Privilege and Non-Disclosure
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Stats Show Active Tax Whistleblower Caseload

On January 6, 2020, the IRS Whistleblower Office released its annual report to Congress. The Office reported that it collected $616.8 million in fiscal year 2019 as a result of information provided by whistleblowers, out of which $120.3 million was paid out as whistleblower awards, for net collections of $496.5 million. This is a decrease from the $1.13 billion in net collections in fiscal year 2018 (which has been described as an outlier year), but an increase from the $156.6 million in net collections in fiscal year 2017. A total of 3,640 whistleblowers filed claims in fiscal year 2019, including 282 whistleblowers from outside of the United States. Practice Point:  Whistleblower actions are a good reminder to make sure that your privileged and confidential tax information remains in the hands and minds of only those employees and officers who have a need to know. A disgruntled or terminated employee may take the opportunity to play the “whistleblower...

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Big Change for Witness Privilege in House Investigations

On Jan. 25, 2019, U.S. House of Representatives Rules Committee Chairman James P. McGovern, D-Mass., issued regulations governing staff deposition authority in the 116th Congress, pursuant to his authority under H. Res. 6. In passing H. Res. 6, the newly empowered House Democratic majority drastically increased House committees’ investigative power by allowing committee staff to conduct depositions without members present — a stark departure from precedent. This change was a dramatic first step in the House Democratic majority’s efforts to ramp up oversight of both the executive branch and the private sector. Access the full article.

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Kovel Protections Upheld | Government Loses Aggressive Arguments for Waiver of Privilege for Controversy Advice

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...

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OVDP Ending September 28: Now Is the Time to Disclose

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.

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Expect Controversy in the Wake of Tax Reform

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. The first round of examinations will focus on what taxpayers did in 2017 in expectation of tax reform. Given the 14 percentage point corporate rate differential between 2017 and 2018, there was an incentive to accelerate deductions and defer income last year. Atypical activity may serve as a red flag and trigger IRS scrutiny. For example, numerous taxpayers accelerated their deductions for bonus compensation to ensure that the liability to pay bonuses in...

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Maintaining Confidentiality While Navigating Cross-Border Transactions

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...

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Tax Court Says IRS’s “Drift-Net” Argument to Expand Privilege Waiver Must Be Anchored in Principles

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,...

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Tax Court Requires Specific Factual Showing of Harm for Whistleblower Anonymity

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...

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Tax in the City® New York Event Success

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...

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The IRS Is Struck Down Again in Privilege Dispute

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...

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