FATCA – Chapter 4

W-8s for U.S. Citizens Abroad: Filing False Information with Non-U.S. Banks

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Individuals who do not specialize in U.S. federal tax law, often have little detailed understanding of the U.S. federal “Chapter 3” (long-standing law regarding withholding taxes on non-resident aliens and foreign corporations and foreign trusts) and “Chapter 4” (the relatively new withholding tax regime known as the “Foreign Account Tax irs-form-w-8ben-2006-older-version-with-certification-languageCompliance Act”) rules.

Indeed, plenty of U.S. tax law professionals (CPAs, tax attorneys and enrolled agents) do not understand well the interplay between these two different withholding regimes –

Plus, the IRS forms have been significantly modified over the years; with increasing factual representations that must be made by individuals who sign the forms under penalty of perjury.  They are complex and not well understood.  For instance, the older 2006 IRS Form W-8BEN for companies was one page in length and required relatively little information be provided.

The entire form is reproduced here; indicating how foreign taxpayer information was optional and generally there was no requirement to obtain a U.S. taxpayer identification number.  It was governed exclusively by Chapter 3 and the regulations that had been irs-form-1001-old-1998-versionextensively produced back in the early 2000s.

The forms were even easier before those regulations (see old IRS Form 1001).  No taxpayer identification numbers were ever required and virtually no supporting information regarding reduced tax treaty rates on U.S. sources of income.

Life was simple back then – compared to today!

The one thing all of these forms have in common is that all information was provided and certified under penalty of perjury.  Current day IRS Forms W-8s can typically be completed accurately by experts who understand the complex web of rules.  Plus, multiple versions of W-8s exist today; most running some 8+ pages in length.

See the potpourri of current day W-8 forms –

Form W-8BEN, Certificate of Foreign Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding and Reporting (Individuals)

Form W-8BEN-E, Certificate of Status of Beneficial Owner for United States Tax Withholding and Reporting (Entities)

Form W-8IMY, Certificate of Foreign Intermediary, Foreign Flow-Through Entity, or Certain U.S. Branches for United States Tax Withholding

Form W-8EXP, Certificate of Foreign Government or Other Foreign Organization for United States Tax Withholding

Making certifications under penalty of perjury are more complex, the more and more factual information that is being certified.  If I certify the dog I see in front of me is “white and black” that is not a complex certification, if I see the dog and see the “white and black”.  If the dog also has some brown coloring, my certification would necessarily not be false.W-8BEN - 2016 version..PNG

However, if I have to certify as to the colors of each dog in a pack of 8 dogs (and each and every color that each dog is/was), that becomes a much more complicated certification.

That’s my analogy for the old IRS Forms W-8s and the current day  IRS Forms W-8s.

Compare that form, of just 10 years ago, with what is required and must be certified to under current law.  It can be daunting.

Now to the rub.  Individuals who certify erroneously or falsely, can run a risk that the government asserts such signed certification was done intentionally.  I have seen it happen in real cases; even though the individual layperson (particularly those who speak little to no English and live outside the U.S.) typically has little understanding of these rules.  They typically sign the documents presented to them by the third party; usually the banks and other financial institutions.

The U.S. federal tax law has a specific crime, for making a false statement or signing a false tax return or other document – which is known as the perjury statute (IRC Section 7206(1)).  This is a criminal statute, not civil.  Some people are also under the misunderstanding that a false tax return needs to be filed.  The statute is much broader and includes “. . . any statement . . . or other document . . . “.

(1) Declaration under penalties of perjury

Willfully makes and subscribes any return, statement, or other document, which contains or is verified by a written declaration that it is made under the penalties of perjury, and which he does not believe to be true and correct as to every material matter; or . . .

 

Therefore, if a U.S. citizen living overseas (or anywhere) signs IRS Form W-8BEN (or the bank’s substitute form, which requests the same basic information), that signature under penalty of perjury will necessarily be a false statement, as a matter of law.  Why?  By definition, the statute says a U.S. citizen is a “United States person” as that technical term is defined in IRC Section 7701(a)(30)(A).  Accordingly, IRS Form W-8BEN, must only be signed by an individual who is NOT a “United States person”; who necessarily cannot be a United States citizen.  To repeat, a United States citizen is included in the definition of a “United States person.”   Plus, the form itself, as highlighted at the beginning of the form, warns against any U.S. citizen signing such form. w-8ben-certification-portion-2016-version

Accordingly, if a U.S. citizen were to sign IRS Form W-8BEN which I have seen banks erroneously request of their clients, they run the risk that the U.S. federal government will argue that such signatures and filing of false information with the bank was intentional and therefore criminal under IRC Section 7206(1).    See a prior post,  What could be the focal point of IRS Criminal Investigations of Former U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents?

