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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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Multilateral-APA-Like Program to Create International Tax Certainty for Pilot Participants

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. (more…)




Tax Planning in a World of Increased Transparency

Multinational Enterprises (MNEs) are facing an evolving international tax landscape with long-term implications for tax compliance, planning and controversy. Understanding these changes requires continual effort. Tax Executives Institute recently invited us to explore Country-by-Country (CbC) reporting issues at the 2017 Global Tax Symposium in Houston, Texas. We had a lively discussion and know this will be a hot topic as jurisdictions begin reviewing the CbC reports.

As background, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project has been a key driver of international tax reform.  BEPS “Action 13” outlined a CbC reporting standard that has been adopted in more than 55 jurisdictions. The CbC report is an annual filing obligation identifying, among other things, the amount of revenue, profit before income tax, and income tax paid and accrued for each tax jurisdiction in which the taxpayer does business. The resulting transparency directly affects global tax strategies since the CbC report is subject to automatic exchange provisions and more than 1,000 such relationships have been established worldwide. Tax authorities will be using this information to perform tax risk assessments so taxpayers need heightened sensitivity to the breadth and depth of information available through the CbC report. If you are involved in the process of preparing a CbC report, discussing the CbC report with a tax authority, or are otherwise interested in how the CbC report could be used by a tax authority, the OECD’s Handbook on Effective Tax Risk Assessment is a valuable resource.

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Taxpayer Rights Around the World (Part 2)

We previously posted on Day One of the 2nd International Conference on Taxpayer Rights in Vienna, Austria. Below, we summarize the panels and issues discussed on Day Two.

Four panels were held on March 14: (1) Penalties and General Anti-Avoidance Rules; (2) The Role of Intergovernmental Actors in Furthering and Protecting Taxpayer Rights: A Conversation; (3) Building Trust I: Transforming Cultures of Tax Agencies; and (4) Building Trust II: Safeguards on Tax Agency Power.

Penalties and General Anti-Avoidance Rules

This panel looked at current research on the use of penalties and general anti-avoidance rules in tax administration from the perspectives of legal and economic theory and taxpayer behavior. Studies were discussed that found that delayed feedback on tax audit often results in increased tax compliance but reduces the perception of procedural fairness and diminishes trust in the taxing authorities. Participants in the studies viewed receiving delayed feedback and increasing the probability of audits and the potential for more fines. One conclusion presented was that the delay resulted in longer periods of uncertainty and may yield higher levels of honesty in the short term, but might undermine tax compliance in the long term. (more…)




Globalism vs. Populism in the International Tax World

Adoption of the base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) action items in specific countries can be expected to alter traditional multi-national enterprises (MNE) tax strategy processes. In this regard, it is appropriate to note that tax authorities and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) often seem to overlook, or conveniently ignore, that MNE strategies are often a function of the rules established by countries to develop their own tax base (at the expense of other countries). In other words, countries, in their respective self-interests, grant incentives of various sorts to encourage economic investment. MNEs take advantage of these incentives to minimize their tax liabilities, which the BEPS process views as, somehow, inappropriate behavior of MNEs denuding the tax base of other countries.

Like water going downhill, MNE planning strategies will utilize the most efficient path to achieve desired objectives. This is a fiduciary duty to shareholders. Effective tax rates are a major expense of all MNEs, which need to be managed as effectively as possible in a competitive world. For example, if Country A offers an incentive such that MNE #1 makes an investment in Country A, as opposed to Country B which offers no such incentive, the net result is that jobs and economic activity are created in Country A not B. Country B may perceive that its tax has been eroded. But who has done this? Country A via its incentive or MNE #1?

International tax disputes arise when Country B challenges the activity of MNE #1 asserting that it should have been paying tax in Country B. If there is a treaty between Countries A and B, there could be a mutual agreement procedure (MAP) proceeding. If that proceeding stalls for whatever reason, then all parties would benefit from processes that would lead to resolution.

The transparency demanded by the Country-by-Country (CbC) package and related matters evolving on a unilateral country basis (seeking, once again, to attract tax base away from other countries) will create new opportunities and paradigms for MNE effective tax rate strategies. It may be that these evolutions will drive planning and acquisition strategies toward treaty or non-treaty protected corporate structures designed to: (i) take advantage of new opportunities created by the new  regimes; and (ii) minimize transfer pricing exposures, imposition of exit or other taxes on the movement of intangibles or other assets, and so on. As these strategies evolve, the net result may not be an outcome that was anticipated by organizers of the BEPS project. This was certainly the case with respect to design of our current international tax system just after World War I.

These evolutions in the international tax world reflect, not surprisingly, what is evolving in the global political world. The popular press regularly addresses what is often described as globalism vs. populism, which reflects an apparent trend of voters and governments to focus less on the global good and more on local needs. The same phenomenon appears to be evolving in the world of cross-border [...]

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BEPS Multilateral Agreement

The most recent element of the ongoing global dispute resolution process is the late November 2016 release of the so-called multilateral instrument (MLI), a cornerstone of the base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) project. It is an ambitious effort of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to impose its will on as many countries as possible. The explanation comprises 85 single-spaced pages and 359 paragraphs. The MLI draft itself is 48 similar pages. The purpose of the MLI is to facilitate implementation of the BEPS Action items without having to go through the tedious process of amending approximately two thousand treaties.

