Tax Break

John Fisher, international tax consultant

Archive for the category “Israel”

Amnesty International

English: United States Internal Revenue Servic...

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The casual observer may be forgiven for thinking that last month’s announcement by the Israeli Income Tax Authorities of a  new amnesty  program for foreign undeclared income was motivated by the realization that if – as the US authorities close in on tax evaders – Israel does not act fast, all the “captured” tax of US citizens living in Israel will flow into the coffers of the US Treasury.

 

Back in 2005 the ITA started a Voluntary Disclosure Program to enable Israeli tax residents to come clean on their undeclared income. The scheme, which was open-ended,  offered immunity from criminal prosecution but not much else. The announcement in November 2011 that Israeli residents coming forward by the end of June 2012 could hope to pay the tax, without interest or penalties, on undeclared foreign income was a far more tempting proposition.

The conditions under which the foreign undeclared income is eligible for the amnesty, beyond the requirement that the applicant has broadly not been caught red-handed,  are flexible – but the sample list given by the ITA provides an indication as to the  extent that this was aimed at immigrants: undeclared income from foreign assets inherited from, or gifted by,  a foreign resident; undeclared income from foreign assets that were purchased using funds that arose from income taxed in Israel or income that was not liable to tax in Israel; and undeclared income from foreign assets that only became liable to tax from 2003 when the Israeli system moved from a largely territorial basis to a worldwide basis. 

Remembering that  Israeli-born residents were heavily restricted in their ability to invest legally abroad until the end of the last century, the bias towards Olim from “Western Countries” (which is a euphemism for the US, since the English, French, Canadians and others are just a statistical error in the ITA’s worldview of lost tax) is obvious.

Now that the IRS has won the battle in Switzerland and  should  soon finish bayoneting the wounded, it is widely rumored that the next stop on its tax-grabbing crusade will be the Holy Land. Hence,  the timing could not be better for the ITA to step in and suggest that people pay up in Israel, which in most cases has the first right to tax. This may have a mitigating effect on subsequent disclosure to the IRS, given its newly instituted softer approach to dual citizens (see earlier post), especially where they have declared the income abroad – but it is too early  in the day to draw any firm conclusions.

The potential downside in the whole affair is that any application under the amnesty is to be considered by a Star Chamber of senior income tax officials. There is a promise  that, even if an application is rejected,  the facts will not be used in evidence elsewhere.

When I read this, it reminded me of my first year in High School. There was a particular teacher who had an unfortunate habit of boxing pupils around the ears (which, judging by his level of intelligence, is probably what happened to him as a child). We quickly learned, as he approached, to raise our hands to cover our heads. He would then go through the standard ritual (which took longer each time, as the months rolled by) of telling a poor victim to put his hands down because he was not going to hit him; I do not need to finish the story.

However,  in practice, it seems that it may be possible to initially present the facts to the ITA anonymously and only name names when it is fairly apparent that the application will be accepted.

Overall, these are interesting times for people who have undeclared income and there is a window of opportunity that  could be, for many, the Last Chance at the OK Corral.

The best of times, the worst of times

As 2011 prepares to hang up its boots,  closure is finally coming to one of the finest specimens of legislative panic in recent Israeli history.  With the coalition government resembling  a concoction of weird and wonderful characters from the Complete Works of Charles Dickens and the middle-classes appealing “Please sir, we want some more”, the stage was set  mid-year for a roller coaster autumn full of surprise twists and turns.

 Following a summer of social protest  over the lack of economic fairness in the country and formation of a committee to recommend ways to back out of the “No Thoroughfare” , early fears of a politically motivated Estate Tax – always more of a rabble pacifier than a revenue earner –  gradually abated.  Then there was the proposal to apply a 2% “supertax” on the wealthy which fell off a cliff at the last moment (but might experience one of those miraculous literary recoveries and come climbing back up next year).  Meanwhile, lurking in the background was the perennial  threat of a National Insurance hike: we had already experienced the temporary doubling of the National Insurance  ceiling which followed, about a decade ago, the temporary total cancellation of the National Insurance ceiling which had meant at the time a whopping effective top marginal tax rate of 67%.

The amazing thing, however, is that what finally got thrown up, whether you agree with it or not, makes sense – like the unusually tidy endings of Dickens’s Christmas stories.

The marginal tax rate came to rest at 48% – a clear statement of policy that individuals should be left with more than half their income in their hands (until the government decides otherwise); national insurance was put back in its traditional box with its traditional ceiling; tax on passive income was hiked from 20/25% to 25/30%. What is more, it was not an immediate knee-jerk, but imposed from January 2012 giving taxpayers the chance to sensibly plan the transition – including dividends at the 25% rate in 2011 as well as 2011 bonuses and the theoretical sale of assets – although time is fast running out.

 

Of course, being Israel, not everything has gone totally smoothly. While legislation raising the tax on passive income has passed, the tax authorities and legislature seem to be struggling with the updating of Regulations which, given that they basically involve the crossing out of one tax rate and replacement with another, could be done by a five year old with a spirograph. This means, for example, that unless the  authorities get their act together by the end of this week, public companies paying a dividend in January 2012 face the dilemma of whether to deduct the new rate at source (which is the recipient’s tax liability) or follow the existing  Regulation for tax deduction that has not yet been updated and leave the recipient with the obligation to file a tax return (which, in the case of foreign resident recipients is normally a theoretical point).

 

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