Tax Break

Essential tax and accounting reading:Swiss-German tax tensions, India’s retroactive taxes, who gets audited, the “most fraudulent budget in American history,” and more

A boat on Lake Untersee near the Swiss-German border. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
Welcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources.
* Swiss spy charge signals German tax deal trouble. Katie Reid – Reuters. A Swiss decision to pursue German tax inspectors for industrial espionage is a sign of growing tension that could make it hard for both sides to secure parliamentary ratification of a deal preventing Germans dodging tax on their Swiss deposits. While Berlin is trying to tax an estimated 150 billion Swiss francs ($166 billion) hidden by Germans in Swiss accounts, Berne wants to avoid revealing the identities of wealthy customers who are a mainstay of its offshore financial services industry. Link   * Global business groups warn India over tax plan impact. Henry Foy – Reuters. International trade groups representing more than 250,000 companies have warned Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that new taxation proposals by his government have led foreign businesses to reconsider their investments. India’s federal budget last month outlined proposals that would allow authorities to make retroactive tax claims on overseas deals and bring in new anti-tax-avoidance measures, moves that have been criticized for further denting investor sentiment towards India. Link  

* California Democrats duel over taxes, budget. Vauhini Vara – The Wall Street Journal. California Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed ballot measure this fall to raise taxes and restore funding to an array of state programs faces unlikely opposition from a prominent Los Angeles lawyer who supported Brown’s election only 17 months ago. Attorney Molly Munger has proposed a rival ballot issue that also would raise taxes but earmark most of the new revenues for schools. The clash between Munger and Brown highlights the tension within California’s Democrats over how to prioritize spending now that the state is beginning to recover from its fiscal crisis. Link  

* Japan in sales-tax battle. Toko Sekiguchi – The Wall Street Journal. While Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda’s parliamentary submission of a sales-tax rise bill on Friday brings the premier one step closer to his goal of fiscal reconstruction, opposition from many lawmakers across the political spectrum is likely to make passage of the measure far from smooth. Anti-tax lawmakers within his party may hinder the premier’s attempt to push the tax discussion forward. The fiscally hawkish prime minister reiterated that he has staked his political career on writing into law the two-step national consumption tax increase to 10 percent by 2015. Link

* How to get the IRS to notice you. Andrea Coombes – The Wall Street Journal. The risk of an audit skyrockets for some. Fully 12.5 percent of taxpayers whose income topped $1 million faced an audit. And self-employed people who filed a Schedule C with gross receipts of $100,000 or more faced an audit rate of about 4 percent — four times higher than average taxpayers. Here are seven red flags. Link  

* Tax fantasy – The New York Times editorial. Paul Ryan’s big budget problem is that politicians’ most cherished constituencies are big recipients of the most cherished tax breaks. With some 70 percent of an annual $1.1 trillion in tax breaks flowing to the top 20 percent of taxpayers, and 20 percent going to the middle rung, politicians are loath to champion the end of specific tax breaks. What’s needed is a realistic approach, starting with letting the high-end Bush era tax cuts expire at the end of this year and closing blatant loopholes, including the unconscionably low tax rate for private equity partners. Link  

Essential tax and accounting reading: Bain’s IRAs, E&Y cleared on Olympus, Biden attacks Romney tax plan, and more

* Germany to agree to tougher Swiss tax deal-paper. Emma Thomasson – Reuters. Germany is set to agree a revised deal with Switzerland on secret offshore accounts that involves higher rates of taxes than originally planned to meet objections from the opposition, a Swiss newspaper reported on Thursday. Citing unnamed sources, the Tages-Anzeiger daily said German state premiers meeting in Berlin on Thursday should sign off on the deal after the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens apparently accepted Swiss concessions to tighten the agreement. Link

