Privilege and Non-Disclosure

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.

Tax reform is here to stay (at least for the foreseeable future). The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) may receive additional funds to implement the new tax law. With lowered tax rates, accelerated expensing and forced repatriation of foreign earnings comes an increased risk of an IRS audit. This brave new tax world has left so many questions that tax advisors’ phones have been ringing off the hooks! But as the end of the 2017 year and first quarter of 2018 dust settles, be mindful of the IRS audit to come. Continue Reading Expect Controversy in the Wake of Tax Reform

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

In Estate of Levine v. Commissioner, the US Tax Court (Tax Court) rejected an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) attempt to expand upon the privilege waiver principles set forth in AD Inv. 2000 Fund LLC v. Commissioner. As background, the Tax Court held in AD Investments that asserting a good-faith and reasonable-cause defense to penalties places a taxpayer’s state of mind at issue and can waive attorney-client privilege. We have previously covered how some courts have narrowly applied AD Investments.

In Estate of Levine, the IRS served a subpoena seeking all documents that an estate’s return preparer and his law firm had in their files for a more-than-ten-year period, beginning several years before the estate return was filed and ending more than four years after a notice of deficiency (i.e., which led to the Tax Court case) was issued. The law firm prepared the estate plan and the estate tax return in issue. The law firm represented the estate during the audit, and after the notice of deficiency was issued, the law firm was engaged to represent the estate in “pending litigation with the IRS.”   Continue Reading Tax Court Says IRS’s “Drift-Net” Argument to Expand Privilege Waiver Must Be Anchored in Principles

In two recent cases, the United States Tax Court (Tax Court) has explored the bounds of the anonymity protection afforded to potential whistleblowers under the court’s rules and other authorities. Tax Court Rule 345 relates to privacy protections for filings in whistleblower actions.  Under paragraph (a), a whistleblower may move the court for permission to proceed anonymously.  In order to proceed anonymously, the whistleblower must provide a sufficient, fact-specific basis for anonymity.  Specifically, the Tax Court has held that “[a] whistleblower is permitted to proceed anonymously if the whistleblower presents a sufficient showing of harm that outweighs counterbalancing societal interest in knowing the whistleblower’s identity.”  (Whistleblower 10949-13W v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo 2014-94, at 5).  However, the balance of harm to societal interest may shift as the case progresses, thereby justifying disclosure after anonymity has been granted.  See Tax Court Rule 345(b). Continue Reading Tax Court Requires Specific Factual Showing of Harm for Whistleblower Anonymity

Female tax professionals gathered in McDermott Will & Emery’s New York office for an annual New York rendition of Tax in the City®: A Women’s Tax Roundtable on Thursday, September 14. Featuring a CLE/CPE presentation about Privilege and the Ethics of Social Media by Kristen Hazel and Robin Greenhouse, an update on tax reform by Sandra McGill and an overview of recent state and local tax news by Alysse McLoughlin, the event culminated in a networking reception over cocktails.

Topics covered at the event included:

  • Best practices for preserving attorney-client privilege and work product protection; strategies to prevent an inadvertent waiver.
  • Ethics of social media (think before you post).
  • Tax reform:
    • Where are we now (framework to be issued week of September 25 and legislation sometime in October, possibly after budget).
    • What could tax reform look like (e.g., reduced tax rate, one-time tax on unrepatriated foreign earnings, move to territorial tax with DRD and corresponding changes to foreign tax credit system, changes to IRS Subpart F, elimination of certain deductions and/or adjustments to the taxation of carried interests).
    • What should taxpayers be thinking about (e.g., taking steps to best position your organization to proactively react to tax reform both now and when the reform measures become effective).
  • Status of certain tax regulations identified in Notice 2017-38 per mandate of EO 13789: Treasury provided recommendations to President Trump on September 18, 2017, and its report should be published sometime this month. We discussed possible change/revocation/deferred effective dates for regulations under Sections 367, 385 and 987 and steps taxpayers are taking today to address these regulations.
  • Partnership Update:
    • New TEFRA rules are effective January 1, 2018: TEFRA partnership agreements should be reviewed; assess whether the agreement should be amended (or other agreements implemented) to address these new rules.
    • Grecian Magnesite Mining: Tax Court held that gain derived by foreign person from disposition of its interest in a partnership engaged in US trade or business was treated as the disposition of a capital asset not as the disposition of the partner’s share of the underlying partnership assets and was not subject to US federal income tax as effectively connected income. It is unclear whether this case will be appealed.
  • State tax apportionment issues: We discussed the difficulty in establishing the proper level of reserves due to both the uncertainty in applying the statutory sourcing methods and the state taxing authorities’ ability to use their discretionary authority to revise the statutory sourcing methods.

We invite all tax professionals who identify as female to join Tax in the City®’s official LinkedIn group to continue the conversation and share tax developments in between events and meetings! Click here to join.

Established in 2014 by McDermott Will & Emery LLP, Tax in the City® is a discussion and networking group for women in tax that fosters collaboration and mentorship and facilitates in-person connections and roundtable events around the country. This New York edition of Tax in the City® was the third event this year, and there are two more events in the works—an inaugural Seattle event on October 12, and then an end-of-year event in our Chicago office on December 14.

