Want to hide some money from the government? For years, the answer was simple: Put that money offshore! Historically, the U.S. has done little to regulate and enforce laws on offshore accounts.
But now, that mantra is no longer true. Offshore accounts are no longer as safe from the U.S. government’s watchful eye, and regulations are soon to become even tougher.
As highlighted by the UBS and Credit Suisse cases between 2009 and 2011, the U.S. government has recently begun regulating offshore bank accounts on a heavier basis. This creates a myriad of legal issues for lawyers dealing with large banks, as they need to ensure the company complies with U.S. regulation wherever they are conducting business.
According to the Wall Street Journal, however, the biggest gun in the government’s war against undeclared offshore accounts is yet to come: a new provision of the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), originally passed in 2010, that will take effect in July 2014. This new provision would require foreign financial institutions to report information about their U.S. account holders to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). This includes both U.S. citizens and U.S. green card holders, no matter where they are living.
The implications of this provision are far-reaching. Want to retire to the U.K. after living in the U.S., while moving all of your money with you? Too bad, the IRS will still hold jurisdiction over your accounts. Originally from Canada and want to move back there after obtaining a U.S. green card? You’re not totally free of the U.S. yet; the IRS wants your financial info as well. Tax specialists say the IRS will have more regulatory power than ever before once the new prevision goes into effect.
“FATCA is a dragnet meant to force transparency and curtail tax evasion around the world,” Christine Ballard, an international tax specialist at the accounting firm Moss Adams, told the Wall Street Journal. “It affects millions of U.S. taxpayers both here and abroad. Some people are willfully evading U.S. taxes, while many others aren't aware of the complex rules.”
Bryan Skarlatos, a lawyer at Kostelanetz & Fink in New York who has handled hundreds of offshore-account confessions, agrees, saying, “The law is designed to shine light in dark corners.”
Company counsel should make sure that all accounts are reported and regulated by the IRS, lest they suffer the fate of Beanie Babies tycoon Ty Warner, who was forced to pay an offshore-account penalty of $53.5 million in September 2013. More of this type of litigation will likely be coming once the U.S. government’s reach expands further.