Friday, May 7, 2021
The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) today announced the renewal of its Geographic Targeting Orders (GTOs) that require U.S. title insurance companies to identify the natural persons behind shell companies used in all-cash purchases of residential real estate. The GTOs are identical to the November 2020 GTOs. The purchase amount threshold remains $300,000 for each covered metropolitan area.
The terms of this Order are effective beginning May 5, 2021 and ending October 31, 2021. GTOs continue to provide valuable data on the purchase of residential real estate by persons possibly involved in various illicit enterprises. Renewing the GTOs will further assist in tracking illicit funds and other criminal or illicit activity, as well as inform FinCEN’s future regulatory efforts in this sector.
The GTOs cover certain counties within the following major U.S. metropolitan areas: Boston; Chicago; Dallas-Fort Worth; Honolulu; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Miami; New York City; San Antonio; San Diego; San Francisco; and Seattle.
FinCEN appreciates the continued assistance and cooperation of the title insurance companies and the American Land Title Association in protecting the real estate markets from abuse by illicit actors.
Any questions about the Orders should be directed to FinCEN’s Regulatory Support Section at FRC@FinCEN.gov.
A copy of the GTO is available here (
Frequently asked questions regarding these GTOs are available here.
Thursday, May 6, 2021
Global e-commerce jumps to $26.7 trillion, 30% of global gross domestic product, COVID-19 boosts online sales
The dramatic rise in e-commerce amid movement restrictions induced by COVID-19 increased online retail sales’ share of total retail sales from 16% to 19% in 2020, according to estimates in an UNCTAD report published on 3 May.
UNCTAD released the report as it hosted a two-day meeting on measuring e-commerce and the digital economy.
According to the report, online retail sales grew markedly in several countries, with the Republic of Korea reporting the highest share at 25.9% in 2020, up from 20.8% the year before (Table 1).
Meanwhile, global e-commerce sales jumped to $26.7 trillion in 2019, up 4% from 2018, according to the latest available estimates.
This includes business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) sales, and is equivalent to 30% of global gross domestic product (GDP) that year.
Tuesday, May 4, 2021
In addition to simplifying existing own resources, the need to introduce new own resources of the EU budget has been on the EU agenda for a long time. Some of the key arguments in favour of new sources of revenue have been:
- reducing the weight of the Gross National Income (GNI)-based own resource in the EU budget;
- bringing more proportionality, fairness and stabilising impact to the EU budget, while reflecting the fluctuations in Member States' economic cycles;
- reforming the own resources system to help address new challenges, by designing new own resources that bring also additional benefits alongside the stream of fiscal income;
- introducing more diversified and resilient types of own resources, directly related to EU competences, objectives and priorities.
According to Article 311 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (legal basis for the Own Resources Decision), the Union "shall provide itself with the means to attain its objectives and carry through its policies". When introducing new Own Resources, attention should be paid to (i) their transparency, simplicity and stability; (ii) their consistency with EU policy objectives; (iii) their impact on competitiveness and sustainable growth; and (iv) their equitable breakdown among Member States.
The plastic own resource, a contribution based on the non-recycled plastic packaging waste, has been in place as a new revenue source to the 2021-2027 EU budget since January 2021.
Other potential new sources of revenue
In the coming years the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council will work together to introduce new own resources for the EU budget. These resources will not create new taxes for European taxpayers, as the EU does not have the power to levy taxes. Existing tax instruments are mainly deployed at national level, hence the introduction of new categories of own resources will fully respect national fiscal sovereignty.
Possible new own resources:
Carbon border adjustment mechanism: the Commission will make a detailed proposal by June 2021, with a view of introducing the new source of revenue by 1 January 2023 at the latest. The carbon border adjustment mechanism entails a tax on any product imported from a country outside of the EU that does not have a system to price carbon, like the EU ETS (see below). This is meant to adjust the price of the imported goods as if they were produced in the EU and ensure fairness for European companies.
Digital levy: the Commission will out forward a proposal by June 2021, with a view of introducing the new own resource by 1 January 2023 at the latest. The digital levy would stem from digital business activities, which are intrinsically dematerialised and profiting from mostly intangible assets. A digital levy would be a solution to the inadequateness of current corporate tax rules for the digital economy.
