This posts was originally published on White Collar Post under “Panama Papers: CRA getting tougher on tax evasion” – a Fasken Martineau blog.
We are beginning to see the legal enforcement fallout from the now infamous Panama Papers. Canada Revenue Agency’s (CRA) concerted efforts to find undeclared offshore money and assets is moving into full gear. In addition to pursuing typical civil audits, the CRA is now executing search warrants and launching criminal investigations for tax evasion.
The CRA is actively gathering information from domestic and international sources to identify and charge offenders criminally. Since 2015, the Canadian government has required domestic financial institutions to report to the CRA all international electronic fund transfers of $10,000 or more. In addition, as of March 2016 the CRA has analyzed over 41,000 transactions worth over $12 billion dollars, involving four jurisdictions and particular financial institutions of concern, and has initiated risk assessments on 1,300 individuals named in the Panama Papers. This has resulted in approximately 122 CRA audits to date and counting. However, it is not just taxpayers who are subject to the CRA’s scrutiny and who may be criminally charged. The CRA is also investigating the enablers and advisors, including the lawyers and accountants, who facilitated the hiding of taxpayer money and assets offshore.
What is the “automatic exchange of financial information”
In order to increase tax transparency across the globe, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) adopted the Common Reporting Standard (CRS) on July 15, 2014. The CRS initiative calls on each participating jurisdiction to obtain information from financial institutions within their country and automatically exchange that information with other jurisdictions on an annual basis. The objective is to increase tax compliance by providing key information to the participating jurisdictions allowing them to identify whether their citizens accurately report their foreign assets and income. However, since the CRS is not constraining, 90 jurisdictions have also signed the Multilateral Competent Authority Agreement (MCAA) on automatic exchange of financial account information. The MCAA provides a mechanism to facilitate the exchange of information in accordance with the CRS. Such information to be disclosed includes the following :
- The name, address, taxpayer identification number, date and place of birth of each account holder;
- The account number;
- The name and identifying number of the financial institution;
- The account balance or value (including, in the case of a cash value insurance contract or annuity contract, the cash value or surrender value) as of the end of the relevant calendar year or the closure of the account;
- The total gross amount of interest, dividends and other income generated with respect to the assets held in the account.
Qu’est-ce que « l’échange automatique de renseignements financiers »?
Afin d’accroître la transparence fiscale à travers le monde, l’Organisation de coopération et de développement économiques (OCDE) a adopté la norme commune de déclaration (NCD) le 15 juillet 2014. L’initiative de la NCD invite les juridictions participantes à obtenir des renseignements auprès des institutions financières de leur pays et à les échanger automatiquement avec d’autres juridictions sur une base annuelle. L’objectif est d’accroître l’observation des règles fiscales en fournissant des renseignements importants aux juridictions participantes afin de leur permettre de déterminer si leurs citoyens déclarent correctement leurs actifs et leurs revenus étrangers.
Cependant, puisque la NCD n’est pas contraignante, 90 juridictions ont également signé l’Accord Multilatéral entre Autorités Compétentes (AMAC) sur l’échange automatique de renseignements financiers. L’AMAC fournit un mécanisme pour faciliter l’échange de renseignements conformément à la NCD. Les renseignements à divulguer comprennent ce qui suit :
- Le nom, l’adresse, le numéro d’identification du contribuable et la date et le lieu de naissance de chaque titulaire du compte;
- Le numéro de compte;
- Le nom et le numéro d’identification de l’institution financière;
- Le solde ou la valeur du compte (y compris, dans le cas d’un contrat d’assurance comportant une valeur de rachat ou d’un contrat de rente, la valeur de rachat) à la fin de l’année civile concernée ou à la fermeture du compte;
- Le montant total des intérêts, des dividendes et des autres revenus générés relativement aux actifs détenus dans le compte.
The Canada Revenue Agency’s (the ‘’CRA’’) voluntary disclosures program allows taxpayers who meet certain conditions to correct inaccurate or incomplete information previously submitted to the CRA, or to disclose information not previously reported on their tax form. Under the current voluntary disclosures program, those who make a valid disclosure will be responsible for paying the taxes and reduced interest owing as a result of their disclosure, the whole without penalties or fear of prosecution. However, access to the voluntary disclosures program will be limited in the near future and radical changes will be introduced.
Access to the voluntary disclosures program limited for some and radical changes for others
However, on May 29, 2017, the CRA announced by the way of its Report on Progress that a revised voluntary disclosures program policy would be introduced shortly. The changes sought will tighten the access to the voluntary disclosures program and the relief provided. This announce by the CRA is made after the recommendation from the Standing Committee on Finance to conduct a review of the voluntary disclosures program as part of the strategy to combat offshore tax evasion and aggressive tax planning.
In completing its review of the program, CRA sought input from the Offshore Compliance Advisory Committee (the ‘’OCAC’’). In December 2016, the OCAC released the ‘’Report on the Voluntary Disclosures Program’’ which sets out different recommendations to ‘’improve’’ the program. The main contemplated alterations are to, in certain circumstances :
- increase the period for which full interest must be paid;
- reduce penalties relief in certain circumstances so that the taxpayers pay more than they would pay if they had been fully compliant; and
- even deny relief from civil penalties.
Such circumstances could include, for example :
- Situations where large dollar amounts of tax were avoided;
- Active efforts to avoid detection and the use of complex offshore structures;
- Multiple years of non-compliance;
- Disclosures motivated by CRA statements regarding its intended focus of compliance, by broad-based tax compliance programs or by the reception of leaked confidential information by the CRA such as the Panama Papers data leak; and
- Other circumstances in which the CRA considers that the high degree of the taxpayer’s culpability contributed to the failure to comply.
Less certain and more expensive results
If implemented by the CRA, the recommendations of the OCAC would significantly change the current voluntary disclosures program and the result of a disclosure would be more discretionary and expensive. Therefore, taxpayers entertaining the possibility of making a voluntary disclosure may want to act soon as the CRA intends to tighten the criteria for acceptance into the voluntary disclosures program and to be less generous in its application.
For more information about filing a voluntary disclosure download “The Voluntary Disclosures Programs in Canada (And in Québec)“.
In Industrielle Alliance vs. Mazraani and MNR, the Federal Court of Appeal recently quashed a Tax Court of Canada decision on the basis that the trial judge violated the linguistic rights of both witnesses and counsel for Industrielle Alliance. The reasons for judgment can be found here in English and French.
The Tax Court of Canada decision
Before the Tax Court of Canada (TCC), Kassem Mazraani appealed the Minister’s determination that he was not engaged in insurable employment while working for Industrielle Alliance between April and November 2012. Industrielle was an intervenor to the appeal and had taken the position that the Minister’s determination was correct since an independent contractor agreement had been concluded with Mazraani. The appeal was heard under the informal procedure before Justice Archambault and the hearing lasted 6 days. Mazraani filed his appeal in English, the Minister’s reply was in English also and Industrielle’ s intervention was in French.
In a massive 160 page decision, the TCC concluded that Mazraani was engaged in insurable employment.