Indeed, criminal cases are not simple, and I am not aware of any single criminal case that hinged exclusively on a false IRS Form W-8BEN.  However, I have seen cases, where the government has alleged the U.S. born individual must have signed the form intentionally, knowing the information was false.  It’s a question of proof and of course U.S. citizens wherever they reside, should take care to never sign an IRS Form W-8BEN as an individual certifying they are not a “United States person”; even if they think they are not a U.S. person

For further background information on this topic, see a prior post:  FATCA Driven – New IRS Forms W-8BEN versus W-8BEN-E versus W-9 (etc. etc.) for USCs and LPRs Overseas – It’s All About Information and More Information

Will U.S. Tax Law Regarding “Covered Expatriates” get Modified with Recent Government Push in International?

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It is rare to have the President of the United States hold press conferences specifically dealing with international tax policy and tax enforcement.  Nevertheless, this is what happened last week when President Obama announced his administration’s recent efforts in the field of international tax, anti-corruption and financial transparency.

His remarks can be watched here:  President Obama’s Efforts on Financial Transparency and Anti-Corruption: What You Need to Know

Also, the White House is putting forward a series of initiatives in this area:

Fact Sheet: Obama Administration Announces Steps to Strengthen Financial Transparency, and Combat Money Laundering, Corruption, and Tax Evasion

To date, none of the specific initiatives address current “tax expatriation law” under IRC Sections 877, 877A, et. seq.

Foreign Government Receives a “FATCA Christmas Gift” from IRS: 1 Gigabyte of U.S. Financial Information

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The last post discussed how the director of the Mexican tax administration was critical of the U.S. federal government for not providing FATCA information on U.S. financial accounts.  See, Foreign Government Criticizes U.S. Government for SAT aristotilesNOT Providing FATCA IGA Information on Their Taxpayers with U.S. Accounts, dated December 14, 2015.

The automatic exchange of bank and financial information is driven by the U.S. Treasury driven Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA).

As a follow-up, the Mexican newspaper Reforma reported on the 17th of December that the U.S. just provided Mexico’s treasury with a gigabyte of Mexican taxpayer information regarding U.S. financial and bank accounts.  See, Entrega EU un gigabyte a Hacienda, dated Dec 17, 2015.

This news comes on the heals of the earlier criticism by the Commissioner of the Mexican IRS (SAT – Servicio de Chart of Trends - US Citizenship Renunications Qtr 3 - 2015Administración Tributaria (SAT)), Mr. Aristóteles Núñez Sánchez.  The Reforma article quotes Óscar Molina Chié (who is in charge of the large taxpayers division at SAT) generously regarding how and what information was provided by the U.S. federal government.

Finally, the article emphasized that Mexico has sent the IRS information regarding Mexican bank accounts of U.S. citizens.

The question is how much Mexican bank and financial information has actually been provided by SAT of the hundreds of thousands (if not more than 1 million) dual national taxpayers, who are citizens of both Mexico and the U.S.?   See, Where the IRS will likely look overseas: USCs are Millions Yet U.S. Tax Returns are Just a Few Hundred Thousand, dated January 28, 2015.

Foreign Government Criticizes U.S. Government for NOT Providing FATCA IGA Information on Their Taxpayers with U.S. Accounts

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This news is ironic.  The U.S. government has chastised various banks and governments around the world since 2009 for not providing financial information on U.S citizens (USCs) and other U.S. taxpayers regarding their foreign bank and financial accounts.   See, How Congressional Hearings (Particularly In the Senate) Drive IRS and Justice Department Behavior, posted Sept 8, 2014.  FBAR 114 electronic

Now, it is foreign governments’ turn, to criticize the U.S. Treasury and IRS for not keeping up with its promises to provide U.S. financial and bank information on taxpayers of their countries pursuant to all of the FATCA Intergovernmental Government Agreements (IGAs) that were pushed so hard by U.S. Treasury. See, FATCA IGA with Hong Kong Signed: U.S. Citizens and Lawful Permanent Residents Residing in or Around Hong Kong Need to Know, posted on Nov. 17, 2014.