EU ETS-based own resource: the Commission will make a proposal for an EU Emissions Trading System (ETS)-based own resource, including a possible extension of this system to the maritime and aviation sectors, in the spring of 2021. The ETS is the EU carbon market, through which installations (companies) buy or receive emission allowances. Allowances permit companies to emit an equal amount of greenhouse gases emissions within an established cap that decreases over time. The ETS has a direct link to the functioning of the Single Market and it is a key tool of EU action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a cost-effective way.
In addition, the Commission will propose further new own resources, which could include a Financial Transaction Tax, a financial contribution linked to the corporate sector or a new common corporate tax base. The Commission will work to make the relevant proposals by June 2024.
Monday, May 3, 2021
The EU’s long-term budget, coupled with NextGenerationEU, the temporary instrument designed to boost the recovery, will be the largest stimulus package ever financed through the EU budget. A total of €1.8 trillion will help rebuild a post-COVID-19 Europe. It will be a greener, more digital and more resilient Europe.
The new long-term budget will increase flexibility mechanisms to guarantee it has the capacity to address unforeseen needs. It is a budget fit not only for today's realities but also for tomorrow's uncertainties.
The last step of the adoption of the next long-term EU budget was reached on 17 December 2020.
Main elements of the agreement
Multiannual Financial Framework 2021-2027
total allocations per heading*
|1. Single market, innovation and digital||€132.8 billion||€10.6 billion||€143.4 billion|
|2. Cohesion, resilience and values||€377.8 billion||€721.9 billion||€1 099.7 billion|
|3. Natural resources and environment||€356.4 billion||€17.5 billion||€373.9 billion|
|4. Migration and border management||€22.7 billion||-||€22.7 billion|
|5. Security and defence||€13.2 billion||-||€13.2 billion|
|6. Neighbourhood and the world||€98.4 billion||-||€98.4 billion|
|7. European public administration||€73.1 billion||-||€73.1 billion|
|TOTAL MFF||€1 074.3 billion||€750 billion||€1 824.3 billion|
All amounts in € billion, in constant 2018 prices. Source: European Commission
* The amounts include the targeted reinforcement of ten programmes for a total of €15 billion, compared to the agreement from 21 July 2020. The programmes are Horizon Europe, Erasmus+, EU4Health, Integrated Border Management Fund, Rights and Values, Creative Europe, InvestEU, European Border and Coast Guard Agency, Humanitarian Aid.
NextGenerationEU is a €750 billion temporary recovery instrument to help repair the immediate economic and social damage brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. Post-COVID-19 Europe will be greener, more digital, more resilient and better fit for the current and forthcoming challenges.
- The Recovery and Resilience Facility: the centrepiece of NextGenerationEU with €672.5 billion in loans and grants available to support reforms and investments undertaken by EU countries. The aim is to mitigate the economic and social impact of the coronavirus pandemic and make European economies and societies more sustainable, resilient and better prepared for the challenges and opportunities of the green and digital transitions. Member States are working on their recovery and resilience plans to access the funds under the Recovery and Resilience Facility.
- Recovery Assistance for Cohesion and the Territories of Europe (REACT-EU): NextGenerationEU also includes €47.5 billion for REACT-EU. It is a new initiative that continues and extends the crisis response and crisis repair measures delivered through the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative and the Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative Plus. It will contribute to a green, digital and resilient recovery of the economy. The funds will be made available to
- the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)
- the European Social Fund (ESF)
- the European Fund for Aid to the Most Deprived (FEAD)
These additional funds will be provided in 2021-2022.
- NextGenerationEU will also bring additional money to other European programmes or funds such as Horizon2020, InvestEU, rural development or the Just Transition Fund (JTF).
|Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF)||€672.5 billion|
|of which, loans||€360 billion|
|of which, grants||€312.5 billion|
|Horizon Europe||€5 billion|
|Rural Development||€7.5 billion|
|Just Transition Funds (JTF)||€10 billion|
Source: Conclusions of the European Council of 21 July 2020
NextGenerationEU figures per EU country
- Recovery and Resilience Facility: grants allocation per Member State
- REACT-EU: allocations 2021
- Just Transition Fund: allocations per Member State
- European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development: allocations per Member State
MFF figures per EU country
- MFF 2021-2027 Breakdown of Cohesion Policy allocations per Member State (2018 prices)
- MFF 2021-2027 Breakdown of Cohesion Policy allocations per Member State (current prices)
- MFF 2021-2027 Breakdown of European Agricultural Guarantee Fund per Member State (current prices)
- MFF 2021-2027 Breakdown of European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development per Member State (MFF only, current prices)
Financing the EU long-term budget and NextGenerationEU
The EU long-term budget will continue to be financed through the well-known revenue sources of the EU budget:
In addition, as of 1 January 2021, a new national contribution based on non-recycled plastic packaging waste will be introduced as a source of revenue of the EU budget.
