Thursday, May 28, 2015

Updated: Gotcha! Yet another obscure asset reporting form for US persons

UPDATE: as of sometime this afternoon (depending on your time zone), the BEA has updated its website to extend the filing deadline to June 30 for all new filers. Moreover, it appears that the BEA definition of US Persons is generally limited to persons resident in the United States (with specific exceptions, see comment from Andrew below). As I mention in the comments, I am a bit wary about drawing conclusions of law from instructions to forms but I do think that the instructions at least form the basis for reliance that most physically non-resident US citizens should not be required to fill out the BE-10.  The sudden deadline extension nevertheless suggests that a number of people have been caught by surprise by the new reporting obligation, so that my main point about educating one's regulatory target is still apposite. I have revised this post accordingly.

It seems that in the United States, the asset reporting forms and non-filing penalties just keep on coming, and yet the will to inform individuals about their obligations--especially those who live outside of the United States and do not receive client alerts from big US law firms or big 4 accounting firms--remains curiously absent.  The Bureau of Economic Analysis does a survey of "US Direct Investment Abroad" every five years. In past years, if you were required to file, the BEA contacted you.

Not any more; now you are just supposed to know that the BEA exists and has its own reporting requirements, and that if you are a US person (which includes individuals), you are supposed to go and file a report to them, separate and distinct from all of of your other tax and financial asset reporting requirements. I do not know what the definition of US Person is for BEA purposes, and whether it includes US citizens and other persons, regardless of their residence--looking into that now. The definition of US Person for BEA purposes appears to diverge from that for tax purposes, such that in most cases reporting is required by those physically resident in the United States.

BEA reporting is subject to a civil penalty of $2,500 to $25,000 for nonfiling, plus $10,000, or a year in jail, or both, if the nonfiling was wilful. I am not sure who is responsible for collecting this fine but if it is the IRS (as is the case for FBAR), then I wonder why the Service doesn't bother to tell taxpayers about the form and its deadline anywhere at all on the IRS website.

A BE-10 form must be filed by any US Person that directly or indirectly held 10% or more of the voting securities ("US Reporter") of any non-U.S. business enterprise (a “Foreign Affiliate”). There are no de minimis exceptions: no matter how small your nonUS corporation might be (or have been-you must file for the year even if the corporation ceases to exist), you must report or face the penalty. US Reporters must file Form BE-10A for themselves and may have to file additional BE-10 forms for their corporations.

The deadline is tomorrow: May 29 now June 30. There is an extension available but it requires filing a request prior to the due date. Prepare for a delay in accessing that form right now--the BEA server appears to be overloaded. Possibly a request to extend filed today (if that is even possible from outside the United States) would be granted, I am not sure.

The BEA is a valuable source of information necessary for policy research, and I do not in any way object to the general need to collect information on US companies. What I object to is that again and again, US regulators seems to forget that "US Persons" includes a massive population of individuals who live permanently outside of the territory, who cannot realistically be expected to simply "know" about all the forms they are supposed to report, and who are dramatically underserved by the US agencies that continue to produce these requirements. US Persons are now potentially subject to three overlapping and duplicative reporting regimes, each with its own quirky forms, convoluted instructions, inconsistent deadlines, and heavy penalties: the IRS, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and now, every five years, the BEA, all with little to no effort to educate the population each agency expects to be fully compliant.

I do wish that US lawmakers would understand that when they enact complex regulatory regimes with hefty penalties, they have a responsibility to educate the targets of that regulation. I am not talking about large, multinational conglomerates or high net worth individuals with teams of legal counsel. They are protected: their counsel's job is to keep up to date on all regulatory compliance regimes, inform their clientele, and and make money off compliance fees. I am not worried about them. I am talking about the human beings who just happen to live and work in other countries. If they have small businesses, they may well have non-US corporations in those countries where they live and work.  Regulatory agencies that seek to regulate these individuals have a responsibility to inform that is global in scope. It seems to me obviously unjust to suddenly impose complex requirements, with attendant penalties, on a whole new population without making any effort to educate them that this is the new order of things. Today's last-minute deadline extension seems to acknowledge this basic issue.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Presumption against Extraterritoriality: Win for foreign insurers in Validus Reinsurance case

Tim Todd had an article in Forbes yesterday on the Court of Appeals grant of summary judgment in Validus Reinsurance Ltd. v. United States, decided May 26. This was a de novo review; the district court had granted summary judgment for Validus in 2014 (Mem. Op. Feb 5, 2014), and the government appealed on grounds that the district court had "adopted an overly narrow interpretation." From the Court of Appeals decision:
Because both parties offer plausible interpretations, we conclude that the text of the
statute is ambiguous with respect to its application to wholly foreign retrocessions [a type of insurance product at issue in the case]. The ambiguity is resolved upon applying the presumption against extraterritoriality because there is no clear indication by Congress that it intended the excise tax to apply to premiums on wholly foreign retrocessions. Accordingly, we affirm the grant of summary judgment, albeit on narrower grounds, on Validus’s refund claims. 
Tim explains the jargon in the case so I won't repeat that here, but his point of note is that:
Generally, courts presume that legislation operates only within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States. Thus, unless Congress expresses an “affirmative intention,” statutes have no extraterritorial effect. 
Here, the retrocessions were extraterritorial: wholly foreign parties issued policies that were “negotiated, executed, and performed outside of the United States.” And, the court noted, the “government has identified no clear indication by Congress that it intended the excise tax to apply to wholly foreign retrocessions, and we have found none.”
This is an interesting area of law that I have not studied enough but would like to. I note that the Appeals Court observed that "At first glance, the plain text of section 4371 appears to extend the reach of the IRS Commissioner to any casualty and life insurance policy issued by a foreign insurer anywhere in the world," but that read in conjunction with its definitions clauses, the scope is more modest. The court engages in a step by step statutory analysis (always fun) and ends up engaging in a fairly detailed discussion of what it means to "cover" something. Having hauled out a few dictionaries, the Court decides that the language is ambiguous, hence the need to turn to the general presumption against extra-territoriality.

In the context of a globally networked financial system, it is sometimes hard to tell the difference between something that is territorial and something that is extra-territorial in scope and reach. Here, the government had argued that the necessary nexus to the United States lay in the the underlying risks ultimately being insured--that is, "indirect" risk coverage. It seems that was one bridge too far for the DC Circuit.