The Commissioner of the Mexican IRS (SAT – Servicio de Administración Tributaria (SAT)), Mr. Aristóteles Núñez Sánchez just announced that the U.S. government is not holding up its side of the bargain under the U.S.-Mexico IGA.  See, the Dec. 12, 2015 article en the national Mexican newspaper, El Universal, EU incumple entrega de informacion: SAT: Mexico ha hecho su parte, asegura Aristóteles Núñez

The article, which is in Spanish, explains that Mexico has complied with its obligations under the IGA by providing detailed information about U.S. taxpayers with accounts in Mexican financial institutions to the U.S. government.  However, the U.S. government has not complied with its side of the bargain.  The news report says no specific details were provided by Mr. Núñez about what type of information was provided.

WSJ Asks the Question: Is the IRS Undercounting Americans Renouncing U.S. Citizenship?

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Is the IRS Undercounting Americans Renouncing U.S. Citizenship?, posted Sept. 16, 2015.

The names of U.S. citizens who have renounced is published quarterly pursuant to IRC Section Chart of Trends - US Citizenship Renunications Qtr 3 - 20156039G.  See, prior related posts:  1,426 Individuals Give Up Passport: Record Number of U.S. Citizens Renouncing: Quarter 3 for 2015, October 30, 2015.

No one knows for certain if the IRS (including the IRS per some of my conversations) is getting complete data from the Department of State regarding each name and individual.

The graph I have prepared shows the number of names reported quarterly as I track all reported names quarterly that related to clients and non-clients.  The latest cumulative amounts for 2015 (which does not include the 4th quarter) shows 3,221 thus far in the year.  If there is close to 1,400 as was the case for the last quarter, the total will be a record – by a bunch; i.e., close to 5,000 renunciations for the year.

Anecdotally, I have seen renunciations surge in our practice, largely as U.S. citizens residing around the world (typically in the “Accidental American” category) learn about the long arm of the U.S. tax law by way of their local financial institutions and reporting and documents requested as part of FATCA.  See, Why Most U.S. Citizens Residing Overseas Haven’t a Clue about the Labyrinth of U.S. Taxation and Bank and Financial Reporting of Worldwide Income and Assets, posted Nov. 2, 2015.

None of this answers the question of whether there is under-reporting of the names? Indeed, the question will likely not be answered without more information provided by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Treasury (i.e., the IRS officers responsible for issuing the names and report in the Federal Register).

The government is also likely to reject issuing information on these details to individuals and their advisers as part of a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request.  I have had similar requests rejected by the government under the so called “Exemption 7(E)” of FOIA.  See,

Why Most U.S. Citizens Residing Overseas Haven’t a Clue about the Labyrinth of U.S. Taxation and Bank and Financial Reporting of Worldwide Income and Assets

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This post is written simply because so many U.S. citizens residing overseas are reasonably confused about the complexity of U.S. tax law.  The mere requirement to file U.S. income tax returns for those overseas often comes as a great surprise.  My non-U.S. born wife is an exception (as she also lives outside the U.S.) simply because I have repeatedly told her for our 20 some years of marriage.  IRS Form W-7 Highlighted

Some in the IRS erroneously think U.S. citizens residing overseas do and should understand U.S. tax law.  I posed one simple scenario to a very sophisticated IRS attorney not very long ago who specializes in the FATCA rules.

Her view is (hopefully was) that U.S. citizens throughout the world know or should know the U.S. tax laws because the instructions to IRS Form 1040 are clear.

This thought knocked me off my figurative chair onto the floor!  Smack. 

My surprise is based upon my own experience working with individuals and families throughout the world, in numerous countries.  I have noticed a number of notions, based upon these andectodal experiences as follows:

