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Laura L. Gavioli, PC, defends individuals and corporations in white-collar prosecutions, civil tax cases, US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) controversies and complex financial litigation. Laura represents numerous taxpayers who are facing civil and criminal issues regarding their reporting of offshore financial accounts and other assets. Laura has also represented clients involved in some of the largest white-collar criminal tax evasion cases ever brought in the United States, and she regularly advises clients regarding the IRS Whistleblower Program. Read Laura Gavioli's full bio.

Lately, we have been frequently asked the question: “I file US tax returns and pay taxes here. Are my cryptocurrency transactions taxable or reportable in the US?”

The answer for US persons and US taxpayers most likely is “yes.” US persons are generally taxable on income earned worldwide, regardless of the manner in which that income is paid (e.g. currency (foreign or domestic) or property (tangible, intangible or virtual)). Thus, if you have bought, sold or exchanged cryptocurrency, those transactions could be subject to federal tax. If your cryptocurrency is held offshore, a number of offshore reporting obligations could also apply to these holdings.

Now is the right time to come forward and resolve any US compliance issues related to your cryptocurrency holdings. As we have seen in recent cases like the Coinbase summons enforcement proceeding (which we reported upon in several previous posts), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has stepped up its enforcement efforts regarding undisclosed interests in cryptocurrency worldwide.

How should you come forward? Following an IRS-attended conference earlier this year, comments began circulating that the IRS was considering the creation of a formal voluntary disclosure program for cryptocurrency transactions, similar to the now-ended Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program. (We reported on that program numerous times, here.) Unfortunately, the IRS has now squashed this rumor, stating that “IRS is not contemplating a separate program related to offshore [virtual] currencies.” A domestic program was not even mentioned.

Despite this news, a number of disclosure options remain available for bringing your US and foreign cryptocurrency into compliance. The IRS’s longstanding voluntary disclosure policy remains in full force and effect. This policy acts to reduce or eliminate the risk of criminal prosecution related to nondisclosure of domestic or foreign taxable assets, and can provide avenues to reduce civil penalties as well. Further, the IRS’s Streamlined Filing Compliance Procedures and Delinquent International Information Return Procedures are still active and may provide reduced (or no) penalties for US international tax non-compliance in appropriate cases.

Practice Point: Beyond the short answer of “yes, cryptocurrency is taxable,” a number of open questions regarding the taxation and reporting of cryptocurrency in the US remain. For example, determining what offshore crypto holdings are subject to FBAR and Form 8938 reporting remains complicated and unclear. Also, although tax reform has eliminated the use of Section 1031 exchanges to avoid currently being taxed for personal property like cryptocurrencies, the IRS’s position on exchanges that occurred prior to 2018 is still unknown. There are also open valuation questions, particularly for crypto accounts subject to access limitations like lock-up periods. The tax treatment of so-called hard and soft “forks” is also unclear. Finally, crypto exchanges are navigating a number of open reporting and compliance issues. If you have significant holdings in cryptocurrency, consult with a federal tax advisor who understands the tax aspects of this unique asset to ensure your tax reporting is correct and complete.

Christopher Saddock, a secondee in the Firm’s Dallas office, also contributed to this article.

On October 27, the US District Court for the District of Minnesota issued an opinion in United States v. Adams, No. 0:17-cr-00064-DWF-KMM (D. Minn. Oct. 27, 2018), addressing attorney-client privilege issues relevant to accountants working alongside tax attorneys. The court adopted a narrow, nuanced view of the waiver that applies when the taxpayer discloses an accountant’s work to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) by filing an amended return.

In Adams, the taxpayer is facing a 17 count superseding indictment in which the government alleges he spearheaded a scheme to defraud investors in two companies and to embezzle corporate funds for his personal benefit. In late 2017, the government added three counts of tax evasion to the indictment, alleging that amended returns the taxpayer filed in late 2011 for the 2008, 2009 and 2010 tax years were willfully false under IRC § 7206(1).

