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Biden Administration Proposals Will Greatly Enhance IRS’ Ability to Identify Cryptocurrency Transactions

The Biden Administration and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) continue to focus heavily on cryptocurrency tax enforcement issues. On May 20, 2021, the US Department of the Treasury (Treasury) released the American Families Plan Tax Compliance Agenda, a 22-page report detailing tax compliance measures that are to be included as part of US President Joe Biden’s American Families Plan. The report sets forth a number of initiatives designed to “close the tax gap,” identify the underreporting of tax liabilities and detect tax evasion. These measures, which are part of an $80 billion proposal for the IRS, would significantly enhance the agencies’ ability to address the challenges involved with finding taxes that result from virtual currency transactions.

The Treasury’s report notes that “[c]ryptocurrency already poses a significant detection problem by facilitating illegal activity broadly including tax evasion.” To address this issue, the Biden Administration is proposing “additional resources for the IRS to address the growth of cryptoassets.”

Most notably, the Biden Administration is proposing enhanced reporting requirements for domestic and foreign financial accounts that specifically address cryptocurrency. Financial institutions, including “cryptoasset exchange accounts and payment service accounts that accept cryptocurrencies” would be required to submit third-party annual reports of all “gross inflows and outflows” from business and personal accounts to the IRS using a form similar to the IRS 1099-INT. Additionally, “businesses that receive cryptoassets with a fair market value of more than $10,000 would be reported on” in a manner similar to how cash transactions are reported on Currency Transaction Reports. These new reporting requirements would dramatically increase the IRS’ ability to identify and detect unreported cryptocurrency transactions.

The report also reemphasizes the need to devote additional funding to the IRS. The Biden Administration is seeking $80 billion in additional funding so that the Treasury and IRS can, among other things, hire “new specialized enforcement staff” and “revitalize[e] the IRS’s examination of large corporations, partnerships, and global high-wealth and high-income individuals.”

Additionally, the Biden Administration plans to overhaul the IRS’ IT systems and capabilities. These IT enhancements are designed to “help support a staff capable of deploying new analytical techniques” and “developing machine learning capabilities [that] will enable the IRS to leverage the information it collects to better identify tax returns for compliance review.” Given the inherent difficulties in identifying cryptocurrency users who have failed to comply with the internal revenue laws, increased data collection and analytics capabilities would be invaluable for the IRS.

The IRS has already been ramping up its cryptocurrency tax enforcement efforts by issuing John Doe summons to various cryptocurrency exchanges, working with industry experts and foreign law enforcement. If implemented, the American Families Plan Tax Compliance Agenda would provide the IRS with extensive new tools and resources for these ongoing enforcement activities.

Practice Point: If you have engaged in cryptocurrency transactions, now is the time to analyze whether you have any civil or criminal exposure and prepare for a government inquiry by gathering all of your transaction records. For [...]

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DOJ and IRS’ Analysis of Crypto Records and Work with Private Experts and International Partners Leads to Arrest

US law enforcement continues to make no secret of their efforts to work closely with experts and overseas partners to prosecute those involved in virtual currency transactions who attempt to rely on its purported anonymity to commit financial crimes. Tuesday’s arrest of Roman Sterlingov, a dual citizen of Russia and Sweden and alleged operator of Bitcoin Fog, in Los Angeles is a clear case that these efforts are paying dividends. In a criminal complaint filed by the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, Sterlingov is accused of laundering hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of bitcoin. According to a statement of facts accompanying the complaint filed in the District of Columbia, Sterlingov was allegedly running “an illicit bitcoin money transmitting and money laundering service.” (Case 1:21-mj-00400-RMM Document 1-1 Filed 04/26/21.) Notably, investigators from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) were able to obtain records of Sterlingov’s True Name accounts at several cryptocurrency exchanges. Investigators also analyzed bitcoin transactions, email records, financial records and internet service provider records. The investigation and arrest come at a time when the IRS, together with other enforcement agencies, are taking a hard look at cryptocurrency activity and have recently issued John Doe summonses to two virtual currency exchanges.

The collaboration with private experts and international partners is clear from the press release issued by the US Department of Justice (DOJ). In recognizing the many agencies that assisted in the investigation, the DOJ specifically stated that essential support was provided by Excygent, which is described on its website “as a highly specialized, professional services firm that assists organizations in both the public and private sectors with cybercrime investigative and analysis capabilities.” The DOJ also listed several US agencies that provided invaluable assistance and went on to include international partners: Europol, the Swedish Economic Crime Authority, the Swedish Prosecution Authority, the Swedish Police and the General Inspectorate of Romanian Police, Directorate for Combatting Organized Crime and the Directorate for Investigating Organized Crime and Terrorism. This ability to collaborate successfully will most likely serve as a blueprint for future investigations.

Practice Point: As we noted in our blog post, “Finding John Doe: IRS Steps up Enforcement Efforts to Take the Anonymity Out of Virtual Currency,” the time is now for those who have engaged in a virtual currency transaction to assess any potential tax and criminal implications, and businesses in this industry should carefully review their policies and processes to ensure that they address potential tax avoidance and anti-money laundering risks associated with their operations. The IRS is working closely with its new partners (i.e., industry experts and foreign law enforcement) to address any noncompliance. As announced recently by US President Joe Biden, he plans to give them the resources to do more on enforcement.




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