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K. Christy Vouri-Misso focuses her practice on all stages of complex federal tax controversies including Internal Revenue Service (IRS) examinations, administrative appeals, voluntary disclosures, and litigation. She has settled multiple tax disputes with IRS legal counsel avoiding costly litigation in court. Read K. Christy Vouri-Misso's full bio.

The Tax Act created two new foreign tax credit limitation baskets – one for foreign branch income (new section 904(d)(1)(B)) and one for any amount includible in gross income under section 951A (i.e., GILTI) – however, it failed to amend section 904(d)(2)(H)(i) to reflect these changes to section 904(d)(1). As a result of this oversight, section 904(d)(2)(H)(i) currently instructs the taxpayer to treat foreign taxes imposed on amounts that do not constitute income under US principles as imposed on income described in the foreign branch income basket. In light of legislative history and Treasury regulations, such a failure to amend the Code appears to be a drafting error. This article addresses the relevant case law that, on balance, supports applying section 904(d)(2)(H)(i) as if its language and cross-reference had been properly amended.

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On March 28, 2018, the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) published Proposed Regulation § 301.7601-1(b)(3)(i) and (ii) which permits the IRS to hire outside specialists to assist in determining the correctness of a taxpayer’s tax liability. The Proposed Regulation also contains an exception specifically prohibiting the IRS from hiring outside attorneys to review summoned information or question witnesses providing testimony under oath.

The participation of outside attorneys became controversial during the audit of a large technology company when the IRS hired an outside law firm to augment its own resources for the transfer pricing audit of the company. On October 16, 2017, in response to the requirements of Executive Order 13789, requiring the Secretary of the Treasury to review all regulations issued after January 1, 2016, the Treasury Department and the IRS announced that they were considering proposing an amendment to Treas. Reg. § 301.7602-1(b)(3) in order to narrow the scope with respect to non-government attorneys. See our prior coverage here. Continue Reading New Proposed Regulations Limit Use of Non-Government Attorneys

On March 13, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced that it will begin ramping down the current Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP) and urged taxpayers with undisclosed foreign assets to apply for the program prior to its close on September 28, 2018. We have previously reported on developments in the OVDP.

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On January 23, 2018, the International Compliance Assurance Programme (ICAP) was launched at an orientation event in Washington, DC. The ICAP pilot is a voluntary program in which the participants will use country-by-country reporting and other information to establish multilateral agreements in order to establish early tax certainty and assurance. The ICAP handbook can be found here.

The pilot program includes eight Organisation for Economic Co-operation Development (OECD) Forum on Tax Administration (FTA) member tax administrations and eight multinational entities (one headquartered in each of the eight countries including: Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States). Under the program, the participant will engage with several jurisdictions at once in order to efficiently establish and address the specific international tax risks posed by its transfer pricing and permanent establishments. The tax administrations will jointly review the information supplied by the participant and will coordinate any follow-up questions. The participant can then engage with the tax administrations simultaneously, preventing the need for multiple APAs and resulting in fewer disputes. Continue Reading Multilateral-APA-Like Program to Create International Tax Certainty for Pilot Participants

On January 23, 2018, President Trump announced his intent to nominate Courtney Dunbar Jones to the US Tax Court. He previously nominated Elizabeth Copeland and Patrick Urda on August 3, 2017.

Courtney Dunbar Jones is a senior attorney in the Tax-Exempt and Government Entities division in the Office of Chief Counsel of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). If confirmed, she will assume the position left vacant by the 2016 retirement of Judge John O. Colvin. Judge Colvin still performs judicial duties as a Senior Judge on recall.

On January 24, 2018, numerous press outlets announced that President Trump will nominate Charles “Chuck” Rettig of Hochman, Salkin, Rettig, Toscher & Perez, to serve as the next Commissioner of the IRS.

Rettig has been in private practice at Hochman, Salkin for more than 35 years and has a long record of leadership in our field. Among his many accomplishments, Rettig was instrumental in working with the IRS to establish key settlement initiatives over the last 15 years, including providing key practitioner guidance in designing the Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program.

If confirmed, Rettig would helm an IRS that has been significantly reshaped by budget cuts and staff attrition in recent years. Rettig would also oversee the implementation of tax reform. Rettig has been a friend and mentor to many of us in the tax controversy bar over the years, and we are encouraged by the selection of someone from the private bar to the post.

On January 3, 2018, Chief Judge Marvel of the US Tax Court (Tax Court) announced that Senior Judge Robert A. Wherry, Jr. fully retired as of January 1, 2018, and would no longer be recalled for judicial service.

