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Key Takeaways | Cryptocurrency Global Tax Enforcement: What Investors and Companies in the Industry Need to Know NOW

During a recent program discussing the latest government enforcement efforts related to cryptocurrency, we spoke with Gary Alford, one of the leading Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agents in their crypto enforcement efforts, Perry Carbone, Chief of the White Plains Office (US Attorney’s Office – SDNY) and Andy Cole, former Director of Specialist Investigations at HM Revenue & Customs in the United Kingdom, about how investors and companies in the virtual currency industry should address enforcement actions. Below are key takeaways from the conversation.

ENHANCED ENFORCEMENT – UNITED STATES

  • The time to act is now. The IRS and the US Department of Justice (DOJ) are collecting virtual currency data at a rapid pace while simultaneously moving forward with tax enforcement cases. The IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) revamped its operations to “do more with less” using new technology that will move investigations at a faster pace.
  • The IRS joined its civil and criminal units through Operation Hidden Treasure and is also working with outside experts in the field—along with specially-trained IRS agents—to pursue tax enforcement and asset seizure. This is a key agenda item for the US Department of the Treasury and is not going away any time soon.
  • The IRS and the DOJ expect taxpayers to comply voluntarily with all tax obligations. Despite these recent developments, US taxpayers have limited guidance from the IRS. Engaging with professionals in the space to evaluate the options available to taxpayers is crucial to assessing and ensuring compliance with cryptocurrency taxation.

INTERNATIONAL EFFORTS

  • Global collaboration is nothing new, but it is now on the rise. Agencies around the world are enhancing their cross-border information and resource sharing to investigate tax crimes efficiently and effectively. The J5, an important component of this global collaboration, is prepared to pool some of the world’s most sophisticated data analytical tools so that intelligence can be screened, searched and/or identified.
  • The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and its governing body will likely start requiring cryptocurrency exchanges to collect customer due diligence information. The window of anonymity around cryptocurrency transactions has closed rapidly in recent years.
  • The global Common Reporting Standard (CRS) has been in force since 2017. Under the CRS, tax authorities of over 100 countries (including most of the traditional “tax havens”) automatically exchange tax, account and payment information with each other in order to assist in tax collection and enforcement action.

FOR INDIVIDUALS

  • Moving forward, the “knowledge and willfulness” element needed for criminal cases will be much easier for the DOJ to prove because the “virtual currency question” is now at the top of Form 1040. The prominent location of this question is “a game changer” for criminal tax prosecutions.
  • Cryptocurrency tax crimes are no longer “add on” charges to other criminal prosecutions, such as narcotics or fraud crimes. The DOJ expects to bring independent cryptocurrency criminal tax cases and take these prosecutions to “the next level,” including prosecutions of more routine tax matters.
  • Individuals serving as board members on behalf [...]

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Skip Jail and Clean Up Your Tax Problems

If you have knowingly failed to report income or claimed deductions you know you are not entitled to, or just decided not to file your tax returns and pay the tax owed, you may be liable for civil penalties and even jail time for criminal tax evasion. Taxpayers with civil and criminal tax exposure may want to fix their past mistakes but are afraid of what will happen if they “come clean.” So, the majority of offenders keep offending year after year. But did you know there is an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) program that can help taxpayers get out of that “evasion” cycle, and clean up past tax issues, usually without criminal liability?

The IRS has a longstanding program through which taxpayers can make voluntary disclosures of tax underreporting and tax criminal evasion. Such disclosures may help taxpayers limit their criminal exposure, although disclosure does not automatically guarantee immunity from criminal prosecution.

The latest iteration of the voluntary disclosure program is known as the Voluntary Disclosure Practice (VDP). (Here is a link to the IRS’s VDP program description.) Under the terms of the program, a taxpayer must submit Part I of Form 14457, Voluntary Disclosure Practice Preclearance Request and Application, which contains basic identifying and procedural information necessary to determine if the taxpayer is eligible to participate in the VDP program. The IRS uses this information to verify that the taxpayer is not already under criminal investigation, which is a bar to entering into the VDP program. Once the taxpayer has been “precleared,” the taxpayer must submit Part II of Form 14457, which seeks detailed information regarding the nature of the tax reporting failures and the associated unpaid tax liabilities. If the taxpayer is approved to participate in the VDP program, the taxpayer’s case is transferred to the appropriate IRS civil division for examination. Ultimately, the taxpayer must cooperate with the IRS to determine its correct tax liability and must make good faith arrangements to pay all unpaid liabilities, including interest and penalties. Typically, this will include the filing of corrected tax returns for six years; the payment of the correct tax and interest for those returns; and the payment of enhanced penalties for one tax year.

The current version of Form 14457 was released in April 2020. On July 14, 2020, Carolyn A. Schenck, the National Fraud Counsel for the IRS Fraud Enforcement Program, stated that the IRS is planning to issue additional instructions for Form 14457 to provide further guidance on the mechanics of the VDP. Conforming additions will be made to the Internal Revenue Manual.

Practice Point: The risk of criminal prosecution for tax offenses is increasing due to significant improvements in IRS enforcement strategies. IRS commissioner Charles Rettig was formerly in private practice defending taxpayers and has implemented significant changes in IRS programs and leadership. There is an unprecedented degree of coordination among the enforcement divisions and emphasis on preventing tax fraud, with Eric Hylton, previous deputy [...]

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