* Panel clears Ernst & Young unit in Olympus scandal. Kana Inagaki – The Wall Street Journal. Closing another chapter in probes into the scandal that rocked Olympus Corp. last year, an independent panel of lawyers and professors on Thursday cleared Ernst & Young ShinNihon LLC of legal responsibility in its audit of the company’s accounts. But the panel also called on the accounting industry to take measures that go beyond existing legal obligations to better spot potential fraud. Ernst & Young ShinNihon commissioned the four-member panel in December after a separate panel appointed by Olympus’ board raised questions over the hand-over process when Ernst & Young took over the auditing of the company from KPMG AZSA LLC in 2009. KPMG AZSA audited Olympus’ accounts from 1974 to 2009. Link

* Cameron hits back over claims of elitism. George Parker – The Financial Times. British Prime Minister David Cameron has attempted to dispel Labour claims that he leads an elitist “out of touch” government, when he declared his love of Cornish pasties, one of the hot foods that will be taxed more under budget value-added tax rules. The comments came after George Osborne announced a Budget measure on takeaway food, putting a 20 per cent VAT charge on food “sold above ambient temperatures” – immediately named a “pasty tax”. Labour has revelled in the government’s discomfort. Link

Essential tax and accounting reading: UK tax probe of eBay sellers, Swiss advisers, public transit subsidy, and more

 Welcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources.

* Senate backs return of higher transit subsidy. Eric Yoder – The Washington Post. The maximum tax-free subsidy that employers can pay for their workers to use public transit in their commuting would nearly double to $240 a month under a provision in the transportation bill the Senate passed Wednesday. The maximum had been $230 a month in 2009-2011 under a series of temporary laws, but when a further extension wasn’t passed by the end of last year, the amount reverted to its previous level of $125 a month. Meanwhile, a subsidy for parking at commuter lots to take public transportation rose from $230 to $240 a month due to an inflation adjustment. Link

* Two Swiss financial advisers accused of helping U.S. taxpayers hide money. Lynnley Browning – Reuters. Prosecutors in New York on Wednesday indicted two Swiss financial advisers, one a former private banker at financial giant UBS AG, on charges of conspiring to help wealthy Americans hide $267 million in secret bank accounts. In separate indictments, one of them alleging that a child was used to carry cash to a client, charges were brought against Hans Thomann, 61, and Josef Beck, 46. Both live in Switzerland, but they worked separately from each other. Link  

* Tax probe on eBay sellers comes under fire. Vanessa Houlder – The Financial Times. The UK revenue agency’s approach to tackling evasion risks “missing the bigger picture,” advisers said on Wednesday after it launched a targeted campaign aimed at eBay traders. Gary Ashford of the Chartered Institute of Taxation, a professional body, said launching campaigns aimed at specific groups every few weeks was confusing and risked diluting the anti-evasion message. The institute called on Inland Revenue to focus its efforts on a one-off national campaign open to all taxpayers whose affairs were not up to date. Link  

Essential tax and accounting reading: European carbon and tycoon taxes face headwinds, better outlook for Japanese sales tax, audit red flags, and more

Japan's Mount Fuji REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Welcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources.

* Whistleblower Joseph Insinga suing IRS for not being paid a reward. Lisa Rein – The Washington Post. Joseph A. Insinga was the ultimate whistleblower. The former executive with a Dutch bank says he divulged to the Internal Revenue Service details about how for years his employer helped U.S. companies dodge taxes. Now Insinga is taking tax authorities to court for failing to give him a reward that he says he is owed by the federal government. Insinga filed a whistleblower claim with the IRS in 2007, a year after Congress passed a law to help the government uncover tax cheats by encouraging informants to come forward. Those with inside information could receive up to 15 to 30 percent of any taxes, fines, penalties and interest the IRS collected from a taxpayer who was illegally sheltering taxes, usually a corporation. Insinga says he is entitled to a portion of the money the IRS collected from the taxpayers he exposed. He’s confident that at least one company, and maybe more, was forced to pay taxes based on his information. He had alleged that Rabobank Group, where he worked as an executive for more than a decade, helped seven companies avoid hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes through offshore partnerships and other corporate schemes. Link

