IRS Declares That Tax Fraud and Evasion from Back-Dating of Stock Options Is a Top Priority

IRS Tax Whistleblowers with Knowledge of Stock Option Backdating Should Take Note

Now that the IRS has an effective IRS Whistleblower Rewards Program for whistleblowers who report tax fraud, tax evasion, or other violations of the Internal Revenue laws, the IRS’ recent announcement of focusing on back-dating of stock options should be interesting. In continuing our past discussions of claims under the IRS Whistleblower Rewards Program, we point out the tax fraud that the IRS has decided to target involving back-dated stock options.

The IRS recently announced that backdating of stock options is a “Tier I Compliance Issue and therefore is a mandatory examination item for taxpayers with backdated stock option grant and/or exercise prices.”

This unlawful practice can produce adverse tax consequences for the corporation issuing the option. As the IRS announcement explains, corporations are subject to a $1 million annual limit on the deduction for compensation to the CEO and four other highest compensated officers in a publicly traded corporation.

Under Treasury Regulations section 1.162-27(e)(2)(vi), there is a “qualified performance based compensation” exception to the $1 million deduction limit for compensation attributable to option exercises if the option exercise price equals or exceeds the per share value on the grant date and certain other requirements are met. A failure to satisfy this requirement may cause compensation attributable to the option exercise to be subject to the $1 million deduction limit.

The IRS announcement is titled “Industry Director Directive on Backdated Stock Options,” Directive #1, Large and Mid-Size Division, LMSB Control No. 04-0407-036. Impacted IRM 4.51.5 (June 15, 2007).

The IRS Whistleblower program provides opportunities to stop such fraud and to reward the whistleblower for stepping forward and doing the right thing.