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October 27, 2009

RS Commissioner Doug Shulman's remarks before the AICPA's National Conference on Federal Taxation in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 26, 2009

In prepared remarks before the AICPA's National Conference on Federal Taxation on Oct. 26, IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman touched on a wide array of topics but the comments that will most likely attract the most interest involve what he called “the globa liz ation of tax administration.” Specifically, Shulman spoke of the dividends to be rea liz ed from the recently closed offshore settlement offer, and of the formation of a new Global High Wealth Industry group housed within its Large and Mid-Size Business (LMSB) operating division.
New IRS focus on global high wealth industry. Shulman announced that IRS was in the process of forming a Global High Wealth Industry group housed within its Large and Mid-Size Business (LMSB) operating division. This new unit will centra liz e and focus IRS compliance expertise involving high-wealth individuals and their related entities, which can often have an international component. Initially at least, IRS will be looking at individuals with “tens of millions of dollars of assets or income.”
A new unit was necessary, Shulman said, to properly deal with high wealth individuals' use of sophisticated financial, business, and investment arrangements with complicated legal structures and tax consequences. These may include trusts, real estate investments, royalty and licensing agreements, revenue-based or equity-sharing arrangements, private foundations, privately-held companies, and partnerships and other flow-through entities that require looking at the entire, and often huge, spectrum of transactions and entities. A single high wealth individual may have actual or ben eficial ownership of numerous related entities, sometimes alone and sometimes along with other family members or business associates. Shulman added that there are “other tax considerations regarding high wealth individuals, including international sourcing of income and tax residency, and offshore structures and bank accounts, to name just a few.”
IRS's game plan will be to take a unified look at the entire web of business entities controlled by a high wealth individual, to better understand the entire economic picture of the enterprise controlled by him or her and to assess the tax compliance of that overall enterprise (transfer tax as well as income tax issues). Shulman revealed that IRS has already begun hiring some agents and specialists, such as flow-through specialists and international examiners, and will add over time individuals with specia liz ed skills and expertise, such as economists to identify economic trends, appraisal experts to advise on valuation issues, and technical advisors to provide industry or specia liz ed tax expertise. Shulman said IRS “will also build new risk assessment techniques to identify high-income and high-wealth individuals and their related enterprises that should be reviewed holistically.”
Offshore income settlement offer. Over 7,500 people came forward under IRS's special offshore voluntary compliance program that ended on Oct. 15 (see Federal Taxes Weekly Alert 09/24/2009 and 04/02/2009). Shulman wouldn't speculate on how much tax money would be salvaged from the initiative but stressed that the effort will continue to pay off as taxpayers who are now back in the U.S. tax system will continue to pay taxes on their offshore income in the years to come.
Shulman also revealed that IRS will be mining the voluntary disclosure information from people who have come forward to identify financial institutions, advisors, and others who promoted or otherwise helped U.S. taxpayers hide assets and income offshore and skirt their tax responsibilities at home. In addition, IRS will increase its scrutiny of annual FBARs (Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts) or foreign bank and financial account reports. Current law requires that U.S. taxpayers file an FBAR if their foreign financial accounts total more than $10,000, but current rules make it difficult to catch all of those who do not, Shulman said. Aside from the President's proposal for legislation that would toughen the reporting rules, there is an active project at IRS working to update definitions and instructions under the current FBAR rules. Shulman also revealed that future offshore efforts would be focused on multiple points around the globe, and that IRS is opening international Criminal Investigation offices in several new locations around the world ( Beijing , Panama City and Sydney ).

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