U. S. Government Hacks Into Expats Financial Files

6 Oct

Oh, it’s all “legal” and condoned by Congress via the HIRE Act of 2010. Yes, you guessed it. It’s called FATCA which requires foreign financial institutions to send the IRS information on the accounts of U.S. taxpayers, or else face stiff penalties of up to 30 percent on their income from U.S. sources. How can the government of the United States of America “require” my local bank here in Israel where I live to send them everything they have in their computer systems about me? The end of the previous sentence tells it all. If my bank doesn’t cooperate, the U.S. Department of Justice will impound the investments of this small bank in the USA. The US Treasury negotiated agreements with other countries to allow for reciprocal exchange of tax information on both U.S. and foreign taxpayers from both U.S. and foreign banks, in accordance with existing tax treaties to prevent double taxation. This reciprocal exchange of tax information will flow from the banks into each country’s tax authority and through them to the IRS. Because these “agreements” are reciprocal, there will be a bidirectional flow with the Israel Tax Authority receiving everything that the US Treasury knows about me. What a massive flood of information that I am sure will clog up the computers of the IRS and the ITA. I sincerely doubt that they have thought out how to deal with all this information. Nevertheless, this is in my opinion nothing more than hacking of personal financial information by these government agencies. They whitewash it as being legal, but at best, it can be only termed quasi-legal hacking.

To meet the Sept. 30 milestone, the IRS said it developed an information system infrastructure, procedures, and data use and confidentiality safeguards to protect taxpayer data while facilitating reciprocal automatic exchange of tax information with certain foreign jurisdiction tax administrators as specified under the agreements implementing FATCA. This sounds like government gobbledygook for hacking.

So as of one week ago they have started to hack away at what was once sacrosanct, your personal financial information. Let it be said that I am in no way shape or form hiding anything from any tax authority. I do not evade taxes. I have always dutifully declared all my assets and paid appropriate levels of taxes to both tax authorities. I don’t think that it is proper for the United States to be the only country other than Eritrea that has citizen-based taxation. But until the law is changed, I comply and pay. Let them hack away all they want. May they drown in all the data.

International Conference on Taxpayer Rights to be held November 18 -19, 2015

29 Sep

This was announced back on July 10, 2015 by the Taxpayer Advocate Service of the IRS on their Tax Payer Advocate’s announcement. I sure hope it turns into something that has a substantial positive influence on how the IRS deals with us small fish Expat taxpayers. We’ll see. Keep on the alert for what they discuss and any influence it may have on the IRS and US Congress.

The National Taxpayer Advocate of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service is convening the Inaugural International Conference on Taxpayer Rights in Washington, D.C.

This ground breaking conference will explore how taxpayer rights globally serve as the foundation for effective tax administration.

Inaugural International Conference on Taxpayer Rights: The Bedrock of Tax Administration

Washington, DC ▪ November 18-19, 2015

Government officials, scholars, and practitioners from many countries will discuss issues such as:

  • Rights to confidentiality and privacy in an age of transparency;
  • Right to appeal to an independent forum: the role of tax tribunals in protecting taxpayer rights;
  • Taxpayer rights and procedural justice in audit and collection activities;
  • Impact of taxpayer service on compliance;
  • Role of taxpayer advocates, defenders, and ombuds in protecting taxpayer rights and promoting voluntary compliance; and
  • Challenges in “operationalizing” taxpayer rights in both mature and developing tax administrations.

More information and registration coming soon.

Questions? Email us.

This conference is co-sponsored by the American Bar Association Section of Taxation, the American College of Tax Counsel, the American Tax Policy Institute, the International Association of Tax Judges, and the International Fiscal Association – USA Branch. Tax Analysts is the publishing sponsor of the conference.

Save The New Date For Your FBAR

18 Aug

FBAR Deadline Moves Up 3 Months to April 15

By Shannon Smith Retzke and Aaron D. Schumacher

I just saw this on AccountingToday.com and it is worth changing the date on your calender of deadlines for next year’s tax reporting. The bottom line is not to wait until June 30th to submit your FBAR. It’s the beginning of the end of the filing date disconnect between foreign bank account reports and income tax returns.

On July 31, President Obama signed the Surface Transportation and Veterans Health Care Choice Improvement Act of 2015 into law, which modified the due date of several key forms for Americans with foreign income and Americans living abroad.

That includes the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts, or Form 114, colloquially known as the FBAR. Any U.S. person with a financial interest in, or signatory authority over, foreign financial accounts must file the FBAR, if at any time, the aggregate value of their relevant foreign account or accounts exceeds $10,000. An account over which a person has signature authority but no ownership interest is included in this computation.

The FBAR gained notoriety in 2008 when UBS, responding to pressure from the U.S. Department of Justice, disclosed the identities of thousands of U.S. holders of Swiss accounts.

Failure to file an FBAR may result in a civil penalty of up to $10,000 for negligent violations, or up to the greater of $100,000 or 50 percent of the account balance for willful violations. Failure to comply with the e-filing mandate may result in a separate $500 penalty. The new law did not change the requirement that the FBAR be filed electronically with the Bank Secrecy Act form (as opposed to together with a tax return to a service center), nor did it eliminate the requirement to file a Form 8938 with a tax return reporting certain foreign holdings.

New Due Date
The Act states that the Secretary of the Treasury, or the Secretary’s designees, shall modify appropriate regulations to provide that “[t]he due date of FinCEN Report 114 (relating to Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts) shall be April 15 with a maximum extension for a 6-month period ending on October 15 and with provision for an extension under rules similar to the rules in Treas. Reg. section 1.6081–5.”

