Citing a fuzzy definition, the American Tax Court holds that the IRS lacks authority to assess and collect after an owner of foreign companies fails to file or pay penalties. How will this play out in future cases?
The U.S. Tax Court, in Farhy v. Commissioner, has distinguished between a penalty that the IRS is authorized to issue and a penalty that has been properly assessed.
For the tax years 2003 through 2010, Alon Farhy owned 100% of Katumba Capital Inc., a foreign corporation incorporated in Belize. For the tax years 2005 through 2010, Farhy was 100% owner of Morningstar Ventures Inc., also a foreign corporation incorporated in Belize.
Farhy had a reporting requirement under Section 6038(a) to report his ownership interests in both companies: Taxpayers must usually file Internal Revenue Service Form 5471, “Information Return of U.S. Persons With Respect to Certain Foreign Corporations,” to disclose interest or ownership in a foreign corporation. Failure to do incurs penalties starting at $10,000 per form per year.
During the years at issue, Farhy participated in an illegal scheme to reduce the amount of income tax that he owed and, in February 2012, signed an affidavit describing his role in that scheme. He was granted immunity in a non-prosecution agreement that he signed that September. Four years later, the IRS notified Farhy of his failure to file the 5471s; the Tax Court has acknowledged that Farhy’s failure to file was willful and not due to reasonable cause.
In late 2018, the IRS assessed an initial penalty (under Internal Revenue Code Sec. 6038(b)) of $10,000 for each year at issue and continuation penalties totaling $50,000 per year. The IRS did comply with the written supervisory approval requirements for the penalties. A few months later, the IRS levied to collect the penalties.