Articles Posted in IRS Whistleblower Program (for Tax Whistleblowers)

We have written previously about Senator Grassley’s pointed criticisms of aspects of the IRS whistleblower rules proposed in June 2010. The IRS’s delay in finalizing those rules is a principal reason why the IRS has not yet paid whistleblowers who have come forward since the December 2006 creation of the new IRS Whistleblower Program.

Today, the IRS took a large step to correct one major flaw that Grassley urged be corrected: re-writing a bizarre rule that would deny rewards to valuable whistleblowers who prevent improper refunds, or reduce a credit balance by a taxpayer. From what we can tell, that nonsensical rule was not the creation of the IRS Whistleblower Office, but of others within the IRS.

The IRS today announced a new IRS whistleblower rule to correct that anomaly, to be published for comment in the Federal Register.

Specifically, in a June 21, 2010 letter to Treasury Secretary Tim Geitner, Grassley challenged the IRS to write a sensible rule to correct this result:

In addition to the IRS posting the new [Internal Revenue Manual] provisions without public comment, there are many substantive concerns within the IRM. For example, the new definition of “collected proceeds” is particularly troubling because it seems to limit the payment of awards to whistleblowers only in those instances where the IRS receives cash payment from a taxpayer. . . . The denial of a whistleblower award where the whistleblower’s information leads to the denial of a claim for refund seems to create a perverse incentive for the whistleblower to wait until the IRS has paid an improper refund. In addition, the IRM says that satisfaction of a taxpayer’s liabilities by reducing a credit balance is not within the scope of collected proceeds so the whistleblower would receive no award.

The new proposed rule attempts at least a partial fix. It provides that rewards may now be paid on “amounts collected prior to receipt of the information if the information provided results in the denial of a claim for refund that otherwise would have been paid; and a reduction of an overpayment credit balance used to satisfy a tax liability incurred because of the information provided.”

Today’s proposed rule does nothing to address Grassley’s other criticisms of the June 2010 proposed rules.
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Citing many developments in the IRS Large Business and International Division in 2010, Tax Analysts this week named IRS LB&I Commissioner Heather Maloy as its “Tax Person of the Year.”

Among those developments that we have followed previously are the international focus of the restructured LB&I division (formerly known as the Large and Mid-Size Business Division (LMSB)), and the creation of the new Global High Wealth Industry Group within LB&I. That group within LB&I is already is working some very significant IRS Whistleblower cases.

Also mentioned by Tax Notes was one of my favorite IRS professionals who assisted the new IRS Whistleblower Program in its infancy, Stuart Mann:
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Tax whistleblowers using the new IRS Whistleblower Program have reported many instances of tax evasion involving domestic and foreign corporations, partnerships, and trusts, in addition to abusive offshore transactions about which we have written previously. These tax whistleblowers will allow the IRS to reduce the more than $300 billion “tax gap”–the difference between what tax cheats owe, but refuse to pay.

Tax evasion generally entails taxpayers understating taxes in the returns they file. In many cases evasion also entails taxpayers failing to file returns, especially information returns (as opposed to tax returns).

For example, partnership returns (Form 1065) are information returns and as such do not report tax payable. Cases of partnership tax evasion sometimes arise where filing Form 1065 is “overlooked.” In many of these cases, the partners continue to file their own income tax returns, which typically understate taxable income and tax payable, as there are no K-1’s to report.

Another partnership information return frequently overlooked is Form 8275. This form should generally be filed where partners have made partnership contributions, and received partnership distributions, within a two year period. Failing to file 8275’s typically results in an underpayment of tax where the disguised sale rules operate to treat the contribution and distribution as a sale.

Cancellation Of Debt (“COD”) is another area where non-filing of information returns (generally Form 1099-C) often results in an underpayment of tax, particularly in relation to non-institutional debt.

The problem of overlooked returns is not limited to income tax. Another return that is frequently overlooked is Form 709. This form should be filed by individuals who gift property that does not qualify for exclusion from gift tax.

On the international side, taxpayer interests in foreign companies should often be information reported on Form 5471. Where taxpayers have interests in foreign companies that hold interests in other foreign companies, multiple 5471’s may need to be filed to reflect second tier or higher tier interests. Failing to file 5471’s typically results in an underpayment of tax where foreign company income is required to be included in US income, for example under the Subpart F rules.
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When IRS whistleblowers save U.S taxpayers money, they deserve the rewards that lawmakers such as Sen. Chuck Grassley fought to establish. In 2006 his efforts resulted in the first meaningful IRS Whistleblower program ever, which is attracting many tax whistleblowers with significant evidence.

