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 Compliance 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 –
- 26 U.S. Code Chapter 3 – WITHHOLDING OF TAX ON NONRESIDENT ALIENS AND FOREIGN CORPORATIONS
- 26 U.S. Code Chapter 4 – TAXES TO ENFORCE REPORTING ON CERTAIN FOREIGN ACCOUNTS
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 extensively 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 –
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.
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 . . . “.
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.
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?
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:
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
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 NOT 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 Administración 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
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.
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.
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 6039G. 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
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.
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:
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.).
- Those who do not speak English know even less about U.S. tax laws and how they apply to them.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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, Sir Winston Churchill – Famous People. Did he become a U.S. citizen at birth via “derivative citizenship”? Did he file U.S. income tax returns?
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 Cook 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))
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.
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 How is the offshore voluntary disclosure program really working? Not well for USCs and LPRs living overseas 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.
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.
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.
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.
* * *
U.S. District Court Flatly Denies Claims of Injury under FATCA and Title 31-FBAR Reporting Requirements: Upholds FATCA, IGAs and the FBAR Requirements to Encourage Tax Compliance and “Combat Tax Evasion”
There has been a case floating around since a complaint was filed this summer by Senator Rand Paul (current Presidential candidate) and various other current and former U.S. citizens including a Mr. Kisch who is resident in Toronto, Canada and a Mr. Crawford who lives in Albania; along with other individuals. Crawford v. United States Dep’t of the Treasury, 2015 U.S. Dist. The complaint asked for declaratory and injunctive relief.
The District Court granted neither and dismissed the case in favor of the government in a bold fashion upholding FATCA and FBAR/Title 31 reporting and information requirements. Importantly, the Court concluded by saying ” . . . The FATCA statute, the IGAs, and the FBAR requirements encourage compliance with tax laws, combat tax evasion, and deter the use of foreign accounts to engage in criminal activity. A preliminary injunction would harm these efforts and intrude upon the province of Congress and the President to determine how best to achieve these policy goals.”
See a prior post regarding how FATCA affects United States citizens (USCs) and lawful permanent residents (LPRs) residing outside the U.S.; as was the case of many of the complainants in the case, Part 1- Unintended Consequences of FATCA – for USCs and LPRs Living Outside the U.S., posted August 13, 2014.
Also, the tax publication/resource, Tax Analysts summarized the original complaint (which can be read in its entirety here) as follows:
The FATCA suit makes the following claims:
- the IGAs are unconstitutional sole executive agreements because they exceed the scope of the president’s independent constitutional powers, and because they override FATCA;
- the heightened reporting requirements for foreign financial accounts deny U.S. citizens living abroad the equal protection of the laws;
- the FATCA FFI penalty, passthrough penalty, and willfulness penalty are all unconstitutional under the excessive fines clause;
- FATCA’s information reporting requirements are unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment; and
- the IGAs’ information reporting requirements are also unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment.
See, complete Tax Note’s article of July 15, 2015: Sen. Paul Files Lawsuit Challenging FATCA, by William R. Davis and Andrew Velarde.
Not unsurprisingly, the District Court ruled in favor of the government and dismissed the majority of the claims by a finding that the parties lacked standing to bring the suit and that ” . . . The FATCA statute, the IGAs, and the FBAR requirements encourage compliance with tax laws . . .”
Some highlights of the Court’s opinion [with my emphasis added] are set out below:
* * *
A. FATCA Statute and Regulations
Congress passed the Foreign Accounts Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) in 2010 to improve compliance with tax laws by U.S. taxpayers holding foreign accounts. FATCA accomplishes this through two forms of reporting: (1) by foreign financial institutions (FFIs) about financial accounts held by U.S. taxpayers or foreign entities in which U.S. taxpayers hold a substantial ownership interest, 26 U.S.C. § 1471; and, (2) by U.S. taxpayers about their interests in certain foreign financial accounts and offshore assets. 26 U.S.C. § 6038D.
