IRS Whistleblowers’ Two (2) Biggest Misconceptions

IRS Whistleblowers’ Two (2) Biggest Misconceptions

Many whistleblowers incorrectly believe that (i) there must be fraud, and (ii) that the IRS can go back and audit as many years for which they have specific and credible information.

The first misconception is that fraud is required for the IRS to take action under the whistleblower program.  In fact, the IRS will pay an award for information that leads to an action (administrative or judicial) with respect to any underpayment of tax, including an innocent mistake by a taxpayer.  There does not need to be fraud; only the collection of proceeds as a result of the IRS action. 

The second misconception is that the IRS will go back as many years as necessary to enforce the law and collect the tax.  However, the statute of limitations prevents the IRS from auditing taxpayers after a set number of years have passed.

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Panama Papers: Where are the disclosure of documents of the U.S. wealthiest individuals and their use of offshore trusts and companies to conceal their wealth?

As you may or may not know, on Sunday April 3, 2016, a disclosure of a Panamanian law firm’s records, dubbed the Panama Papers, exposed world leaders and wealthy businessmen/women and their associates that utilized offshore trusts and companies to hide assets from taxation in their respective foreign countries.  (See International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (“ICIJ”) article about the Panama Papers; USA Today article; the Guardian article explaining the Panama Papers; and the German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ) (which allegedly initially exposed the Panama Papers), article explaining the Panama Papers.  See also an infographic about the world leaders allegedly exposed for their use of offshore entities created/maintained by the Panamanian law firm.  Note: a person “exposed” or “implicated” in the Panama Papers does not automatically mean they are or have done any wrongdoing.  See the Huffpost article with a simple reddit user’s explanation of the Panama Papers through the use of a piggy bank, showing that the use of offshore trusts and companies does not necessarily implicate wrong doing.

As part of the “fallout” from these disclosures, at least one world leader (Iceland’s Prime Minister) has already resigned from his position due to his connection with entities exposed as part of the “Panama Papers". See the Huffpost article about Prime Minister Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson’s resignation.

The Panama Papers and the exposure it is receiving, raises a serious question, namely: Where is the information about the U.S.’ wealthiest individuals and corporations that might have undertaken similar or same offshore trust and company creation schemes to hide/shield their wealth?  See Craig Murray’s blog post raising the same inquiry. Mr. Murray states that one reason the exposure focuses on Russia and other UN sanctioned countries, is because the ICIJ is funded by the U.S. Center for Public Integrity which is further funded by various U.S. private foundations.  Mr. Murray posits that these entities would never expose the western world’s use of such entities. 

The IRS has estimated that U.S. corporations and wealthiest individuals have been avoiding the payment of taxes in the amount of $385 billion for 2016. Therefore, it begs the question, Are U.S. corporations and individuals utilizing structures implemented by the Panamanian law firm or similar entities in tax haven jurisdictions to generate the Tax Gap as estimated by the IRS?  This inquiry, as stated by Mr. Murray, suggests that the people behind the release of the Panama Papers may be hiding the exposure of “western” corporations and individuals, which may have undertaken the use of the same offshore strategies.

Perhaps the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations which has begun the process of exposing the U.S. corporations through its investigations of the largest U.S. corporations with offshore profit shifting, including: Microsoft and Hewlett Packard; Apple; and Caterpillar.  PSI also held a hearing on the offshore banks that have assisted individuals in hiding their assets in offshore jurisdictions and evading taxes. 

With the release of the Panama Papers, it would be interesting to see if the other documents by the Panamanian law firm would implicate the entities and individuals investigated by PSI or other prominent U.S. corporations or individuals who have utilized offshore structures to undertake the same tax avoidance schemes identified by PSI and IRS.  Since we do not have access to the source material and can’t search the documents which were recovered, we may never find out if there are other U.S. corporations or individuals.

Another reason for determining whether the Panama Papers expose U.S. entities or individuals is apparently the U.S. is now considered the number 3 tax haven because of its banking secrecy practices.  See the AP article regarding the U.S. as a tax haven for other countries’ tax dodgers.  Therefore, the exposure of U.S. entities or individuals would help IRS and other countries’ tax governing bodies limit/prevent tax avoidance/evasion. 

If you have specific and credible information of individuals and/or corporations utilizing structures described in the “Panama Papers” and would like to file a claim for an award with the IRS tax whistleblower program, please contact us.