On June 1, 2017, U.S. Ambassador Margaret Ann Uyehara and Montenegrin Finance Minister Darko Radunovic signed an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) to combat offshore tax evasion by implementing the provisions of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). Banks from Montenegro will be able to share information about financial accounts of U.S. citizens with the IRS.
The IRS remains committed to stopping the use of offshore accounts to hide money or assets, and has kept the act on its 2017 "Dirty Dozen" list of tax scams. "Offshore compliance remains a top IRS priority," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. "The IRS receives more foreign account information each year, making it harder to hide income offshore."
Seven years, 100,000 taxpayers and over $10 billion in taxes, interest, and penalties paid, and the IRS' offshore voluntary compliance efforts are still going strong.
Be careful who you share your offshore account information with---whistleblowing just got more lucrative. On August 3, 2016, the US Tax Court issued an opinion in a whistleblower claim case finding that the whistleblowers were entitled to an award based upon a percentage of $74,131,694 in tax restitution, a criminal fine, and civil forfeitures paid to the government. 147 T.C. No. 4. The targeted taxpayer pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the IRS and was ordered to pay $20,000,001 in tax restitution, a $22,050,000 criminal fine, and $15,821,000 civil forfeiture.
The Panama Papers leak has led President Obama to urge Congress to take action now against corruption and illegal financial activity. This recent, large-scale information leak has made it impossible for the government to ignore the less positive aspect of shell companies, which in theory protect the market from speculative price gouging when companies prepare to make big moves on the market, but which also have been used to hide the illegal activities of less honest beneficiaries.
If you have offshore assets that are not yet properly disclosed, you should consider contacting an attorney immediately for assistance, before a civil or criminal investigation begins. On April 3, 2016, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), with the help of German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, revealed approximately 11.5 million documents on 214,000 shell companies that operated between the 1970s and 2016, causing extreme embarrassment and panic for many of the world's leading figures. Although shell companies are not illegal to own, using them to avoid paying your taxes is.
During the last two weeks of 2015, the United States Department of Justice announced that Bank Lombard Odier& Co Ltd, DZ Privatbank (Schweiz) AG, Bank J. Safra Sarasin AG, Coutts & Co Ltd, Gonet & Cie, and Banque Cantonal du Valais reached resolutions under the department's Swiss Bank Program. These banks collectively will pay penalties of more than $285 million.
Now that the United States and numerous foreign jurisdictions have begun the automatic third-party financial account reporting exchange, it is less likely that offshore financial accounts will go unnoticed by the IRS. The IRS reminds taxpayers to take advantage of the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) or streamlined procedures to come into compliance regarding offshore accounts. Since OVDP began in 2009, there have been more than 54,000 disclosures from which the IRS has collected over $8 billion. In the past year, 20,000 taxpayers have participated in the streamlined proceedures designed for taxpayers whose non-compliance was not willful. Thanks to information obtained from investigations and settlements with foreign financial institutions, the IRS has conducted thousands of offshore-related civil audits resulting in tens of milions of dollars. The total assessed in criminal fines and restitutions is now in the billions. To read the complete bulletin, see IR 2015-116.
The IRS met its deadline to begin the reciprocal automatic exchange of tax information with some foreign jurisdiction tax administrators as agreed under the intergovernmental agreements (IGAs) as part of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). As of September 30, 2015, the IRS can now reciprocate and provide information to the other jurisdictions who have shared information regarding financial accounts held by U.S. taxpayers with the IRS. The information now available provides the United States and partner jurisdictions an improved means of verifying the tax compliance of taxpayers using offshore banking and investment facilities, and improves detection of those who may attempt to evade reporting the existence of offshore accounts and the income attributable to those accounts.
Once again, the Department of Justice has flexed its muscles and shown dishonest financial professionals that if they help clients hide assets offshore or create sham entities for clients to evade taxes, they will be prosecuted. The tax preparers in this case helped their wealthy clients to conceal millions of dollars of assets and income in secret foreign bank accounts, filed false federal income tax returns, maintained an offshore account in the name of a sham corporation and failed to disclose the account to the IRS. They also failed to file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR). Two of the three tax preparers have been sentenced to 36 and 50 months in prison and ordered to pay fines of nearly $300,000. The third tax preparer is still at large. To learn more, click here.