President Obama signed FATCA into law on March 18, 2010. Senator Carl Levin, a co-sponsor of the FATCA legislation, declared that “offshore tax abuses [targeted by FATCA] cost the federal treasury an estimated $100 billion in lost tax revenues annually” 156 Cong. Rec. 5 S1745-01 (2010). FATCA became law as the IRS began its Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP), which since 2009 has allowed U.S. taxpayers with undisclosed overseas assets to disclose them and pay reduced penalties. By 2014, the OVDP collected $6.5 billion through voluntary disclosures from 45,000 participants. “IRS Makes Changes to Offshore Programs; Revisions Ease Burden and Help More Taxpayers Come into Compliance,” http://www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/IRS-Makes-Changes-to-Offshore-Programs;-Revisions-Ease-Burden-and-Help-More-Taxpayers-Come-into-Compliance (last visited Sept. 15, 2015). The success of the voluntary program has likely been enhanced by the existence of FATCA.
C. Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Account
The third body of law at issue in this case pertains to the Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Account (FBAR) requirements. U.S. persons who hold a financial account in a foreign country that exceeds $10,000 in aggregate value must file an FBAR with the Treasury Department reporting the account. See 31 U.S.C. § 5314; 31 C.F.R. § 1010.350; 31 C.F.R. § 1010.306(c). The current FBAR form is FinCEN Form 114. The form has been due by June 30 of each year regarding accounts held during the previous calendar year. § 1010.306(c). Beginning with the 2016 tax year, the due date of the form will be April 15. Pub. L. No. 114-41, § 2006(b)(11). A person who fails to file a required FBAR may be assessed a civil monetary penalty. 31 U.S.C. § 5321(a)(5)(A). The amount of the penalty is capped at $10,000 unless the failure was willful. See 5321(a)(5)(B)(i), (C). A willful failure to file increases the maximum penalty to $100,000 or half the value in the account at the time of the violation, whichever is greater. § 5321(a)(5)(C). In either case, whether to impose the penalty and the amount of the penalty are committed to the Secretary’s discretion. See § 5321(a)(5)(A) (“The Secretary of the Treasury may impose a civil money penalty[.]”) & § 5321(a)(5)(B) (“[T]he amount of any civil penalty . . . shall not exceed” the statutory ceiling). Plaintiffs seek to enjoin enforcement of the willful FBAR penalty under § 5321(a)(5). Prayer for Relief, part Q. They also ask for an injunction against “the FBAR account-balance reporting requirement” of FinCen Form 114. Prayer for Relief, part W.
The Government asserts that the information in the FBAR assists law enforcement and the IRS in identifying unreported taxable income of U.S. taxpayers that is held in foreign accounts as well as investigating money laundering and terrorism.
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Mark Crawford decries his bank’s policy against taking U.S. citizens as clients and claims the denial of his application for a brokerage account may have “impacted Mark financially,” ¶ 21, any such harm is not fairly traceable to an action by Defendants, which are not responsible for decisions that foreign banks make about whom to accept as clients. Crawford cannot establish standing indirectly when third parties are the causes of his alleged injuries. See Shearson, 725 F.3d at 592. Moreover, his discomfort with complying with the disclosures required by FATCA, see ¶23, does not establish the concrete, particularized harm that confers standing to sue. See, e.g., Lujan, 504 U.S. at 561 (requiring “concrete and particularized” and “actual or imminent” injury). Even if Crawford fears “unconstitutionally excessive fines imposed by 31 U.S.C. § 5321 if he willfully fails to file an FBAR,” ¶ 24, there is no allegation that he failed to file any FBAR that may have been required, much less that the Government has assessed an “excessive” FBAR penalty against him. Any harm that may come his way from imagined future events is speculative and cannot form the foundation for his lawsuit.
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None of the allegations states that Kuettel is presently being harmed by FATCA or the Swiss IGA, and neither FATCA nor the IGA apply to him as a non-U.S. citizen. See ¶¶ 51-58. His assertion of past harm because he was “mostly unsuccessful” in refinancing his mortgage due to FATCA does not convey standing. If that was a harm, it was due to actions of third-party foreign banks not those of Defendants. Regardless, having now renounced his American citizenship and obtained refinancing on terms he found acceptable, any past harm is not redressable here. See Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Pena, 515 U.S. 200, 210-11 (1995) (“[T]he fact of past injury . . . does nothing to establish a real and immediate threat that he would again suffer similar injury in the future.” (quotation omitted)). This leaves Kuettel’s claims concerning the FBAR requirement, in Counts 3 and 6, for which the Government concedes Kuettel has standing. Response, ECF 16, at 15, PAGEID 216.