This is a good first step toward an integrated system. For filers living in the U.S., this change in the law will coordinate the timing of their FBAR submission with the timing of their income tax return. The FBAR will be due April 15, along with their Form 1040. If they apply for an extension of six months until October 15, the FBAR will also be due on October 15.

For Americans living abroad, the reference in the Act to Treas. Reg. section 1.6081–5 will allow for the coordination of the FBAR due date to the June 15 deadline (after automatic extension) for the coordinating income tax return.

Please note, this extension only comes into effect for the 2015 FBAR (now due April 15, 2016). It does not apply to taxpayers who missed the June 30, 2015 filing deadline for their 2014 FBAR.

New Penalty Waiver Provisions
Of particular interest for individuals who have made a minor foot fault in the first year of filing an FBAR, the Act states that “[f]or any taxpayer required to file such Form for the first time, any penalty for failure to timely request for, or file, an extension, may be waived by the Secretary.” This is a significant deviation and may provide some degree of comfort to those taxpayers who have just learned of filing obligations. Other options exist to correct filing deficiencies, and should be considered in light of all the facts and circumstances with your tax professional.

Another Swiss Bank Bites The Dust

21 May

This was released by the Office of Public Affairs of the Department of Justice and can be viewed online and is reproduced here.

Finter Bank Zurich AG Reaches Resolution under Department of Justice Swiss Bank Program

The Department of Justice announced today that Finter Bank Zurich AG (Finter), located in Zurich, Switzerland, reached a resolution under the department’s Swiss Bank Program.

The Swiss Bank Program, which was announced on Aug. 29, 2013, provides a path for Swiss banks to resolve potential criminal liabilities in the United States.  Swiss banks eligible to enter the program were required to advise the department by Dec. 31, 2013, that they had reason to believe that they had committed tax-related criminal offenses in connection with undeclared U.S.-related accounts.  Banks already under criminal investigation related to their Swiss-banking activities and all individuals were expressly excluded from the program.

Under the program, banks are required to:

  • Make a complete disclosure of their cross-border activities;
  • Provide detailed information on an account-by-account basis for accounts in which U.S. taxpayers have a direct or indirect interest;
  • Cooperate in treaty requests for account information;
  • Provide detailed information as to other banks that transferred funds into secret accounts or that accepted funds when secret accounts were closed;
  • Agree to close accounts of account holders who fail to come into compliance with U.S. reporting obligations; and
  • Pay appropriate penalties.

Banks meeting all of the above requirements are eligible for a non-prosecution agreement.

According to the terms of the non-prosecution agreement signed today, Finter agrees to cooperate in any related criminal or civil proceedings, demonstrate its implementation of controls to stop misconduct involving undeclared U.S. accounts and pay a $5.414 million penalty in return for the department’s agreement not to prosecute Finter for tax-related criminal offenses.

Finter was founded in 1958 in Chiasso, Switzerland, and has a branch office in Lugano, Switzerland.  Since Aug. 1, 2008, Finter has maintained 283 U.S.-related accounts with an aggregate maximum balance of approximately $235 million.

Since its establishment and continuing through at least October 2011, Finter, through its managers, employees and others, aided and assisted U.S. clients in opening and maintaining undeclared accounts in Switzerland and concealing the assets and income they held in these accounts from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).  After August 2008, when Swiss bank UBS AG publicly announced that it was the target of a criminal investigation by U.S. tax authorities, Finter accepted accounts from U.S. persons exiting other Swiss banks.

Finter provided services that allowed U.S. clients to eliminate the paper trail associated with the undeclared assets and income, including “hold mail” services and numbered and coded accounts.  In addition, Finter assisted clients in using sham entities as nominee beneficial owners of undeclared accounts, solicited Forms W-8BEN that falsely stated under penalties of perjury that the sham entities beneficially owned the assets in the undeclared accounts, and provided cash cards and credits cards linked to the undeclared accounts.

In resolving its criminal liabilities under the program, Finter encouraged U.S. accountholders to come into tax compliance and participate in the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.  While Finter’s U.S. accountholders who have not yet declared their accounts to the IRS may still be eligible to participate in the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, the price of such disclosure has increased.

Most U.S. taxpayers who enter the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program to resolve undeclared offshore accounts will pay a penalty equal to 27.5 percent of the high value of the accounts.  On Aug. 4, 2014, the IRS increased the penalty to 50 percent if, at the time the taxpayer initiated their disclosure, either a foreign financial institution at which the taxpayer had an account or a facilitator who helped the taxpayer establish or maintain an offshore arrangement had been publicly identified as being under investigation, the recipient of a John Doe summons or cooperating with a government investigation, including the execution of a deferred prosecution agreement or non-prosecution agreement.  With today’s announcement of Finter’s non-prosecution agreement, its noncompliant U.S. accountholders must now pay that 50 percent penalty to the IRS if they wish to enter the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.

Acting Assistant Attorney General Caroline D. Ciraolo of the Tax Division thanked the IRS and in particular, IRS-Criminal Investigation and IRS’s Large Business and International Division for their substantial assistance, as well as Senior Litigation Counsel John E.  Sullivan and Trial Attorney Mark Kotila of the Tax Division, who served as counsel on this matter, and Senior Counsel for International Tax Matters and Coordinator of the Swiss Bank Program Thomas J. Sawyer of the Tax Division.

Additional information about the Tax Division and its enforcement efforts may be found on the division’s website.

Updated May 15, 2015

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