The litigation over Wells Fargo’s STARS transaction took another interesting turn last week, as the district court had to rule on the legal implications of the jury’s verdict. Wells Fargo & Co. v. United States, No. 09-CV-2764 (PJS/TNL), 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 80401 (D. Minn. May 24, 2017). The litigation focused on whether STARS was a sham transaction that should not be respected for tax purposes because it lacked economic substance.
STARS, an acronym for Structured Trust Advantaged Repackaged Securities, was a transaction promoted to U.S. banks by a British financial-services company. Under this arrangement, Wells Fargo placed assets in a trust managed by a trustee based in the United Kingdom, making the assets subject to U.K.… Read More
The IRS and the Tax Division of the Department of Justice have expended significant effort fighting tax shelters, and they have enjoyed many successes in that endeavor. One transaction that the government challenged was known as “STARS,” an acronym for Structured Trust Advantaged Repackaged Securities. STARS was a transaction that Barclays promoted to a number of U.S. banks; it gave Barclays tax benefits in the United Kingdom, while the U.S. counterparties claimed significant foreign tax credits with minimal risk.
The IRS and the Tax Division pursued a series of cases attacking the STARS transaction as a tax shelter. Deploying the economic substance doctrine, the government obtained favorable rulings in two cases:
- In Bank of New York Mellon Corp.
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Structured Trust Advantaged Repackaged Securities, or STARS, a tax shelter, has been the subject of significant litigation. STARS was a trust transaction that provided tax benefits to Barclays Bank PLC (its promoter) and foreign tax credits to U.S.-based participants. The government has argued that STARS lacked economic substance, and it has had partial wins in Bank of New York Mellon Corp. v. Commissioner, No. 14-704-ag(L), 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 15993 (2d Cir. Sept. 9, 2015), and in Salem Financial Inc. v. United States, 786 F.3d 932, 937 (Fed. Cir. 2015), decided in May. Last week, another decision was issued, denying a summary judgment motion by another STARS participant.… Read More
The economic substance doctrine was developed by courts to address transactions that appeared to comply with the Internal Revenue Code but generated results that seemed to be inconsistent with Congressional intent. The doctrine’s modern application is usually traced to the Supreme Court’s decision in Frank Lyon Co. v. United States, 435 U.S. 561 (1978). While Congress has codified the doctrine, courts continue to apply pre-codification case law to older transactions.
Recently, the Eighth Circuit applied the doctrine to a refund claim brought by WFC Holdings Corporation, which controls Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. and other related entities. WFC Holdings Corp. v. United States, 2013 U.S.… Read More
Although Congress codified the economic substance doctrine, courts continue to deal with an inventory of cases applying the doctrine under existing precedent. On June 24th, the Fifth Circuit decided an interesting one, Nevada Partners Fund, L.L.C. v. United States, 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 12877 (June 24, 2013).
Nevada Partners involved a tax shelter that was driven by foreign currency transactions. The multi-tiered structure, as described by the Court, worked like this:
- First, the investment manager established a group of LLCs. These included an LLC which would act as a holding company for two others. This first-tier LLC would be formed with a transitory partner and it would own 99% of a second LLC, which in turn would own 99% of a third LLC.
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What lessons can we take from Crispin v. Commissioner, No. 12-2275 (3d Cir. Feb. 25, 2013?
The Court’s decision on economic substance is on very solid ground, as the case had a variety of bad facts suggesting that the taxpayer was playing audit roulette:
- First, Crispin entered into his transaction after the IRS had issued a notice relating to inflated basis transactions generally. Crispin v. Comm’r, No. 12-2275, slip op. at 5 (citing Notice 2000-44, 2002-2 Cum. Bull. 255 (Aug. 13, 2000)).
- Second, the IRS issued another notice that critiqued CARDS transactions before Crispin filed the relevant returns. Id.
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While tax law is driven in large measure by statutes and regulations, case law remains significant, particularly in the context of litigation involving tax shelters.
Historically, courts developed a variety of common law doctrines such as “substance over form,” “step transaction,” or “business purpose” that come into play in the context of transactions that are perceived to be abusive. Among the more prominent of these doctrines is the economic substance doctrine. While Congress took steps to codify the economic substance doctrine in 2010, it did so on a prospective basis, leaving a large number of pending tax cases to be governed by existing common law principles.… Read More
Section 6662 of the Internal Revenue Code imposes a 20% penalty in various situations when a taxpayer is negligent; these include penalties for a “substantial valuation misstatement.” I.R.C. § 6662(b)(3). A substantial valuation misstatement occurs where the taxpayer claims a basis in property that is 150% or more of the correct value. I.R.C. § 6662(e)(1)(A). Moreover, the penalty is increased from 20% to 40% if the taxpayer overstates basis by 200% or more. I.R.C. § 6662(h)(1). Section 6662 also imposes a 20% penalty regime where a taxpayer enters into a transaction that lacks economic substance. I.R.C. § 6662(b)(6). Although there are alternative penalties, only one may be applied to a particular underpayment of tax.… Read More