s a good guy,” says Spondello lawyer Robert D. Coviello. “But he is a rat.”
Pay attention. There are Vincent Spondellos taking notes, taking names and taking documents across America, and beyond.
For years the IRS grudgingly paid stingy rewards to squealers who brought it mostly small cases; during 2004 and 2005, 428 informants received a total of $12 million–only 7% of the paltry $168 million all their leads brought in. But in 2006, hoping to entice insiders to rat out big-dollar cheats and corporate tax shelters and games, Congress directed the IRS to pay tipsters at least 15% and as much as 30% of taxes, penalties and interest collected in cases where $2 million or more is at stake.
The gambit seems to be working very well. The IRS continues to get thousands of small case tips a year. But in fiscal 2009, ended Oct. 30, the IRS Whistleblower Office also logged big case leads on 1,900 taxpayers, up from 1,246 in fiscal 2008, the first full year the new law was in effect. Dozens of these tips involve purported tax losses of $100 million or more. Sure, those are just allegations. But informants “often provide extensive documentation to support their claims,” the Whistleblower Office noted in a report. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, in a separate report, added up all the 2008 tips and found that $65 billion in unreported income was alleged.
The slow-moving IRS has yet to pay any bounties under the new scheme, which the Inspector General report said still had “deficiencies” in its execution. But the government itself is already reaping big rewards.
In June 2007 Bradley C. Birkenfeld–motivated in large part, he now acknowledges, by the new reward law–came to U.S. officials with documents in hand and laid out how his former employer, UBS AG, helped wealthy Americans hide money offshore. So far the investigation he triggered has produced a $780 million payment to the U.S. government from UBS, Switzerland’s largest bank; an unprecedented agreement by the Swiss to finger 4,450 U.S. taxpayers with secret UBS accounts; and criminal investigations of more than 150 American UBS clients. That, in turn, helped pressure 14,700 taxpayers to make “voluntary” disclosures of previously undisclosed offshore kitties during a special program earlier this year, yielding extra billions in tax for the Treasury. “The entire game has changed on international tax evasion,” crows IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman.
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Filed under: IRS, tax evasion, unreported income, voluntary disclosure
Previous estimates by the IRS project in excess of 700,000 unreported Foreign Bank Accounts (held by U.S. Taxpayers). Under the 2009 voluntary disclosure “last chance” compliance initiative 14,700 U.S Taxpayers came forward (approximately 2% of the undisclosed accounts).
Approximately 98% of U.S. Taxpayers’ foreign bank accounts still remain unreported.
Slew of offshore tax evaders settle with IRS
From MSNBC.com (11/17/09)
MIAMI – More than 14,700 U.S. taxpayers came forward to disclose billions in offshore bank accounts in 70 countries under a voluntary Internal Revenue Service program allowing most to avoid criminal prosecution as long as they pay what they owe, IRS officials said Tuesday…
“It shows we are serious about piercing the veil of bank secrecy,” he said. “The whole game has changed.”
Also Tuesday, the IRS and Swiss unveiled the criteria being used to determine which American UBS accounts will be disclosed under the August agreement.
Accounts being targeted include those that contained 1 million or more Swiss francs at any time between 2001 and 2008; instances in which there was clear fraudulent actions, such as false documents; and accounts that earned an average of 100,000 francs a year for at least three years.
The equivalent amounts in U.S. dollars vary widely depending on the year, as the dollar lost over a third of its value against the Swiss franc during that period. One million francs was worth about $600,000 in 2001, compared with about $900,000 seven years later.
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In related news, from the Wall St Journal (11/18/09),
Swiss to Turn Over U.S. Tax Names
By WebCPA.com Staff
A retired Boeing sales manager is the latest UBS client to plead guilty to filing a false tax return after the Swiss bank agreed to disclose the identities of some of its U.S. clients.
Robert Cittadini of Bellevue, Wash., accepted responsibility for hiding up to $1.86 million in accounts at the Swiss bank and failing to report the income he earned from the accounts on his 2001 to 2003 tax returns. Cittadini also did not file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, or F-BAR form, for each of those years.
Cittadini initially opened an account with UBS in the early 1990s in his own name, but around 2001, Swiss banker Hansruedi Schumaker, who was indicted in August 2009 on conspiracy charges, helped him transfer assets from his UBS account to an account named for Mataropa Finance Limited, a nominee Hong Kong corporation that helped him hide the assets. Swiss lawyer Matthias Rickenbach, also indicted in August, was a director of the Hong Kong entity.
Sentencing in Cittadini’s case is scheduled for Jan. 8, 2010. He faces up to three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He also has agreed to pay a civil F-BAR penalty based on 50 percent of the highest account balance from 2001 to 2007.
“This is a time of reckoning for those who thought they had found a safe haven for cheating,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan in a statement. “People who avoid paying their fair share hurt all of us who follow the law and conscientiously pay our taxes.”
In February 2009, UBS entered into a deferred prosecution agreement in which the bank admitted to helping U.S. taxpayers hide accounts from the IRS. As part of the agreement, UBS provided the U.S. government with the identities and account information of some U.S. customers of the bank’s cross-border business. Cittadini’s case is the sixth guilty plea arising from that information.
In June 2009, Steven Michael Rubinstein, a Boca Raton, Fla., accountant, pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return. In April 2009, another UBS client, Robert Moran, a Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., yacht broker, pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return. In July 2009, Jeffrey Chernick, of Stanfordville, N.Y., pleaded guilty to filing a false tax return. In August 2009, John McCarthy, a resident of Malibu, Calif., pleaded guilty to failing to report his ownership of and interest in a foreign financial account. In September 2009, Juergenn Homann of Saddle River, N.J., pleaded guilty to failure to file an F-BAR form.