  1. A minority of U.S. citizens (unless they lived most of their lives in the U.S. and recently moved overseas as an “expatriate”) have no real basic idea of how the U.S. federal tax laws work; let alone to their assets and income in their country of residence.  See USCs and LPRs Living Outside the U.S. – Key Tax and BSA Forms
  2. There are indeed plenty of immigrant U.S. residents (certainly less than 50% by my own experience – especially when concepts of PFICs and foreign tax credits start being discussed) who even understand the basics of U.S. international tax law.
  3. If they reside in an English speaking country that has relatively strong family or historical ties to the U.S. (e.g., England, Ireland, Scotland, and Canada, etc.) they are likely to have a better idea of the U.S. federal tax laws, but still the majority don’t know key concepts.  See, Nuances of FBAR – Foreign Bank Account Report Filings – for USCs and LPRs living outside the U.S.
  4. Even those in English speaking countries that have less historical or family ties to the U.S. have a lesser understanding (e.g., New Zealand, Australia, Kenya, South Africa, India, etc.).US Passport
  5. Those who do not speak English know even less about U.S. tax laws and how they apply to them.
  6. Many individuals who learn of these requirements overseas are sometimes driven to great despair.  The message they receive is not a correct one under the law in my view: as they read IRS materials (for instance, see FAQs 5, 6 and and former 51.2 from the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program Frequently Asked Questions and Answers 2014) and come to the conclusion they will soon be going to jail, criminally prosecuted or otherwise be subject to tens of thousands of dollars worth of penalties for their failure to file a range of tax forms.
  7. Literally, sometimes as a tax lawyer I feel more like a psychologist, when these individuals come to me saying they can’t sleep, they can’t eat, they are seeing a cardiologist for high blood pressure, etc. and even in a most extreme case they thought suicide was a solution.  See, How is the offshore voluntary disclosure program really working? Not well for USCs and LPRs living overseas.
  8. Individuals around the world (even tax professionals) and certainly laypeople, are not commonly reading TaxAnalysts (nor would they subscribe) or other tax professional publications that explain many of the intricacies of U.S. tax laws.
  9. Learning and understanding U.S. tax laws, including just the basics, requires a great deal of time, aptitude for nuances and details, literacy, patience and a level of aptitude for such matters that simply escape many people around the world (most I would say).  see, “PFICs” – What is a PFIC – and their Complications for USCs and LPRs Living Outside the U.S.  I can relate to this personally, as I am an international tax professional (indeed I even studied a post graduate law course outside the U.S. in a non-English language), have spent my entire professional career of more than 25 years in the area, and yet only generally have a very superficial understanding of tax laws throughout the countries where I am dealing with clients.  I don’t try to understand the details of those laws. Chart of Trends - US Citizenship Renunications Qtr 3 - 2015
  10. Many people are angry and frustrated (justifiably so, in my view, in many cases) after learning they are subject to these rules.  See comment above about being a psychologist.  Plus, USCs and LPRs residing outside the U.S. – and IRS Form 8938. In addition, see, Taxpayer Advocate Report on Burdens of Benign Taxpayers who Make Mistakes

Back to the intelligent IRS tax attorney.  My question to her was:  “Why would you, as a U.S. born individual not be reviewing the tax laws, tax forms and tax instructions of the country where your parents were born prior to immigrating to the U.S.?”  I asked:  “Are you not reviewing those laws in the original language of your parents (not English, but the other language of your parent’s country) to understand what tax forms and returns you should be filing?”

The IRS attorney’s response was:  “What:  of course, I am not reviewing such tax forms or filing information or tax laws, as I would have no tax obligations in that foreign country where I have no income, no assets or no bank or financial accounts!”

My follow-up question was a simple one:  “Don’t you realize that U.S. federal tax law (Title 26) and financial bank reporting laws (Title 31) do just that!”

“Hmm she paused: how can that be?”  I don’t recall if she said this out loud, or just said it with her puzzled expression.

The answer of course is that through citizenship (including derivative citizenship through a U.S. parent even though the child never spent a single day of residence in the U.S., let alone received any income or assets); that same individual in the mirror position as that IRS attorney is subject to a host of U.S. federal tax and financial reporting laws.  See,

Here is the big disconnect.    It’s not just among the ill-informed or those lesser educated on the fine points of law.  I had the pleasure this week along with my wife to host two educated, worldly and engaging individuals who have been married some 20 years together.  They are well read and highly educated.  Both are lawyers by training, one practices law that often pushes him fairly deeply into the tax law and his wife is a wonderful and experienced judge in the California state courts.

I asked them (as I like to ask people around the world) if they had ever heard or understood that the U.S. federal tax law imposes taxation and very detailed reporting on the worldwide income and assets of U.S. citizens who reside outside the U.S.  I discussed Civil War ImageCook v. Tait and the U.S. Civil War a bit.  See both Supreme Court’s Decision in Cook vs. Tait and Notification Requirement of Section 7701(a)(50) and The U.S. Civil War is the Origin of U.S. Citizenship Based Taxation on Worldwide Income for Persons Living Outside the U.S. ***Does it still make sense?