* Delay EU carbon levy, says air industry. Peter Marsh, Joshua Chaffin and Simon Rabinovitch – The Financial Times. Seven of Europe’s leading aviation companies have joined forces to warn that the European Union’s plans to charge for carbon pollution are jeopardizing 2,000 jobs and billions of dollars of orders from China. Airbus and six large European airlines said the plan to bring global airlines into the EU emissions trading scheme for carbon dioxide, which the industry has steadfastly opposed, is creating an “intolerable” threat to the European aviation industry by opening up the possibility of trade battles with China, the US and Russia. The EU’s plan to regulate the output of carbon dioxide, as part of the effort to combat global warming, has stirred concern in the European aviation industry. Airbus – which employs more than 50,000 people across Europe – argues the proposals will damage competitiveness at a time of economic weakness, wants the EU to “put on hold” the extension of the scheme to airlines until a global plan for regulating carbon emissions by airlines can be agreed. Link

* Clegg forced to go soft on ‘tycoon tax’ Kiran Stacey, Helen Warrell and Vanessa Houlder – The Financial Times. Nick Clegg has been forced to soften proposals for a “tycoon tax” less than 48 hours after announcing it as a flagship policy at his Liberal Democrat party’s spring conference. The deputy prime minister said on Saturday that he wanted to set a minimum effective tax rate, making sure high earners did not use various loopholes to pay less than 20 per cent of their income in tax. The Treasury was surprised by Mr Clegg’s explicit mention of a minimum tax rate, as they had expected his speech to focus on general anti-avoidance measures. People close to George Osborne, the chancellor, told the Financial Times a minimum rate was not being considered. Link

Essential tax and accounting reading: Taxing the rich, Germany and the financial transactions tax, global tax dodges, and more

German Chancellor Angela Merkel REUTERS/Thomas Peter Welcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources.

* Opposition presses Merkel on transaction tax. Quentin Peel – The Financial Times. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, is facing growing pressure to accelerate the introduction of a financial transaction tax in Europe, in order to win approval for the eurozone’s new treaty on fiscal discipline in her parliament. Both leading German opposition parties – the Social Democratic party and the Greens – are calling for action on the FTT as the price of their support for the new treaty, signed last week by 25 of the 27 European Union member states. Merkel’s legal advisers say she needs a two-thirds majority in both the German Bundestag, the directly elected parliament, and the Bundesrat, the chamber representing Germany’s 16 federal states, in order to ratify the treaty. That means relying on both the SPD and Greens to back it in both houses of parliament. Merkel and Wolfgang Schäuble, German finance minister, have both said that if an EU tax is not possible, they would be prepared to back it for the 17 eurozone countries. Link

* Swiss amend U.S. tax treaty. Laura Saunders and Goran Mijuk – The Wall Street Journal. The Swiss parliament on Monday amended a tax treaty with the U.S., allowing Washington to more easily identify U.S. taxpayers with undeclared Swiss accounts. The lower house’s approval following the Swiss senate’s backing in December paves the way for the ratification of a tax-information-sharing agreement between the two countries. Lawmakers hope the change also will help end a years-long tax battle and lessen U.S. pressure on some Swiss banks. Under the new treaty, U.S. authorities will be able to ask the Swiss to disclose names of U.S. taxpayers at a bank who exhibit certain “behavioral patterns” indicating tax evasion under U.S. law, such as trying to conceal the ownership of the account through a trust. The U.S. also will be able to request information even from small cantonal banks that, unlike UBS and Credit Suisse Group, don’t do business in the U.S. Link

* U.S. watchdog finds deficiencies in BDO audits. Dena Aubin – Reuters. The U.S. auditing industry watchdog faulted major accounting firm BDO USA LLP on Monday for numerous deficiencies found in some 2010 audit inspections, the latest of several negative reports on U.S. accounting firms. BDO’s auditors failed to identify or address financial misstatements and in some cases failed to get enough evidence to support audit opinions, the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board said in an inspection report. The PCAOB said that in one case, BDO auditors did not properly test fair-value measurements for mortgage-backed securities and other hard-to-value securities. Link

Essential tax and accounting reading: Barclay’s tax schemes, GM’s tax break, Swiss compromise, and a 75 percent French tax

Welcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources.

