A huge data leak from a Panama-based law firm has exposed billions in secret, offshore transactions involving multiple political leaders around the world and approximately 350 Canadians with offshore tax haven investments.
Previous leaks of offshore activities have led the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to engage in multiple tax audits targeting wealthy Canadians, such as clients of the LGT Bank, the Swiss HSBC Bank, and recently clients of one international accounting firm, just to name a few. This time should be no different. CRA was already instructed to get the leaked data in Panama Papers.
Many OECD-participating countries have engaged in a fight against tax evasion, treaty shopping and base erosion and profit-shifting (BEPS). Combined with the upcoming exchanges of financial information between countries starting in 2017 and 2018, Canada’s “new” offshore tax compliance section since 2013 and the offshore tax informant program (OTIP) rewarding whistleblowers, wealthy Canadians and businesses engaged in aggressive tax planning are more likely than ever to be audited.
In addition, the 2016 Federal budget proposed a plan to “improve tax compliance, prevent underground economic activity, tax evasion and aggressive tax planning,” requiring an investment of $444.4 million over five years to be used by the CRA for:
- hiring additional auditors and specialists
- developing robust business intelligence infrastructure
- increasing audit activities
- improving the quality of investigative work that targets criminal tax evaders
The expected additional revenue from such measures is $2.6 billion.
To most Canadians, these measures may sound perfectly legitimate. But many taxpayers in the province of Québec will hear a familiar tune that evokes unpleasant memories.
For many years, both the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) have treated limited liability companies (LLC) formed under Delaware law as hybrid entities, in that a LLC has been “opaque” for the purposes of domestic tax law despite being generally disregarded or treated as a partnership for United States tax purposes.
Hybrid entities, including LLCs, are due to be somewhat of a hot topic next month because, as part of its Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS) project, the OECD is due to present its recommendations to the G20 Finance Minister in relation to “Action 2: Neutralizing the effects of hybrid mismatch arrangements”. However, over the summer the United Kingdom Supreme Court has stepped into the fray in its decision in Anson v. Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs ( UKSC 44).
This decision emphasizes that entity classification for international tax purposes is highly dependent on the facts and the governing law applicable to the entity, despite guidance from tax authorities that prefers to apply a “one size fits all” approach. As discussed below, the Anson decision may create renewed interest and support for taking a tax position that diverges from the traditional opaque characterisation of a US LLC.