All of it was a great surprise to them! They were in utter shock and both are residents in the U.S., highly educated in the law and are like the vast majority of the world, including U.S. citizens who reside outside the U.S.

This is the common response for many U.S. citizens residing overseas.

Part II: C’est la vie Ms. Lucienne D’Hotelle! Tax Timing Problems for Former U.S. Citizens is Nothing New – the IRS and the Courts Have Decided Similar Issues in the Past (Pre IRC Section 877A(g)(4))

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This is Part II, a follow-on discussion of older U.S. case law and IRS rulings that address how and when individuals are subject to U.S. taxation before and after they assert they are no longer U.S. citizens.

I might point out that I am of the belief that we humans always like to hear the news we want to hear; and/or interpret it in the way we find most beneficial to us.  Who doesn’t like good news versus bad news?  Whether we (laypeople and tax lawyers alike) interpret Section 877A(g)(4) in any particular way; it is of no real consequence when it is the IRS that will enforce the law and ultimately the Department of Justice, Tax Division who will handle any such case interpreting this provision before a U.S. District Court or the Court of Federal Claims.  For those who have not litigated before these Courts and seen how aggressive are the government lawyers in advocating for the government, the following discussion will hopefully be illustrative.Europe Map

See, Part I: Tax Timing Problems for Former U.S. Citizens is Nothing New – the IRS and the Courts Have Decided Similar Issues in the Past (Pre IRC Section 877A(g)(4)), dated October 16, 2015.

The question is what is the correct date of “relinquishment of citizenship” as defined in the statute; IRC Section 877A(g)(4)?  Many argue the law cannot be applied retroactively?

However, the specific case discussed here, did just that; applied the law retroactively to determine U.S. citizenship status of an individual and corresponding tax obligations.  This was also in a time of a much simpler tax code with (i) no international information reporting requirements (e.g., IRS Forms 8938, 8858, 5471, 8865, 3520, 3520-A, 926, 8621, etc.), (ii) no Title 31 “FBAR” reporting requirements and (iii) no constant drumbeat by the IRS of international taxpayers and enforcement.  See, recent announcement by IRS on Oct. 16, 2015 (one day after tax returns were required to be filed by many) Offshore Compliance Programs Generate $8 Billion; IRS Urges People to Take Advantage of Voluntary Disclosure Programs.  However, for cautionary posts on the IRS OVDP and the deceptive numbers published (e.g., “$8 Billion”), see  posted May 10, 2014 and The 2013 GAO Report  of the IRS Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program, International Tax Journal, CCH Wolters Kluwer, January-February 2014.   PDF version here.

Of course, the answer to this question helps determine if and when will the individual be subject to the federal tax laws of the U.S. on their worldwide income and global assets.  In the case of Ms. Lucienne D’Hotelle (an interesting 1977 appellate opinion from the firs circuit) she had spent little time in the U.S. and had sent a letter in her native language French to the U.S. Department of State, which stated “I have never considered myself to be a citizen of the United States.”  This is  not unlike many individuals around the world today;  at least as of late – in the era of FATCA, who assert they are not a U.S. citizen because they “relinquish[ed] it by the performance of certain expatriating acts with the required “intent” to give up the US citizenship” and did not notify the U.S. federal government.

The Court nevertheless found Ms. Lucienne D’Hotelle retroactively subject to U.S. income taxation on her non-U.S. source income (up until she received a certificate of loss of nationality from the Department of State); for specific years even when the immigration law provisions of the day said she was no longer a U.S. citizen during that same retroactive period.

There have been many contemporary commentators who argue an individual does not need to (i) have, (ii) do, or (iii) receive any of the following, and yet still should be able to successfully argue they have shed themselves of U.S. citizenship and hence the obligations of U.S. taxation and reporting on their worldwide income and global assets –

(i) receive a U.S. federal government issued document (e.g., a certificate of loss of nationality “CLN” per 877A(g)(4)(C)),

(ii) receive a cancelation of a naturalized citizen’s certificate of naturalization by a U.S. court (per 877A(g)(4)(D)),

(iii) provide a signed statement of voluntary relinquishment from the individual to the U.S. Department of State (per 877A(g)(4)(B)), or

(iv) provide proof of an in person renunciation before a diplomatic or consular officer of the U.S. (per  paragraph (5) of section 349(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1481(a)(5)), in accordance with 877A(g)(4)(C)).