Judge Wherry was appointed on April 23, 2003, by President George W. Bush. In 2014, Judge Wherry took senior status and continued to try cases. By statute, the Tax Court is composed of 19 presidentially appointed judges. Judges are appointed for a term of 15 years and after an appointed term has expired, or they reach a specified age, may serve as a “senior judge” if recalled by the Tax Court. The Tax Court also has several special trial judges, who generally preside over small tax cases. Continue Reading Senior Tax Court Judge Robert A. Wherry, Jr. Retires

On November 8, 2017, Facebook, Inc. and Subsidiaries (Facebook) filed a complaint in the District Court for the Northern District of California asserting that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) had improperly denied Facebook access to Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Appeals. Facebook’s complaint seeks a declaratory judgment that the IRS unlawfully issued Revenue Procedure 2016-22, 2016-15 I.R.B. 1, and unlawfully denied Facebook its statutory right to access an independent administrative forum. Facebook also requests injunctive relief from the IRS’s unlawful position, or action in the nature of mandamus to compel the IRS to provide Facebook access to an independent administrative forum. Continue Reading Facebook Goes to District Court to Enforce Access to IRS Appeals

On March 10, 2017, the Tax Court of Canada held that agreements reached under the Mutual Agreement Procedure (MAP) precluded the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) from redetermining the transfer prices of rock salt sold by Sifto Canada Corp. (Sifto Canada) to a related party in the United States.

In 2006, Sifto Canada reevaluated the transfer pricing of its rock salt sales to its US affiliate for 2002 through 2006. Siftco Canada discovered that the sales prices had been for less than an arm’s length price and in 2007 made an application to the CRA’s voluntary disclosure program reporting additional income from the sale of rock salt for 2002-2006 of over C$13 million. In 2008, the CRA accepted the application and assessed additional tax on that income.

After the assessment, Sifto Canada applied to the Canadian Competent Authority (CCA) and its US affiliate applied to the United States Competent Authority (USCA) for relief from double taxation under Articles IX and XXVI of the Convention between Canada and the United States of America with Respect to Taxes on Income and on Capital, as amended (the Treaty). The CRA did not audit Sifto Canada during this time and based its position paper on Sifto Canada’s voluntary disclosure application. Under the MAP process, the USCA and CCA then agreed to the transfer prices.

During the negotiation process for the MAP, the CRA began auditing the transfer prices of the rock salt for those years and then, subsequent to the signing of the MAP agreements, the CRA determined that the transfer prices should have been even higher than the amounts reported by Sifto Canada in the voluntary disclosure and issued further reassessments of its tax.

The CRA argued that: (1) the MAP agreements only provided relief from double taxation and did not set transfer prices; (2) the CCA only entered into agreements with the USCA and did not enter into a binding agreement with Sifto Canada regarding the transfer prices; and (3) that the government had a duty to reassess the tax once it determined that the transfer prices were not at arm’s length.

The Tax Court of Canada did not agree with the CRA and held the government to its MAP agreements. The Court found that by reaching an agreement under the MAP process, the CCA necessarily had to find that the transfer prices were at arm’s length under the Treaty. Further, the Court found that under the factual matrix of this case, the CCA’s letters exchanged with Siftco Canada clearly described the terms of the MAP agreements, asked Siftco Canada to accept those terms, and Sifto Canada then accepted the terms establishing a binding agreement. Finally, the Court found the agreements were not “indefensible on the facts and the law” and thus were binding on the Canadian government.

Practice Point:  This case is helpful to taxpayers with cross-border transactions between the US and Canada and demonstrates that MAP agreements are binding on the CRA.

On April 5, 2017, in an unanimous court reviewed opinion, the United States Tax Court determined that disclosure of a worker’s tax return information to absolve the employer from liabilities arising out of the employer’s withholding requirement is not subject to the general prohibition against disclosing taxpayer return information pursuant to Internal Revenue Code (IRC) Section 6103, and does not shift the burden of proof to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

In Mescalero Apache Tribe v. Commissioner, 148 T.C. 11 (2017), the IRS determined that a number of the Mescalero Apache Tribe’s workers were not independent contractors, but employees. If the IRS prevailed in its worker reclassification determination then, as the employer, the Mescalero Apache Tribe would be jointly and severally liable for Federal income tax that should have been withheld on the workers’ earnings. To prevent double taxation, IRC Section 3402(d) provides that the IRS cannot collect from the employer the withholding tax liability if the employees have already paid income tax on their earnings. To prove its position that the workers were independent contractors and alternatively to reduce any potential withholding tax liability if the workers were classified as employees, the Mescalero Apache Tribe asked each worker to complete Form 4669, Statement of Payments Received. However, the Mescalero Apache Tribe had trouble locating each of its workers because many had moved or lived in hard-to-reach areas without phone service or basic utilities. Continue Reading IRS is Required to Search Tax Return Information Records to Help Determine Worker Classification

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.