 

Courts continue to strike down the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) as it continues to test the bounds of the attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine through the issuance of improper summonses. In the last several years, the IRS has filed numerous summons enforcement proceedings related to the production of documents generally protected by the attorney-client privilege, tax-practitioner privilege, and/or work product doctrine. These summonses include overt requests for “tax advice” and “tax analysis,” which several courts have refused to enforce. For example, see Schaeffler v. United States, 806 F.3d 34 (2d Cir. 2015).

Once again, in United States v. Micro Cap KY Insurance Co., Inc. (Eastern District of Kentucky), a federal district court rejected the IRS’s arguments and refused to enforce an inappropriate summons. The opinion is available here. The IRS filed this enforcement proceeding seeking to compel the production of confidential communications between taxpayers and the lawyers that assisted them in forming a captive insurance company. After conducting an in camera review (where the judge privately reviewed the documents without admitting them in the record), the judge found the taxpayers had properly invoked privilege since each document “predominately involve[d] legal advice within the retention of [] counsel.”

The court also rejected the government’s argument that the attorney-client privilege was waived by raising a reasonable cause and reliance on counsel defense to penalties in the taxpayers’ case filed in Tax Court. Because the government’s argument was untimely, it was waived and rejected outright. The court, however, proceeded to explain how the argument also failed on its merits. Continue Reading The IRS Is Struck Down Again in Privilege Dispute

Not only should companies worry about the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) auditing their returns, but they also have to be aware of a potential assault from within. Indeed, current and former employees have an incentive to air all of your tax issues with the hope of being rewarded for the information.

Section 7623(b) was added to the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) in 2005, and pays potentially large monetary rewards for so-called tax whistleblowers. To qualify for remuneration, a whistleblower must meet several conditions to qualify for the Section 7623(b) award program: (1) submit the confidential information under penalties of perjury to the IRS’s Whistleblower Office; (2) the information must relate to a tax issue for which the taxpayer (if the IRS found out) would be liable for tax, penalties and/or interest of more than $2 million; and (3) involve a taxpayer whose gross income exceeds $200,000 the tax year at issue. If the information substantially contributes to an administrative or judicial action that results in the collection, the IRS will pay an award of at least 15 percent, but not more than 30 percent of the collected proceeds resulting from the administrative or judicial action (including related actions).

Section 7623(b) has spawned a collection of law firms around the country dedicated to signing up scores of whistleblowers who are hoping to cash in big! Our clients routinely ask us how to best protect themselves. We typically tell our clients that the best defense is a good offense. Consider the following:

  1. Use of non-disclosure agreements with employees who work on sensitive projects like mergers and acquisitions;
  2. Limit employee access to the companies tax accrual workpapers and other documents that indicate the tax savings involved in a transaction or a position claimed on a return;
  3. Review your procedures to ensure that privilege and confidentiality is maintained (this would include training employees and managers);
  4. Review company’s internal procedures for employee complaints to ensure that you have robust procedures in place that offer an independent review and allow for anonymous submissions; and
  5. Be vigilant, and look for signs that an employee is “disgruntled.”

Practice Point: If you are under examination by the IRS, you may be able to discern a whistleblower issue based on the questions being asked by the IRS and whether those questions could only be formed based on information provided by a whistleblower. If this situation exists, it is important to determine whether you should raise the issue with the IRS, particularly if you believe that any confidential and/or privileged information has been provided to the IRS without your consent. To make sure you are protected and adequately prepared, consult with your tax controversy lawyer.

This week, a French court announced an indictment against UBS related to its alleged treatment of Nicholas Forissier, a former audit manager who provided information to French authorities a decade ago in a tax evasion investigation of UBS.  According to at least one press account, the indictment alleges that Forissier was “forced to work under difficult conditions, including internal criticism and eventual dismissal for gross misconduct in 2009” in retaliation for his cooperation with French authorities. Forissier’s case is apparently one of several whistleblower retaliation claims percolating in the French courts against UBS regarding non-disclosure of offshore accounts for tax purposes.

US law provides significant protections of potential whistleblowers for alleged tax violations. Revisions to IRC section 7623, effective from December 20, 2006, make whistleblower awards mandatory in some cases. The revised law has resulted in several large, public awards (the $104 million award given to Bradley Birkenfeld, for example, also related to UBS disclosures).

Protection for IRS whistleblower claimants is found under a number of statutes and rules.  IRC section 6103(i)(6) provides stringent confidentiality rules (including personal liability for government violators) regarding the government’s disclosure of information tending to reveal the existence of a whistleblower or confidential informant.  Also, the grand jury secrecy rule, Fed. R. Crim. P. 6(e), may provide an additional protection in an ongoing grand jury investigation. Further, OSHA, the False Claims Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act may provide protections against termination of whistleblowers and against adverse employment decisions related to a current employee’s status as a whistleblower, in an appropriate case.

Practice point:  It is also worth noting that these protections are not absolute. In fact, because an IRS whistleblower claimant may be in a privileged relationship with the target of an investigation, the IRS has more recently been called upon to clarify that the agency cannot and should not gather or use privileged information to develop a case, or else undermine the entire case as a violation of that privilege, i.e., the “fruit of the poisonous tree”. See our prior coverage on this issue here.