Some older tax cases that interpreted similar concepts are worthy of consideration.  They will certainly be in any brief of the attorneys for the U.S. Department of Justice, Tax Division and/or Chief Counsel lawyers for the IRS in any case where the individual challenges that none of the above items are required in their particular case to avoid U.S. taxation and reporting requirements.Graph - Foreign Earned Income By Country - IRS Report

The D’Hotelle case is illustrative of the efforts taken by the Department of Justice, Tax Division in collecting U.S. income tax on a naturalized citizen.  You will notice they did not take a sympathetic approach to her case.   Ms. Lucienne D’Hotelle was born in France in 1909 and died in 1968 in France, yet the U.S. government continued to pursue collection of U.S. income taxation on her foreign source income from the Dominican Republic, France and apparently Puerto Rico even after her death during a period of time when she used a U.S. passport.  Lucienne D’Hotelle de Benitez Rexach, 558 F.2d 37 (1st Cir.1977).  She, not unlike many individuals today, claimed she was not a U.S. citizen – or at least stated “I have never considered myself to be a citizen of the United States.

Some of the particularly interesting facts relevant to Ms. D’Hotelle, a naturalized citizen, which are relevant to the question of U.S. taxation of citizens, were set forth in the appellate court’s decision as follows:

Lucienne D’Hotelle was born in France in 1909. She became Lucienne D’Hotelle de Benitez Rexach upon her marriage to Felix in San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1928. She was naturalized as a United States citizen on December 7, 1942. The couple spent some time in the Dominican Republic, where Felix engaged in harbor construction projects. Lucienne established a residence in her native France on November 10, 1946 and remained a resident until May 20, 1952. During that time s 404(b) of the Nationality Act of 19402 provided that naturalized citizens who returned to their country of birth and resided there for three years lost their American citizenship. On November 10, 1947, after Lucienne had been in France for one year, the American Embassy in Paris issued her a United States passport valid through November 9, 1949. Soon after its expiration Lucienne applied in Puerto Rico for a renewal. By this time she had resided in France for three years.

                                         * * *

On May 20, 1952, the Vice-Consul there signed a Certificate of Loss of Nationality, citing Lucienne’s continuous residence in France as having automatically divested her of citizenship under s 404(b). Her passport . . . was confiscated, cancelled and never returned to her. The State Department approved the certificate on December 23, 1952. Lucienne made no attempt to regain her American citizenship; neither did she affirmatively renounce it.

                                         * * *

Predictably, the United States eventually sought to tax Lucienne for her half of that income. Whether by accident or design, the government’s efforts began in earnest shortly after the Supreme Court invalidated *40 the successor statute4 to s 404(b). In in Schneider v. Rusk, 377 U.S. 163 (1964), the Court held that the distinction drawn by the statute between naturalized and native-born Americans was so discriminatory as to violate due process. In January 1965, about two months after this suit was filed, the State Department notified Lucienne by letter that her expatriation was void under Schneider and that the State Department considered her a citizen. Lucienne replied that she had accepted her denaturalization without protest and had thereafter considered herself not to be an American citizen.

There are other facts that make clear the government was not fond of her husband, the income that he earned and how he managed his and his wife’s assets during and after her death.  The Court also discusses at length the fact that she had used a U.S. passport during the years when she alleges she was not a U.S. citizen.  The Court goes on to analyze her U.S. citizenship, and the following discussions are illustrative of the ultimate tax consequences.

LUCIENNE’S CITIZENSHIP

The government contends that Lucienne was still an American citizen from her third anniversary as a French resident until the day the Certificate of Loss of Nationality was issued in Nice. This case presents a curious situation, since usually it is the individual who claims citizenship and the government which denies it. But pocketbook considerations occasionally reverse the roles. United States v. Matheson, 532 F.2d 809 (2nd Cir.), cert. denied 429 U.S. 823, 97 S.Ct. 75, 50 L.Ed.2d 85 (1976). The government’s position is that under either Schneider v. Rusk, supra, or Afroyim v. Rusk, 387 U.S. 253, 87 S.Ct. 1660, 18 L.Ed.2d 757 (1967), the statute by which Lucienne was denaturalized is unconstitutional and its prior effects should be wiped out. Afroyim held that Congress lacks the power to strip persons of citizenship merely *41 because they have voted in a foreign election. The cornerstone of the decision is the proposition that intent to relinquish citizenship is a prerequisite to expatriation.