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Donna-Lane Nelson is a citizen of Switzerland who has also renounced her U.S. citizenship. ¶ 59. She alleges that her Swiss bank “notified her that she would not be able to open a new account if she ever closed her existing one because she was an American. Fearing that she would eventually not be able to bank in the country where she lived, she decided to relinquish her U.S. citizenship.” ¶ 65. After she renounced, a Swiss bank “offered investment opportunities that were not available to her as an American.” Id. She “resents having to provide” “explanations” to Swiss banks that have requested information on her past U.S. citizenship and payments to her daughter, who lives in the United States, and she sees “threats implied by these requests which appear to be prompted by FATCA.” ¶ 68. Like other Plaintiffs, Nelson does not want to disclose financial information to the Government, and she fears willful FBAR penalties, even though no such penalty has been imposed or threatened against her. ¶¶ 69, 70. Unlike the preceding Plaintiffs, however, she adds that she fears the 30% withholding tax may be imposed against her “if her business partner,” who is now her husband, and with whom she has joint accounts, “opts to become a recalcitrant account holder.” ¶
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L. Marc Zell states that he is a practicing attorney and a citizen of both the United States and Israel who lives in Israel. He alleges that: (1) he and his firm have been required by Israeli banking institutions to complete IRS withholding forms for individuals whose funds his firm holds in trust, regardless of whether the forms are legally required, causing certain clients to leave his firm, ¶¶ 79 & 81; (2) Israeli banks have required his firm to close accounts, refused to open others, and requested conduct contrary to banking regulations, ¶¶ 79-80; and, (3) the compelled disclosure of his fiduciary relationship with clients impinges on the attorney-client relationship, ¶ 82. On request of clients, who claim their rights are violated by FATCA, Zell “has decided not to comply with the FATCA disclosure requirements whenever that alternative exists.” ¶ 83. He fears that the FATCA 30% withholding tax on pass-through payments to recalcitrant account holders could be imposed due to his refusal to provide identifying information about a client to an Israeli bank. ¶ He also has refused to provide information to his own bank and “fears that he will be classified as a recalcitrant account holder,” ¶ 85. Like the other Plaintiffs, he does not want his financial information disclosed, ¶ 86, and fears an FBAR penalty if the IRS determines that he willfully failed to file an FBAR, ¶ 87.
The majority of Zell’s allegations concern conduct of Israeli banks and his belief that the actions have been unfair to him or his clients. But conduct of third parties (even if related to the banks’ compliance with FATCA) does not confer standing to bring suit against Defendants. See, e.g., Ammex Inc. v. United States, 367 F.3d 530, 533 (6th Cir. 2004). Nor may Zell seek redress on behalf of third parties who have allegedly suffered harm, including unidentified clients. See Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 499 (1975). The third parties who have allegedly suffered harm are not plaintiffs, thus, alleged harm to them does not provide a basis for Zell to maintain this suit. The contention that disclosure of the identity of clients for whom Zell holds funds in trust violates the attorney-client privilege is also without merit. He gives no example of harm that has occurred or how he was harmed by disclosure of clients’ identities. He cannot raise the attorney-client privilege on his clients’ behalf, nor is the fact of representation privileged. See In re Special Sept. 1978 Grand Jury (II), 640 F.2d 49, 62 (7th Cir. 1980) (“[A]ttorney-client privilege belongs to the client alone[.]”); United States v. Robinson, 121 F.3d 971, 976 (5th Cir. 1997) (“The fact of representation . . . is generally not within the privilege.”). It is the fiduciary relationship, not the attorney-client relationship, that is the basis for the reporting requirement.
