On December 2, 2016, the US District Court for the Central District of California found that taxpayers who failed to file a Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBARs) for three foreign accounts, one of which, in the court’s view, was intentionally kept secret from all persons except their children, for over a decade were “at least recklessly indifferent to a statutory duty.” Read more about the case here. The court found that the taxpayers were “sophisticated,” pointing to evidence that they ran a successful camera shop, and that they lacked credibility having made several misrepresentations on their failed attempt to apply to the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) and for making unbelievable assertions at trial. The court did not apply the heightened standard of willfulness applicable to criminal trials, a violation of a known legal duty, finding that civil trials apply the lesser standard of reckless disregard of a statutory duty. Additionally, the court rejected the defendants’ argument that the government had to show willfulness under the clear and convincing standard of proof and applied the typical civil preponderance of the evidence standard of proof. The taxpayers’ lawyer has stated that they will appeal the decision.
Practice note: Ensuring that OVDP applications are complete and truthful is crucial to their acceptance and, as demonstrated here, can and will be used against the taxpayer in any later proceedings. The taxpayers in this case had a number of factors working against them, and, as shown here, offshore reporting cases will often turn on their own specific facts. As more and more FBAR enforcement cases are being docketed around the country, it will be interesting to see whether reviewing courts will apply a uniform standard for willfulness under the FBAR statute.