Borrowing to finance the recovery
To finance NextGenerationEU, the European Commission - on behalf of the European Union – will borrow on the markets at more favourable rates than many Member States and redistribute the amounts. For the Commission to start borrowing, all Member States must ratify the new Own Resources Decision in line with their constitutional requirements.
The European Commission already issues bonds to finance loans to EU and third countries under four programmes, including up to €100 billion for the SURE programme to support jobs and keep people in work.
To raise up to around €800 billion in current prices until 2026 for NextGenerationEU under the best financial terms – 5% of EU GDP – the Commission will use a diversified funding strategy.
A clear roadmap towards new sources of revenue to help repay the borrowing
The Commission will put forward proposals by June 2021 on sources of revenue linked to:
|a carbon border adjustment mechanism|
|a digital levy|
|the EU Emissions Trading System|
By June 2024, the Commission will propose new sources of revenue, such as:
|a Financial Transaction Tax|
|a financial contribution linked to the corporate sector|
|a new common corporate tax base|
Friday, April 30, 2021
Real gross domestic product (GDP) increased at an annual rate of 6.4 percent in the first quarter of 2021 (table 1), according to the "advance" estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the fourth quarter of 2020, real GDP increased 4.3 percent.
The GDP estimate released today is based on source data that are incomplete or subject to further revision by the source agency (see "Source Data for the Advance Estimate" on page 3). The "second" estimate for the first quarter, based on more complete data, will be released on May 27, 2021.
The increase in real GDP in the first quarter reflected increases in personal consumption expenditures (PCE), nonresidential fixed investment, federal government spending, residential fixed investment, and state and local government spending that were partly offset by decreases in private inventory investment and exports. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, increased (table 2).
The increase in PCE reflected increases in durable goods (led by motor vehicles and parts), nondurable goods (led by food and beverages) and services (led by food services and accommodations). The increase in nonresidential fixed investment reflected increases in equipment (led by information processing equipment) and intellectual property products (led by software). The increase in federal government spending primarily reflected an increase in payments made to banks for processing and administering the Paycheck Protection Program loan applications as well as purchases of COVID-19 vaccines for distribution to the public. The decrease in private inventory investment primarily reflected a decrease in retail trade inventories.
Current‑dollar GDP increased 10.7 percent, or $554.2 billion, in the first quarter to a level of $22.05 trillion. In the fourth quarter, GDP increased 6.3 percent, or $324.5 billion (tables 1 and 3). More information on the source data that underlie the estimates is available in the Key Source and Data Assumptions file on BEA's website.
The price index for gross domestic purchases increased 3.8 percent in the first quarter, compared with 1.7 percent in the fourth quarter (table 4). The PCE price index increased 3.5 percent, compared with an increase of 1.5 percent. Excluding food and energy prices, the PCE price index increased 2.3 percent, compared with an increase of 1.3 percent.
Current-dollar personal income increased $2.40 trillion in the first quarter, or 59.0 percent, compared with a decrease of $351.4 billion, or 6.9 percent, in the fourth quarter. The increase primarily reflected government social benefits related to pandemic relief programs, notably direct economic impact payments to households established by the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act and the American Rescue Plan Act (table 8). Additional information on several factors impacting personal income can be found in "Effects of Selected Federal Pandemic Response Programs on Personal Income."
Disposable personal income increased $2.36 trillion, or 67.0 percent, in the first quarter, compared with a decrease of $402.1 billion, or 8.8 percent, in the fourth quarter. Real disposable personal income increased 61.3 percent, compared with a decrease of 10.1 percent.
Personal saving was $4.12 trillion in the first quarter, compared with $2.25 trillion in the fourth quarter. The personal saving rate—personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income—was 21.0 percent in the first quarter, compared with 13.0 percent in the fourth quarter.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has announced the UK’s first sanctions under the new Global Anti-Corruption regime.