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“We begin, of course, with the presumption that the challenged statute”—FATCA—“is valid. Its wisdom is not the concern of the courts; if a challenged action does not violate the Constitution, it must be sustained[.]” INS v. Chadha, 426 U.S. 919, 944 (1983); see also National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius 132 S. Ct. 2566, 2594 (2012) (“‘[E]very reasonable construction must be resorted to, in order to save a statute from unconstitutionality.’” (quoting Hooper v. California, 155 U.S. 648, 657 (1895))).
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Plaintiffs decry that U.S. citizens living in foreign countries are in this manner treated differently than U.S. citizens living in the United States. According to Plaintiffs, the federal government has no legitimate interest in knowing the amount of any income, gain, loss, deduction, or credit recognized on a foreign account, whether a foreign account was opened or closed during the year, or the balance of a foreign account.
Plaintiffs contend that the “heightened reporting requirements” imposed by FATCA, the FBAR information-reporting requirements, and the Canadian, Swiss, Czech, and Israeli IGAs, violate the Fifth Amendment rights of “U.S. citizens living in a foreign country” and should be enjoined. See Complaint ¶¶ 124-130
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Plaintiffs’ equal protection claims fail because the statutes, regulations, and executive agreements that they challenge simply do not make the classification they assert. None of the challenged provisions single out U.S. citizens living abroad. Instead, all Americans with specified foreign bank accounts or assets are subject to reporting requirements, no matter where they happen to live. The provisions Plaintiffs contend discriminate against “U.S. citizens living abroad” actually apply to all U.S. taxpayers, no matter their residence.
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The distinction that the regulations do make is rationally related to a legitimate government interest. The U.S. tax system is based in large part on voluntary compliance: taxpayers are expected to disclose their sources of income annually on their federal tax returns. The information reporting required by FATCA is intended to address the use of offshore accounts to facilitate tax evasion, and to strengthen the integrity of the voluntary compliance system by placing U.S. taxpayers that have access to offshore investment opportunities in an equal position with U.S. taxpayers that invest within the United States. Third party information reporting is an important tool used by the IRS to close the tax gap between taxes due and taxes paid. The knowledge that financial institutions will also be disclosing information about an account encourages individuals to properly disclose their income on their tax returns. See Leandra Lederman, Statutory Speed Bumps: The Roles Third Parties Play in Tax Compliance, 60 STAN. L. REV. 695, 711 (2007).
Unlike most countries, U.S. taxpayers are subject to tax on their worldwide income, and their investments have become increasingly global in scope. Absent the FATCA reporting by FFIs, some U.S. taxpayers may attempt to evade U.S. tax by hiding money in offshore accounts where, prior to FATCA, they were not subject to automatic reporting to the IRS by FFIs. The information required to be reported, including payments made or credited to the account and the balance or value of the account is to assist the IRS in determining previously unreported income and the value of such information is based on experience from the DOJ prosecution of offshore tax evasion. See Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations bipartisan report on “Offshore Tax Evasion: The Effort to Collect Unpaid Taxes on Billions in Hidden Offshore Accounts,” February 26, 2014; see also Cal. Bankers Ass’n v. Shultz, 416 U.S. 21, 29 (1974) (“when law enforcement personnel are confronted with the secret foreign bank account or the secret foreign financial institution they are placed in an impossible situation…they must subject themselves to time consuming and often times fruitless foreign legal process.”).
The FBAR reporting requirements, likewise, have a rational basis. As the Supreme Court noted in California Bankers, when Congress enacted the Bank Secrecy Act (which provides the statutory basis for the FBAR), it “recognized that the use of financial institutions, both domestic and foreign, in furtherance of activities designed to evade the regulatory mechanism of the United States, had markedly increased.” Id. at 38. The Government has a legitimate interest in collecting information about foreign accounts, including account balances held by U.S. citizens, for the same reason that it requires reporting of information on U.S.-based accounts. The information assists law enforcement and the IRS, among other things, in identifying unreported taxable income of U.S. taxpayers that is held in foreign accounts. Without FBAR reporting, the Government’s efforts to track financial crime and tax evasion would be hampered.