* Swiss lawmakers set for tax plan vote. Katherina Bart – Reuters. Swiss lawmakers are set to back a tax proposal with the United States on Wednesday in a move which could pave the way for Switzerland to settle a U.S. probe into Swiss banks and hidden offshore accounts. The lower house will vote on a proposal clarifying how Switzerland would hand over data on Americans suspected of dodging taxes at home. The proposal, which passed the upper house in December, seeks to backstop an expected deal over U.S. probes into 11 banks including Credit Suisse and Julius Baer. Link

* French front-runner pledges 75 percent tax bracket. Gabriele Parussini – The Wall Street Journal. French presidential front-runner François Hollande said taxpayers earning over 1 million euros ($1.34 million)a year would be subjected to a special 75 percent tax bracket should he be elected, underscoring heightened interest across Europe in raising taxes on the wealthiest individuals. Speaking on French television late Monday, the Socialist candidate lamented the “considerable increase” in French corporate executives’ pay, which he put at €2 million a year on average. His proposal caused an uproar in the ruling UMP party, and surprised even Hollande’s own advisers. President Nicolas Sarkozy pointed to the “appalling amateurism” of his opponent’s proposals. Link

* Barclays’ tax plans clash with sentiment. Megan Murphy, Sharlene Goff and Vanessa Houlder – The Financial Times. Has Barclays’ attempt to avoid more than 500 million pounds ($791.93 million) in UK tax dealt a lasting blow to the bank’s nascent efforts to put better citizenship at the heart of a new feel-good corporate agenda? The British Revenue & Customs’ announcement that it has closed down two “highly abusive” schemes designed by the bank has thrust Barclays’ tax practices back into the spotlight, at a time when the bank is trying to rebuild its reputation with politicians and the public. Barclays’ insiders say they are genuinely shocked by the government’s announcement, emphasising that both schemes had been signed off by the bank’s professional advisers and were voluntarily disclosed. Link

Tax and Accounting Calendar

Mary Schapiro, Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Some events in the week ahead:

Tuesday, February 21

The Taxpayer Advocacy Panel Small Business/Self-Employed Decreasing Non-Filers Project Committee telephonic open meeting, 10 a.m. EST.

Tuesday, February 21 – Thursday, February 23

The Tax Executives Institute will sponsor a three-day seminar in San Diego, California, on audits, appeals and tax controversies, covering topics including winning at appeals, international tax controversy and building an effective transfer pricing case. Sheldon M. Kay, deputy chief of IRS Appeals, will be the Tuesday luncheon speaker.

Tax clips from the web: A Superbowl winner, retail relief and offshore assets

New York Giants middle linebacker Chase Blackburn (L) intercepts a pass intended for New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski during the third quarter in the NFL Super Bowl XLVI.

And the winning play goes to…

One of the more sensational plays on Superbowl Sunday last weekend took place in Las Vegas, where Jona Rechnitz was given 50 to 1 odds on the first scoring play in the game between the New York Giants and the New England Patriots being a safety. For those who missed it, a safety is something like a player throwing into or being tackled in his own end zone…Or something like that. Actually, Tax Break does not follow football really, so you can catch up on those details elsewhere. Anyway, the safety did occur, and Rechnitz won a cool $60,000 on the bet, Don’t Mess With Taxes writes.

Some of that win was shaved for taxes by the casino before it even paid out, and the rest is taxable on Rechnitz’s own tax return. That is – it would be. He told some tabloids that he will donate the money to charity, in which case he can deduct the whole kit and caboodle on his tax return.

Essential tax and accounting reading: Global accounting push, global tax battle and a vet tax credit

A military veterans hiring event in New York, January 19, 2012. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Welcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources.

