House Staffer is a Tax Protester?

By: David J. Herzig

Politico reported yesterday that “Isaac Lanier Avant, chief of staff to Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Democratic staff director for the Homeland Security Committee, allegedly did not file returns for the 2009 to 2013 tax years.”

According to the Department of Justice Press Release, Mr. Avant has been a staff member of the U.S. House of Representatives since 2002.  In 2005, he filed a form with “his employer that falsely claimed he was exempt from federal income taxes.  Avant did not have any federal tax withheld from his paycheck until the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) mandated that his employer begin withholding in January 2013.”

This seemingly innocent story might get more torrid.  For starters, missing from the press release by Justice is that, as Richard Rubin pointed out to me, Mr. Avant’s employer was Congress.  Do you hear the can of worms opening?  I mean, who at payroll in Congress is green-lighting the stopping of withholding?  What did his form look like? Did he make up an official and name it – W-NONE?  How many other staffer’s did this?  How did he never get audited?  According the the press release and the story, Mr. Avant did not file tax returns for 5 years; I guess a matching program would not catch anything since he had no withholding.  But, one would think Congress would at least ensure that every employee has filed a tax return.

Not sure which awesome tax protester argument he is going with.  Personally, I hope it is that he is a sovereign citizen.  It would be great if the Democratic staff director of Homeland Security thought the U.S. laws did not apply to him.  I guess we will have to wait for the actual complaint.  For those interested, the IRS has outlined numerous frivolous tax arguments.

 [UPDATE 8/24/16 at 8:41 pm: It appears that a claim of Sovereign Citizen might really be in play.  According to the Panolian, a local Batesville, Mississippi newspaper, Mr. Avant is the son of Vernice Black Avant and the late Robert Allen Avant Sr.  In 2011, according to the Panolian, Mr. Avant’s mother, who is also a court clerk, filed an “11-page ‘Affidavit of Truth'”  “declaring that she is a “freeborn Sovereign” are meant to distinguish her as an individual, distinct from a corporation.”  “The affidavit cites participation in the use of bank accounts, Social Security numbers, driver’s licenses, vehicle license plates and tax returns as ‘under duress.'”]

Messi Sentenced To Jail for Tax Fraud

By David J. Herzig

In a statement today, the court (the decision is in Spanish) in the tax fraud trial of Lionel Messi and his father found them guilty with a sentence of 21 months.  Although, under the Spanish system Messi and his father will serve probation and not jail time.

The court rejected Messi’s side of the story.  He had been claiming that he did not know what he signed.  The court did not believe Messi and decided that he (my translations) “decided to remain in ignorance over time” in a situation that benefited him, “because he received returns of the funds”.

Because the strategy that they court thought Messi knew about and used was to a scheme to “create the appearance of assignment” of these rights to “companies located in countries whose tax legislation allowed opacity”.

Thus, the court added over 3.5 in Euros of fines (2 million for Messi and 1.5 for his father) for the scheme to conceal earnings from image rights.  Prior to the trial, Messi claimed to have paid the 5 million Euro tax deficiency.  Messi does retain appeal rights.

F.C. Barcelona issued this statement in support of Messi and his father.  As Shu-Yi pointed out to me, F.C. Barcelona might have it’s own agenda on tax schemes.  As the E.U. is about set to give a verdict against the Spanish clubs for violating the public spending provisions via tax breaks.  The opening of the inquiry stated, “Professional football clubs should finance their running costs and investments with sound financial management rather than at the expense of the taxpayer. Member states and public authorities must comply with EU rules on state aid in this sector as in all economic sectors.”

As a final thought, I do wonder, however, if that open probation affects his ability to travel via Visa to various countries, e.g., will Brexit matter for Messi?

Follow-up Friday: Messi and McDonald’s

By David J. Herzig

In what I’m dubbing follow-up Friday, I wanted to give a quick update to two stories I am following regarding tax avoidance structuring.  One on the corporate side: the French Tax Authority Raids on Multinationals; and, one on the individual side: the Messi Tax Fraud Trial. Both stories are heating up.

French Tax Raids

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It was reported overnight that McDonald’s French headquarters was raided by French taxing authorities.  Unlike the Google raid that was reported in real time, this raid appeared to take place on May 18.

Much like the Google raid this investigation is centered on tax avoidance.  McDonald’s problems seem to have started in December when a lawsuit was brought against the company for understating earnings.  Apparently, in France, workers are entitled to a share of profits. A February 2015 report stated that McDonald’s avoided almost 1 billion euros of taxes using its Luxembourg subsidiary.

I guess Diane Ring was correct in her comment that all multinationals should be preparing for tax raids in France.  If you don’t have a plan in place, you should be working on one now.  Finally, Professor Byrnes at Texas A&M wrote an interesting story on his blog about routes for the United States to increase its involvement.

Messi Tax Fraud Trial

The most trustworthy news outlet, World Soccer Talk, is reporting that Lionel Messi will testify on June 2 for in his tax fraud trial.  As I previously reported, the trial is due to start on May 31.

A fascinating wrinkle that the article points out is that although there is potential jail time (22 months) if Messi is convicted of tax fraud, often that sentence is suspended.  “However, any such sentence would likely be suspended as is common in Spain for first offences carrying a sentence of less than two years.”

As I keep looking into sports figures tax avoidance planning, more and more amazing items come to light.  In January, Kelly Phillips Erb, reported in Forbes about another FC Barcelona player, Javier Mascherano, pled guilty to not paying tax for 2011 and 2012.  How fun would it be if two players of the NY Yankees were convicted of tax fraud.

These stories are why I love Europe!

Lionel Messi, Tax Fraud and the Panama Papers

I have been fascinated by the accusations of tax fraud levied against soccer superstar Lionel Messi and his father by the Spanish tax authorities.  Right when I thought the story could not get more interesting of course Messi is tied to the Panama Papers.  As much as I like Hermione (h/t Shu-Yi), I love Messi!

As a quick background for non-sports and football (I mean soccer) fans, Messi is the greatest soccer player in the world and maybe the greatest soccer player of all time.  As a point of reference, he would be the equivalent of Michael Jordan, Joe Montana, Babe Ruth rolled into one player.  Imagine what would happen if LeBron James were accused right now of tax fraud by the IRS?  This would dominate ESPN and probably network television.  Well, this is what is happening in the rest of the world with Messi.

Last year, a bombshell was dropped when the Spanish taxing authorities accused Messi of defrauding Spain of more than $5 million. Continue reading “Lionel Messi, Tax Fraud and the Panama Papers”