IRS to Scrutinize Derivatives–Do They Allow Offshore Investors to Avoid Withholding Taxes on U.S. Stock Dividends?

IRS Seeks Documents from Citigroup and Lehman Brothers Holdings on Derivatives

Now that Congress has created a meaningful IRS Whistleblower Rewards Program, tax whistleblower attorneys took note of yesterday’s report that the IRS is looking into whether derivatives trades for hedge funds and other investors are being used to avoid tax withholding obligations, according to the Wall Street Journal yesterday. The IRS reportedly has issued “Information Document Requests” to Citigroup and Lehman Brothers Holdings to find out.

As Reuters reports, the derivatives trades in question are when securities firms buy stocks from offshore hedge-fund clients; the banks then pay their clients any principal return and dividends that these stocks generate. Because the fund technically does not hold the stock, the funds escape paying up to 30 percent in taxes on the dividend, according to sources discussed by Reuters.

Schemes to avoid paying taxes place greater burdens on the millions of honest Americans who satisfy their own tax obligations. We applaud the IRS’s efforts to stop unlawful schemes.

The new IRS Whistleblower Rewards Program should make the IRS’s efforts all the more effective. The enthusiasm of the three IRS agents we met with this week remind us how important the new IRS Whistleblower program should be!