We have discussed previously the many positive aspects of the long-awaited IRS Whistleblower procedures published in June–and one illogical, self-defeating feature. Some in the IRS–and apparently not the IRS Whistleblower Office–thought whistleblowers should not be rewarded when they report tax violations that prevent a tax refund, or reduce a credit balance. (See, e.g., IRM The Washington Post’s David Hilzenrath has reported on this anomaly.

Sen. Grassley acted swiftly to protect the IRS Whistleblower program. In a June 21, 2010 letter to Treasury Secretary Tim Geitner, Grassley forcefully urged that a more sensible rule replace this new IRM oddity:

To battle offshore tax abuses and other international tax fraud and tax evasion, the IRS has announced that it is “realigning” and renaming its Large and Mid-Size Business (LMSB) division. To reflect its new emphasis, it will known as the “Large Business and International” division (LB&I).

As more transactions cross international borders, and more corporations and wealthy individuals use offshore tax havens and foreign low tax jurisdictions to avoid their tax obligations, the IRS is smart to focus more of its enforcement efforts in this way.

Based on our experience with tax whistleblowers, it is clear that the IRS Whistleblower Program is already seeing increasing numbers of tax whistleblower claims dealing with offshore tax abuses and other international tax issues.

The new IRS international unit will include a “transfer pricing” director, as well as a chief economist, who will oversee the IRS’s economic positions pertaining to transfer pricing.

(Transfer pricing, in ordinary language, involves a multinational company’s reallocating income or expenses between related entities in different countries with different tax rates to reduce taxes, by artificially increasing or decreasing the price one business entity charges another for goods, services, or intangibles. Transfer pricing cases can be good IRS Whistleblower claims.)

This action is the latest IRS step to address international tax evasion, including the investigation of the misuse of offshore accounts and foreign entities by U.S. taxpayers. Last fall, the IRS introduced a Global High Wealth Industry unit to improve monitoring of tax compliance by high income individuals, and their related enterprises.

Time will tell if the IRS succeeds in its stated goal “to create a more centralized organization dedicated to improving international tax compliance.”

The IRS announcement is reprinted below:
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“Offshore” accounts are an increasing priority of IRS enforcement, aided by the new IRS Whistleblower Program. The Offshore World has changed and will never be the same again. The traditional tax haven assurance of secrecy and anonymity won’t necessarily work any more.

The US has concluded Tax Information Exchange Agreements (TIEA’s) with a number of Offshore jurisdictions. Although the TIEA’s fall short of comprehensive Double Tax Treaties, they allow the IRS to obtain tax information about entities and accounts in Offshore jurisdictions under certain circumstances.

In many cases, these agreements allow the jurisdiction to forego financial secrecy laws when faced with a specific information request from the IRS. In most cases, the exchange of information potentially covers civil as well as criminal investigations by the IRS.

This morning’s Washington Post quotes me, among others, in criticizing one aspect of the new procedures for IRS whistleblowers recently published in the Internal Revenue Manual. That one glaring defect aside, the new IRM procedures are welcome news that should encourage more IRS whistleblowers to come forward.

Today’s Post article by David Hilzenrath on the IRS whistleblower procedures makes the following point, among others:

“There’s apparently an institutional resistance to rewarding whistleblowers that will take some time to dissipate,” said Michael A. Sullivan of the law firm Finch McCranie, who represents whistleblowers. “Counterproductive rules such as this one may be a result of that resistance,” he said.

Today the long-awaited IRS Whistleblower Office procedures for determining awards to tax whistleblowers were announced in an update to the Internal Revenue Manual.

The new provisions for IRS Whistleblower claims address many details of how tax whistleblower claims will be handled. The full provisions are reprinted below:

Part 25. Special Topics
Chapter 2. Information and Whistleblower Awards
Section 2. Whistleblower Awards

25.2.2 Whistleblower Awards Overview: Authority and Policy General Submission of Information for Award under Sections 7623(a) or (b) Initial Review of the Form 211 by the Whistleblower Office Grounds for Not Processing Claims for Award Processing of the Form 211 7623(a) Claim for Award Processing of the Form 211 7623(b) Claim for Award Whistleblower Award Administrative Proceeding Award Computation Appeal Rights under section 7623(b) Confidentiality of the Whistleblower Funding Awards Award Payment Procedures Annual Report to Congress
Exhibit 25.2.2-1 1891 Letter
Exhibit 25.2.2-2 Rejection Letter – 1010 Letter
Exhibit 25.2.2-3 Acknowledgement Letter – Whistleblower Office
Exhibit 25.2.2-4 Debriefing Checksheet
Exhibit 25.2.2-5 Rejection Letter from the Whistleblower Office
Exhibit 25.2.2-6 Memorandum from Steven T. Miller, February 17, 2010
Exhibit 25.2.2-7 Sample Notice of Opportunity to Comment Letter
Exhibit 25.2.2-8 Sample Summary Award Report
Exhibit 25.2.2-9 Award Recommendation-Opportunity to Comment
Exhibit 25.2.2-10 Confidentiality Agreement
Exhibit 25.2.2-11 Sample Preliminary Award Report
Exhibit 25.2.2-12 Sample Determination Letter
Exhibit 25.2.2-13 Award Calculation Computation Guidelines Continue reading →

Offshore tax evasion is a great priority for the IRS, and thus also the IRS Whistleblower Program.