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In Count Six, Plaintiffs contend that the FBAR “Willfullness Penalty” is unconstitutional under the Excessive Fines Clause. Plaintiffs decry that 26 U.S.C. § 5321 imposes a penalty of up to $100,000 or 50% of the balance of the account at the time of the violation, whichever is greater, for failures to file an FBAR as required by 26 U.S.C. § 5314 (the FBAR “Willfulness Penalty”). 31 U.S.C. § 5321(b)(5)(C)(i). 31
Plaintiffs allege the Willfulness Penalty is designed to punish and is therefore subject to the Excessive Fines Clause. Plaintiffs further allege the Willfulness Penalty is grossly disproportionate to the gravity of the offense.
Plaintiffs’ Eighth Amendment claims, however, are not ripe for adjudication because no withholding or FBAR penalty has been imposed against any Plaintiff . . .
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Plaintiffs have failed to establish that they are entitled to a preliminary injunction . . . The FATCA statute, the IGAs, and the FBAR requirements encourage compliance with tax laws, combat tax evasion,37 and deter the use of foreign accounts to engage in criminal activity. A preliminary injunction would harm these efforts and intrude upon the province of Congress and the President to determine how best to achieve these policy goals. Thus, Plaintiffs’ Motion for Preliminary Injunction, ECF 8, is DENIED.
DONE and ORDERED in Dayton, Ohio, this Tuesday, September 29, 2015.
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For those U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents residing outside the U.S. who expected the Courts to be sympathetic to their legal arguments somehow invalidating Chapter 4/FATCA and the FBAR filing requirements under Title 31, they will surely be disappointed by the result.
Taxpayer’s Burden of Proving the Impossible (?) – Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 (FATCA) Withholding Taxes Paid by Third Parties
The IRS has issued a Notice (Notice 2015-10) this year announcing its intention to modify the Treasury Regulations regarding tax refunds. This new series of rules, Guidance on Refunds and Credits Under Chapter 3, Chapter 4, and Related Withholding Provisions will complicate the lives of taxpayers significantly.
Indeed, I have already seen and handled cases where the IRS asserts the taxpayer is not entitled to a tax refund, unless and until they can prove the third party who withheld and paid over the tax (issuing IRS Forms 1042 to all parties, including the IRS and the taxpayer) actually issued and deposited those payments.
These cases are like “proving a negative” since the withholding agent (typically a bank) who made and paid over the deposit, almost never makes single identifying payments for each amount of tax withheld. Typically, there are multiple taxpayers where the withholding tax was made and a single deposit made to the IRS. Those are indeed the specific rules set forth by the IRS. See, IRS Publication 515, withholding of tax on nonresidents
It gets even worse in Qualified Intermediary (“QI”) cases, where a large pool of withholding taxes are made. Typically, I have found the financial institution keeps detailed records of the payments and deposits (along with IRS Forms 1042s), but never has a payment specific to a particular taxpayer, as the deposit payments correspond to multiple taxpayers at once. Indeed, the IRS has acknowledged this treatment in this notice when it states:
Under the existing information reporting, withholding, and deposit procedures, a withholding agent does not indicate to which beneficial owner the deposit of tax relates, and such information is not reported on Form 1042 or 1042-S. Under the existing procedures, therefore, an amount deducted by the withholding agent with respect to a payment to the beneficial owner cannot be matched with an amount of tax deposited in the withholding agent’s Form 1042 account.
See page 5 of (Notice 2015-10).
There is a huge incentive for withholding agents to timely pay and deposit the taxes. There are harsh penalties levied against the withholding agent if they do not timely deposit and pay over the taxes, as follows:
Penalty rate. If the deposit is:
However, if the deposit is not made within 10 days after the IRS issues the first notice demanding payment, the penalty is 15%.
In short, the proposal in the form of modifying the regulations puts the burden on the nonresident taxpayer to prove the tax was withheld, before he or she will be entitled to a refund.
This is a new development in a series of developments where the IRS and Treasury simply issue regulations in areas of the law they do not seem to like. Further, it puts an unrealistic burden on nonresident taxpayers who are relying upon the third party withholding agent who makes the payment of taxes.
The long term affect of this rule, will be to force more taxpayers to file suits for refund in the Court of Federal Claims or U.S. District Court, which is necessarily complicated and costly.
More posts to come on this Notice 2015-10 and amendments to the Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 (FATCA) withholding tax regulations.