Q1: Why did the IRS announce a new special offshore voluntary disclosure initiative at this time?
A1: The IRS’s prior Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Program (2009 OVDP), which closed on October 15, 2009, demonstrated the value of a uniform penalty structure for taxpayers who came forward voluntarily and reported their previously undisclosed foreign accounts and assets. Not only did the initiative offer consistency and predictability to taxpayers in determining the amount of tax and penalties they faced, it also enabled the IRS to centralize the civil processing of offshore voluntary disclosures. Therefore, it was determined that a similar initiative should be available to the large number of taxpayers with offshore accounts and assets who applied to IRS Criminal Investigation’s traditional voluntary disclosure practice since the October 15 deadline. This new initiative, the 2011 Offshore Voluntary Disclosure Initiative (2011 OVDI) will be available to those taxpayers and other similarly situated taxpayers who come forward and complete all requirements on or before August 31, 2011.
Q2: What is the objective of this initiative?
A2: The objective remains the same as the 2009 OVDP – to bring taxpayers that have used undisclosed foreign accounts and undisclosed foreign entities to avoid or evade tax into compliance with United States tax laws.
Q3: How does this initiative differ from the IRS’s longstanding voluntary disclosure practice or the 2009 OVDP?
A3: The Voluntary Disclosure Practice is a longstanding practice of IRS Criminal Investigation whereby CI takes timely, accurate, and complete voluntary disclosures into account in deciding whether to recommend to the Department of Justice that a taxpayer be criminally prosecuted. It enables noncompliant taxpayers to resolve their tax liabilities and minimize their chance of criminal prosecution. When a taxpayer truthfully, timely, and completely complies with all provisions of the voluntary disclosure practice, the IRS will not recommend criminal prosecution to the Department of Justice.
This current offshore initiative is a counter-part to Criminal Investigation’s Voluntary Disclosure Practice. Like its predecessor, the 2009 OVDP, which ran from March 23, 2009 through October 15, 2009, it addresses the civil side of a taxpayer’s voluntary disclosure by defining the number of tax years covered and setting the civil penalties that will apply.
Q4: Why should I make a voluntary disclosure?
A4: Taxpayers with undisclosed foreign accounts or entities should make a voluntary disclosure because it enables them to become compliant, avoid substantial civil penalties and generally eliminate the risk of criminal prosecution. Making a voluntary disclosure also provides the opportunity to calculate, with a reasonable degree of certainty, the total cost of resolving all offshore tax issues. Taxpayers who do not submit a voluntary disclosure run the risk of detection by the IRS and the imposition of substantial penalties, including the fraud penalty and foreign information return penalties, and an increased risk of criminal prosecution. The IRS remains actively engaged in ferreting out the identities of those with undisclosed foreign accounts. Moreover, increasingly this information is available to the IRS under tax treaties, through submissions by whistleblowers, and will become more available as the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA) and Foreign Financial Asset Reporting (new IRC § 6038D) become effective.
Q5: What are some of the civil penalties that might apply if I don’t come in under voluntary disclosure and the IRS examines me? How do they work?
A5: See more information on potential reporting requirements and civil penalties that could apply to a taxpayer, depending on his or her particular facts and circumstances.
Q6: What are some of the criminal charges I might face if I don’t come in under voluntary disclosure and the IRS examines me?
A6: Possible criminal charges related to tax returns include tax evasion (26 U.S.C. § 7201), filing a false return (26 U.S.C. § 7206(1)) and failure to file an income tax return (26 U.S.C. § 7203). Willfully failing to file an FBAR and willfully filing a false FBAR are both violations that are subject to criminal penalties under 31 U.S.C. § 5322.
A person convicted of tax evasion is subject to a prison term of up to five years and a fine of up to $250,000. Filing a false return subjects a person to a prison term of up to three years and a fine of up to $250,000. A person who fails to file a tax return is subject to a prison term of up to one year and a fine of up to $100,000. Failing to file an FBAR subjects a person to a prison term of up to ten years and criminal penalties of up to $500,000.