The addition of the tax evasion charges is significant for the government’s arguments for waiver of privilege and work-product protection. It appears that the taxpayer filed the amended returns at issue in late 2011 under advice of counsel, working with the taxpayer’s accountant under a Kovel arrangement. (We have previously discussed the scope of Kovel protections here.) In our experience, filing of amended returns in advance of a criminal investigation or trial is one potential strategy to demonstrate good faith and lack of criminal intent and, if combined with payment, amended returns may have the added benefit of reducing the tax loss at issue in a criminal case. Of course, every case is different, but it appears this may have been the strategy at work in Adams. Continue Reading Kovel Protections Upheld | Government Loses Aggressive Arguments for Waiver of Privilege for Controversy Advice

Earlier this year, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) announced the ending of the 2014 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (OVDP), its formal amnesty program for taxpayers with previously undisclosed interests in foreign assets and financial accounts. The program deadline is September 28, 2018, and all submissions must be substantially completed by that deadline. Partial or “placeholder” submissions will not qualify. All requests for preclearance into the program must be submitted by Friday, August 24, 2018.

A number of other disclosure options will remain available after September 28, 2018, including the popular IRS streamlined compliance procedures. Regardless, taxpayers with potential questions or concerns regarding reporting of their foreign holdings should seek advice immediately in light of upcoming deadlines.

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.

Access the full article. 

If you have traded Bitcoin or other crypto-currencies, you probably know that their taxation may be as uncertain as your potential for reward or loss. Since 2014, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has publicized how it believes these investments should be treated for US federal income tax purposes. If you have failed to report your virtual currency transaction, the result in Coinbase, a recent IRS “John Doe” summons enforcement case, should convince you that it is time to ensure you are compliant with tax laws. The IRS may be coming for your Bitcoins!

IRS Guidance – Bitcoins Are Property

In IRS Notice 2014-21, 2014-16 IRB 938, the IRS explained that so-called “virtual currencies” that can be exchanged for traditional currency are “property” for federal income tax purposes. As such, a taxpayer must report gain or loss on its sale or exchange, measured against the taxpayer’s cost to purchase the virtual currency. In the notice, the IRS also made clear that “virtual currencies” are not currency for Internal Revenue Code (IRC) section 988 purposes. Continue Reading The IRS May Be Coming for Your Bitcoins

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.

We have written several times about penalty defenses, including substantial authority, issues of first impression and tax reporting disclosures. Additionally, we previously covered  the 2016 case of Graev v. Commissioner, where a divided US Tax Court (Tax Court) held that supervisory approval was not necessary before determining a penalty in a deficiency proceeding because the statutory language of Internal Revenue Code (Code) Section 6751(b)(1) couched such approval in terms of a proposed penalty assessment. For those not well-versed in procedural tax lingo, an “assessment” is merely the formal recording of a tax liability in the records of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). In cases subject to the deficiency procedures—i.e., where taxpayers have a right to contest the IRS’s position in the Tax Court—no assessment can be made until after the Tax Court’s decision is final. Continue Reading IRS Required to Obtain Supervisory Approval to Assert Penalties

Today, taxing authorities across the globe, including the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), are increasing their efforts to gather and share sensitive taxpayer information, often aggressively seeking copies of tax advice, opinions and analysis prepared by counsel and other advisors. In some situations, tax advisors specifically draft their advice to be shared with third parties, but frequently the IRS seeks advice that was always intended to be confidential client communications—for example, drafts and emails containing unfinished analysis and unguarded commentary. Sharing this latter type of advice could be problematic for taxpayers because such advice could be used as a road map for examiners during an audit and may mislead the IRS regarding the strength or weakness of a taxpayer’s reporting positions.

Last month, we spoke to tax executives at Tax Executives Institute forums in Houston and Chicago about the IRS’s increased use of treaty requests to obtain US taxpayers’ documents and information from international tax authorities. Continue Reading Maintaining Confidentiality While Navigating Cross-Border Transactions

On Tuesday, November 21, a jury acquitted Bank Frey executive Stefan Buck of conspiracy to commit criminal tax evasion in the Southern District of New York. The case is captioned United States v. Edgar Paltzer and Stefan Buck, No 1:13-cr-00282-JSR (S.D.N.Y.).

In April 2013, an indictment was filed against Buck and a co-conspirator, Edgar Paltzer, alleging a criminal conspiracy whereby Buck, the head of private banking at Bank Frey, and Paltzer, a US citizen and lawyer, conspired with US taxpayers to move funds out of Swiss banks under investigation in the US, including Wegelin. The alleged criminal conduct included arranging for cash withdrawals and purchases of jewelry, opening new undeclared accounts, and filing false statements of beneficial ownership, among other actions.

Continue Reading Jury Acquits Swiss Banker Stefan Buck of Tax Evasion Conspiracy