Today, the leading advocate for robust whistleblower laws has called for the Treasury Department and the IRS to account for their use of information provided by the “UBS whistleblower,” Bradley Birkenfeld.

Sen. Chuck Grassley issued a press release today summarizing his letter to Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman. Grassley commented on Swiss legislators’ move today to “unravel a U.S.-Swiss treaty that would allow for the disclosure of more client information to allow U.S. officials to review cases for potential enforcement of U.S. tax laws.”

“The action by Swiss legislators today to try to unravel an international treaty emphasizes the need for U.S. authorities to exhaust the information they have on U.S. taxpayers who use offshore accounts to evade taxes,” Grassley said. “Honest taxpayers deserve to know what’s happened with what could be very valuable leads, and if it’s nothing, they deserve to know why. It’s a matter of tax fairness and law enforcement. And the IRS shouldn’t wait for international agreements to fall into place when tax evaders can be identified through other appropriate tools.”

Grassley did not advocate for the UBS whistleblower’s release from federal prison, however, but focused on the government’s use of the information he provided. (See prior discussions of the UBS whistleblower’s case here).

Grassley, more than anyone, is responsible for passage of the December 2006 legislation that created the first meaningful IRS Whistleblower Program. The promising new IRS Whistleblower Program was inspired by the great successes of the nation’s primary whistleblower statute for exposing fraud, the False Claims Act.

Sen. Grassley’s announcement and letter today are reprinted below:
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A high priority for IRS Whistleblower cases is the abuse of offshore “tax havens” or offshore financial centers to conceal income from the IRS that is subject to U.S. taxation. Over drinks in Miami Beach recently with IRS agents who worked the massive UBS matter, I discussed some of the recent announced cases the IRS has made involving offshore abuses.

Using shell corporations and “nominee” entities established in the Cayman Islands, Switzerland, or a host of other countries that market “secrecy,” those looking to conceal income from the IRS, or assets from potential creditors, have made offshore tax havens a booming business.

An interesting example of allegations of offshore tax violations was described in the Justice Department’s announcement yesterday of the indictment of two Miami Beach hotel developers. Mauricio Cohen Assor and his son, Leon Cohen-Levy. They were charged with conspiring to defraud the United States and filing false tax returns. The government alleged as follows:

According to court documents, the two men and their co-conspirators used nominees and shell companies formed in tax haven jurisdictions, including the Bahamas, the British Virgin Islands, Panama, Liechtenstein and Switzerland to conceal their assets and income from the IRS. In order to further conceal their assets and income from the IRS, court documents state the men also provided false and forged documents to banks, opened bank accounts in the name of nominees, titled their personal residences and luxury vehicles in the name of shell companies, filed false and fraudulent tax returns, failed to file other tax returns, suborned perjury in a civil matter pending before the New York Supreme Court by directing individuals to testify falsely under oath, and induced other individuals to make false statements to federal law enforcement agents.

Both defendants are permanent resident aliens who, in 2000, received approximately $33 million from the sale of the New York Flatotel, according to the government. They transferred the proceeds using various Swiss bank accounts in the names of foreign nominee entities, including at least one “bearer share” corporation.

When bearer shares are used, the corporation’s records do not list its owners, as the owners are whoever has physical possession of the stock certificates. As IRS Special Agent Scott Johnson testified by affidavit, “[b]earer share corporations are often used to hide the true ownership of assets because ownership records are not maintained and nominee officers and directors are often used to control the affairs of the corporation.’

Later, the defendants allegedly transferred the funds to accounts of nominee companies at that bank’s New York location, and later to the escrow account of a Florida attorney. The government also alleged that defendants used the money to “fund a luxury lifestyle for themselves and for their family members.”

Offshore tax abuse remains a great priority of the IRS, and thus is a major focus of many IRS Whistleblower claims. The new IRS Whistleblower Program recognizes that whistleblowers have an enforceable right to 15-30% of what the IRS recovers based on information whistleblowers provide.

The government’s full press release is below:
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