* Global accounting reform ups pressure on U.S. to sign up. Huw Jones – Reuters. Plans by the accounting body responsible for global standards to make itself more answerable to the public will put pressure on the United States to sign up or risk losing influence. The International Accounting Standards Board (IASB) has drawn up the standards, which are used by listed companies in over 100 countries, including the European Union. So far the United States has delayed its decision to sign up, under pressure from companies and Congress who say they do not want to cede regulatory sovereignty to a London-based body. But Thursday’s publication by the IASB’s Trustees and Monitoring Board of plans to make themselves more open and accountable in their second decade may push the United States to think again, given the far-reaching impact that accounting rules have on financial markets and investors. Link.

* Pessimism high, Republicans warn of possible expiration of payroll tax cuts. Jennifer Steinhauer – The New York Times. Congressional Republicans said Thursday that negotiations over extending a payroll tax cut were going so poorly that it was possible the tax break – along with added unemployment benefits – could expire at the end of the month. If the benefits are allowed to lapse, it will be a stunning coda to a battle that has lasted months on Capitol Hill over whether and how to extend a two-percentage-point tax break for nearly every working American and to provide additional unemployment benefits for millions more. A temporary agreement forged in December cost Republicans politically and left both parties locked in another round of fights over how to cover the costs. In addition, Republicans are seeking numerous policy changes connected to unemployment benefits – like a mandatory high school equivalency program and possible drug testing for beneficiaries – that Democrats have rejected out of hand. They would also reduce the benefits to 59 weeks, far less than the 79 weeks sought by President Obama. Link.

Essential Reading: Ernst & Young’s fine, Swiss bank fallout and the Buffett rule

Welcome to the top tax and accounting headlines from Reuters and other sources.

* Watchdog fines Ernst & Young $2 million over audits. Dena Aubin – Reuters. The watchdog board for corporate auditors on Wednesday said it has imposed a $2 million penalty, its largest fine ever, on accounting and consulting firm Ernst & Young LLP in a settlement involving past audits of Medicis Pharmaceutical Corp. The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board said it also sanctioned four current and former Ernst & Young partners for violating PCAOB rules in the audits of Medicis, which sells prescription drugs for asthma and skin conditions. Ernst & Young settled without admitting or denying the PCAOB’s findings. The audits in question involved Medicis’ 2005, 2006 and 2007 financial statements, the PCAOB said. Link.

* Payroll-tax cut extension talks bog down as time runs short. Siobhan Hughes and Corey Boles – The Wall Street Journal. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Tuesday lawmakers working on an extension of a popular payroll-tax cut had only until early next week to reach a deal, as the two sides negotiating the package showed few signs of compromise and spent a morning meeting digging in to their positions. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp said that if negotiators can’t agree on current proposals to offset the cost of the package, they may have to “begin looking at scaling back some of these core policies” or else rely on deficit spending or simply kick the issue “outside the scope of the conference.” House Republicans started the latest round of talks with a proposal to cover the cost partly with a freeze to cost-of-living pay increases for federal workers. That outraged Maryland Democrats, whose constituents include many government workers. Democrats were no happier with a proposal to gradually force more senior citizens to pay higher premiums for Medicare. Link.

* Wegelin boss gives up NZZ role after US tax probe. Emma Thomasson – Reuters. The head of Wegelin – Switzerland’s oldest private bank and which the United States has indicted for helping clients dodge taxes – is standing back from his role as chairman of the country’s influential Neue Zuercher Zeitung daily. Konrad Hummler, one of Switzerland’s most high-profile bankers, said on Thursday he needed to focus on the U.S. case against Wegelin on charges it enabled Americans to evade taxes on at least $1.2 billion in offshore bank accounts. Hummler had come under pressure to step down as NZZ chairman for fear the Wegelin case could damage the reputation of Switzerland’s oldest newspaper – the voice of the country’s business establishment. Link.