12 Section 404(b) would have been declared unconstitutional under either Schneider or Afroyim. The statute is practically identical to its successor, which Schneider condemned as discriminatory. Section 404(b) would have been invalid under Afroyim as a congressional attempt to expatriate regardless of intent. Likewise it is clear that the determination of the Vice-Consul and the State Department in 1952 would have been upheld under then prevailing case law, even though Lucienne had manifested no intent to renounce her citizenship. Mackenzie v. Hare, 239 U.S. 299, 36 S.Ct. 106, 60 L.Ed. 297 (1915). Accord, Savorgnan v. United States, 338 U.S. 491, 70 S.Ct. 292, 94 L.Ed. 287 (1950). See also Perez v. Brownell, 356 U.S. 44, 78 S.Ct. 568, 2 L.Ed.2d 603 (1958), overruled, Afroyim v. Rusk, supra.

411 F.Supp. at 1293. However, the district court went too far in viewing the equities as between Lucienne and the government in strict isolation from broad policy considerations which argue for a generally retrospective application of Afroyim and Schneider to the entire class of persons invalidly expatriated. Cf. Linkletter v. Walker, supra. The rights stemming from American citizenship are so important that, absent special circumstances, they must be recognized even for years past. Unless held to have been citizens without interruption, persons wrongfully expatriated as well as their offspring might be permanently and unreasonably barred from important benefits.6 Application of Afroyim or Schneider is generally appropriate.* * *

During the interval from late 1949 to mid-1952, Lucienne was unaware that she had been automatically denaturalized.                                        

* * *

Fairness dictates that the United States recover income taxes for the period November 10, 1949 to May 20, 1952. Lucienne was privileged to travel on a United States passport; she received the protection of its government.
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It’s quite interesting that the Court uses and focuses on fairness as to the U.S. government, more than a discussion of “fairness” to the individual.  The use of the passport seems to be an integral fact.  Here, the Court determined she was retroactively a U.S. citizen and hence subject to taxation on her worldwide income during those crucial periods (1949 through 1952) even though (1) the U.S. Department of State said she was not a U.S. citizen during that time, and (2) she stated “I have never considered myself to be a citizen of the United States.” 
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101112 Although the government has not appealed the decision with respect to taxes from mid-1952 through 1958, the district court was presented with the issue. We wish to explain why the government should be allowed to collect taxes for the two and one-half year interval but not for the subsequent period. The letter from Lucienne to the Department of State official in 1965, which appears in English translation in the record, states that after the Certificate of Loss of Nationality, “I have never considered myself to be a citizen of the United States.” We think that in this case this letter can be construed as an acceptance and voluntary relinquishment of citizenship. We also find that in this particular case estoppel would have been proper against the United States. Although estoppel is rarely a proper defense against the government, there are instances where it would be unconscionable to allow the government to reverse an earlier position. Schuster v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 312 F.2d 311, 317 (9th Cir. 1962). This is one of those instances. Lucienne cannot be dunned for taxes to support the United States government during the years in which she was denied its protection. In Peignand v. Immigration and Naturalization Service, 440 F.2d 757 (1st Cir. 1971), this court refused to decide whether estoppel could apply against the government. A decision on the question was unnecessary, since the petitioner had not been led to take a course of action he would not otherwise have taken. Id. at 761. Here, Lucienne severed her ties to this country at the direction of the State Department. The right hand will not be permitted to demand payment for something which the left hand has taken away. However, until her citizenship was snatched from her, Lucienne should have expected to honor her 1952 declaration that she was a taxpayer.
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Of particular note, the Court highlighted that the Department of State (one hand) cannot take away citizenship, the individual’s passport and issue a certificate of loss of nationality (“CLN”), and the IRS (on the other hand) impose taxation for the time period after the CNL was issued.
One point of emphasis by the Court was how U.S. citizenship rights are a highly protected right; as articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court.  That high protection granted, serves to aid those individuals who defend against a government arguing they somehow ceased to be a U.S. citizen.  Of course, for those trying to escape U.S. taxation, the result is not a desired one. . . a curious situation, since usually it is the individual who claims citizenship and the government which denies it. . . “
C’est la vie Ms. Lucienne D’Hotelle!