Over the summer, UBS agreed to hand over information on an additional 4,450 U.S. clients under an agreement brokered by the Swiss and U.S. governments.
FBAR rules are not found in the Code. Rather, they are set forth in the Bank Secrecy Act, first enacted by Congress in 1970. Since 2003, however, the IRS bears responsibility for enforcing these rules.
The FBAR rules require that every U.S. Person report (i) any financial interest or authority over a (ii) financial account in a foreign country with (iii) an aggregate value over $ 10,000 at any time during the taxable year. The report must be filed on a Form TD F 90-22.1, Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (hence the acronym “FBAR”). U.S. Persons must also disclose the existence of the account on their Form 1040, Schedule B, Part III. This is commonly referred to as “checking the ‘B’ box.”
Taxpayers who fail to disclose the account on their Form 1040 could be subject to criminal sanctions for filing a false tax return.
The FBAR report is due on June 30th. This due date is not subject to extensions. The FBAR report must be filed separately from the U.S. Person’s tax return.
Financial Interest Or Authority
A U.S. Person has a financial interest in a foreign account if he or she is the legal or beneficial owner. Attribution rules apply in making this determination. A person serving as a shareholder, partner, and trustee may also be deemed to hold a financial interest if the owner of the account is (i) a person acting as an agent on behalf of the U.S. Person, (ii) a corporation where the U.S. Person owns, directly or indirectly, more than 50 percent of the outstanding stock, (iii) a partnership in which the U.S. Person owns more than 50 percent of the profits, or (iv) a trust in which a U.S. Person has either a present interest in more than 50 percent of the assets or from which the U.S. Person receives more than 50 percent of the income. If these thresholds arc met, the U.S. Person has an FBAR reporting obligation, regardless of whether he or she has any authority over the account.
Non-owners with authority over a foreign account are also subject to the FBAR reporting rules. Authority means the U.S. Person has the ability to order a distribution or disbursement of funds or other property held in the account. This is not limited to signature authority, but includes the ability to order distributions by verbal commands or other communication. Authority does not include persons who have the right to invest, but not distribute, the foreign account funds.
There is no limitation for taxpayers who have authority over a foreign account, but only in an official capacity. (For example, the president of a corporation, the general partner of a partnership, or the manager of an LLC may be subject to these rules.)
Both the entity, as beneficial owner, and the representative, who has control over the account, may be required to file an FBAR report. Similarly, when more than one U.S. Person has authority over an account, i.e., president and vice president, both persons may have an FBAR reporting obligation.
Even when the account is subject to joint control, and the signature of someone other than the taxpayer is required to cause a distribution, the taxpayer is still considered to have authority over the account for FBAR reporting purposes.
Financial Account In A Foreign Country
The term financial account is broadly defined as any asset account and encompasses simple bank accounts (checking or savings), as well as securities or custodial accounts. It also includes a life insurance policy or other type of policy with an investment value (i.e., surrender value).
Foreign country naturally refers to any country other than the United States. Puerto Rico, U.S. possessions and territories are included as part of the United States (as they should) for these purposes. Accounts held by U.S. Persons in these areas are not foreign accounts subject to FBAR reporting.
The IRS has indicated that a traditional credit card with a foreign bank is not a foreign account. However; use of a credit card as a debit or check card could trigger foreign account status and thus an FBAR reporting obligation.
To be reportable, the account must have assets the value of which during the year, exceeds $10,000.
The Instructions to the FBAR report state that if the aggregate value of all financial accounts exceeds $10,000 at any time during the year, the U.S. Person must file an FBAR report. A U.S. Person who possesses multiple foreign accounts, all of which have less than $10,000, but which collectively exceed $10,000, may have an FBAR reporting obligation.
Taxpayers may transfer an appreciating asset to a foreign account, such as stock or securities. As these assets increase in value, they may trigger an FBAR reporting requirement.
Whether the account generates any income is not relevant.
In an attempt to improve compliance, Congress enhanced the FBAR penalties in 2004. Under pre-2004 law, civil penalties applied only to willful violations. In 2009, civil penalties up to $10,000 may be imposed on non-willful violations. This penalty may be avoided if there was reasonable cause and the U.S. Person reported the income earned on the account. 31 U.S. C. §5321(a)(5).
Although reasonable cause is not defined, the IRS will likely apply the reasonable-cause standard for late-payment/late-filing penalties.
The penalty for willful violations is far more severe. It is equal to the greater of $100,000 or 50 percent of the balance of the account at the time of the FBAR violation. No reasonable cause exception exists for a willful violation. 31 U. S. C. §5321(a)(5)(c) .
The IRS has six years to assess a civil penalty against a taxpayer that violates the FBAR reporting rules.
A failure to file a FBAR has civil and criminal penalties (which are in addition to any income tax penalties if the income is not reported). The IRS must assess the civil penalties within 6 years of the FBAR violation (31 USC 5321(b)(1)).
For a willful failure to file, the civil penalty increases from $10,000 (non-willful failure to file) to the greater of $100,000 or 50% of the account balance in the foreign account for the tax year.
The civil penalties for non-willful failure to file may be waived by the IRS if the Taxpayer can show reasonable cause. If the Taxpayer has a reasonable cause exception, the FBAR should be filed with an explanation (i.e., the reasonable cause, with an express request for waiver of penalties).
The waiver of civil penalties for a reasonable cause exception may include among other factors:
1. All the income from the foreign account was included on the US Taxpayer’s return.
2. The Taxpayer was unaware of the requirement to file (for example, lack of understanding of what constitutes a financial interest).
3. Once the Taxpayer became aware of the filing requirements, he filed all delinquent reports (up to 6 years).