In essence, the MLI implements the BEPS Action items in treaty language. While consistency is obviously an intended result, the MLI recognizes the reality that many countries will not agree to all of the provisions. Accordingly, countries are allowed to sign the agreement, but then opt out of specific provisions or make appropriate reservations with respect to specific treaties. This process is to be undertaken via notification of the “depository” (the OECD). Accordingly, countries will be able to make individual decisions on whether to update a particular treaty using the MLI.

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Brexit: The Consequences for International Tax Planning

Just over a month has now passed since the referendum in which the United Kingdom voted narrowly to leave the European Union: an event which some have characterized as the greatest potential shock to the UK economy since the Second World War. For most multinational groups considering the potential consequences of Brexit on their tax position, however, the best advice is probably the same as that provided by the famous wartime poster: “Keep Calm and Carry On.”

While much remains to be resolved about the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, what has become clear is that it will not happen quickly. The Government has stated that it will not serve formal notice of its intention to leave the European Union before the New Year, which will start a period of negotiation that, under the European Union Treaty, is anticipated to take two years. The United Kingdom is thus likely to remain an EU member state until at least 2019.

Brexit will almost certainly result in some changes to the United Kingdom’s tax landscape, and these may well cause complications for some multinationals.

Read the full article here.




Preparing for Country-by-Country Reporting in 2016

Country-by Country (CbC) reporting is on the horizon for large US multi-national enterprises (MNE).  As part of the broader Base Erosion Profit Shifting (BEPS) project undertaken by the Group of 20 (G20) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United States will soon require the parent entity of large US MNE groups to file with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) a new annual report that requires information regarding income earned and taxes paid by the group on a country-by-country basis.  The new reporting requirements would generally apply to US MNE groups with annual revenues of $850 million or more.

Late last December, Treasury published proposed regulations detailing the future reporting process.  Recently, Robert Stack, Treasury deputy assistant secretary (international tax affairs) indicated that Treasury anticipates issuing final regulations by June 30, 2016, which would be effective for US MNEs with tax years beginning after that date. (Stack’s comments are available at Tax Notes, here and here.)  Because the US reporting requirements will go into effect in the middle of 2016, some US MNE groups have expressed concern that other tax jurisdictions may require subsidiaries to file CbC reports.

Both Treasury and the IRS believe that CbC reporting will assist in better enforcement of the US tax laws, though there is some concern that information collected may be too readily shared with other tax jurisdictions that may not safeguard such information as carefully as the United States.  Indeed, the Preamble to the new CbC reporting regulations states that CbC reports filed with the IRS may be exchanged with other reciprocating tax jurisdictions in which the US MNE group has operations, and Treasury expects that the competent authority will enter into competent authority agreements for the automatic exchange of CbC reports under the authority of information agreements to which the US is a party.  The Preamble also provides that information exchanged may not be disclosed or used for non-tax purposes.

Mr. Stack recently affirmed the priority of the confidentiality of information gathered through CbC reporting, stating that the United States would have the right to stop sharing information if the other tax jurisdiction were to disclose it.  The issue of confidentiality of CbC reporting was recently highlighted by efforts in the European Union to provide for the public disclosure of CbC reporting.




Preparing for a Tsunami of International Tax Disputes

Recently, we published a Special Report in Tax Notes International, “Preparing for a Tsunami of International Tax Disputes.”  The article can be accessed here.  While there is near-universal agreement that the number of tax disputes is going to increase, existing international tax dispute resolution processes remain in serious need of improvement. A global consensus must be reached on a process for resolving worldwide tax disputes that appeals to all stakeholders. This article focuses on recent attempts by the Organisation for Economic Development (OECD), United Nations (UN) and international tax community to achieve such a consensus.

In short, the predictability of tax base results is a serious concern for countries and multi-national enterprises alike.  The only realistic solution is to design a dependable and independent treaty-based dispute resolution process that accommodates the needs of all stakeholders. A foundation for this process has been provided by the inclusion of arbitration in both the OECD and UN model income tax treaties and its successful implementation in a few countries. Arbitration and alternative dispute resolution (ADR) have already evolved successfully in nontax government and commercial contexts. As with any such evolution, there have been both positive and negative experiences for countries and private parties. In the realm of international taxation, the development of these processes is in the early stages. It is important for all stakeholders in the tax arena to explore ways of using experiences from non-tax contexts to develop processes that can relieve emerging pressures relating to international taxation. To distinguish the international tax context from others, the new dispute resolution process could be referred to as the International Taxation Dispute Resolution Process (ITDRP), as suggested in the UN Secretariat Paper on Alternative Dispute Resolution in Taxation released on October 8, 2015.

While the development of a successful ITDRP will inevitably take time and will no doubt be contentious, significant advancements have been made in the past few months that suggest it could soon be on the horizon.  These include the initial Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) paper on dispute resolution, the January 2015 Dispute Resolution Conference in Vienna, the OECD Action 14 Final Report (released in October 2015) and the UN Secretariat ADR Paper.

Almost all stakeholders in the international taxation community agree that: (i) the number of disputes will increase; (ii) existing dispute resolution processes are in serious need of improvement; and (iii) a global consensus must be achieved so that global tax disputes can be resolved in a way that serves the interests of all stakeholders. In this regard, it may be fortunate for the tax community that it is arriving late to the ADR processes that have evolved in other areas over the past century. As the OECD and UN processes continue to evolve, it is hoped that lessons from these other areas can be drawn upon to develop an ITDRP that serves the interests of all parties.




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