- sanctions target 22 individuals involved in notorious corruption cases in Russia, South Africa, South Sudan, and throughout Latin America
- Foreign Secretary vows to stop corrupt individuals using the UK as a safe haven for dirty money
- new sanctions regime stops those involved in serious corruption from entering and channeling money through the UK
Individuals involved in some of the world’s most serious cases of corruption will no longer be able to channel their money through UK banks or enter the country thanks to new sanctions announced by the Foreign Secretary today.
The UK has, for the first time, imposed asset freezes and travel bans against 22 individuals under the new Global Anti-Corruption sanctions regime which gives the UK unprecedented power to stop corrupt actors profiting from the UK economy and exploiting our citizens.
Corruption hurts individuals and undermines global trade, development and the rule of law. Over 2% of global GDP is lost to corruption every year, and corruption increases the cost of doing business for individual companies by as much as 10%.
Corruption also threatens our national security by exacerbating conflict and facilitating serious and organized crime, creating space for terrorist and criminal groups like Daesh and Boko Haram to operate.
This new regime will allow the UK to combat serious corruption, in particular bribery and misappropriation. It will promote effective governance, robust democratic institutions and the rule of law – demonstrating our power as a force for good around the world.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, said:
Corruption has a corrosive effect as it slows development, drains the wealth of poorer nations and keeps their people trapped in poverty. It poisons the well of democracy.
The individuals we have sanctioned today have been involved in some of the most notorious corruption cases around the world.
Global Britain is standing up for democracy, good governance and the rule of law. We are saying to those involved in serious corruption: we will not tolerate you or your dirty money in our country.
The measures are deliberately targeted, so the UK can impose sanctions on corrupt individuals and their enablers, rather than entire nations.
They are being taken partly in tandem with the US, which is today also announcing further corruption sanctions. Acting together sends the clearest possible signal that corruption comes with a heavy price.
The UK’s first wave of sanctions under this new sanctions regime is targeting:
- those involved in the diversion of $230 million of Russian state property through a fraudulent tax refund scheme uncovered by Sergei Magnitsky – one of the largest tax frauds in recent Russian history
- Ajay Atul, and Rajesh Gupta, and their associate Salim Essa, for their roles in serious corruption. They were at the heart of a long-running process of corruption in South Africa which caused significant damage to its economy
- Sudanese businessman Ashraf Seed Ahmed Hussein Ali, widely known as Al Cardinal, for his involvement in the misappropriation of significant amounts of state assets in one of the poorest countries in the world. This diversion of resources in collusion with South Sudanese elites has contributed to ongoing instability and conflict
- several individuals involved in serious corruption in Latin America, including facilitating bribes to support a major drug trafficking organization and misappropriation that has led to citizens being deprived of vital resources for development
The Global Anti-Corruption sanctions regime builds on the success of the Global Human Rights sanctions regime established in July 2020, which has resulted in the UK imposing sanctions on 78 individuals and entities involved in serious human rights violations, including from Myanmar, Belarus, China and Russia.
The UK will continue to use a range of means to tackle serious corruption around the world, including funding the International Corruption Unit in the National Crime Agency. The International Corruption Unit and its predecessors have restrained, confiscated or returned over £1.1 billion of stolen assets, stolen from developing countries since 2006.
Thursday, April 29, 2021
Labor market disruption & COVID-19 support measures contribute to widespread falls in taxes on wages in 2020
The COVID-19 crisis has resulted in the largest decrease in taxes on wages since the global financial crisis of 2008-09, according to a new OECD report.
Taxing Wages 2021 shows that declining household incomes coupled with tax reforms linked to the pandemic are driving widespread declines in effective taxes on wages across the OECD.
The report highlights record falls across the OECD during 2020 in the tax wedge – the total taxes on labour paid by both employees and employers, minus family benefits, as a percentage of the labour cost to the employer.
The tax wedge for a single worker at the average wage was 34.6% in 2020, a decrease of 0.39 percentage points from the previous year. This is a significant fall, but is smaller than the decreases seen in the global financial crisis – 0.48 percentage point in 2008, and 0.52 percentage points in 2009. The tax wedge increased in 7 of the 37 OECD countries over the 2019-20 period and fell in 29, mainly due to lower income taxes.
The drop in the tax wedge was even more significant for households with children, bringing tax rates on these family types to new lows. The average tax wedge for a one-earner couple at the average wage with children in 2020 was 24.4%, a decrease of 1.1 percentage points versus 2019. This is the largest fall and lowest level seen for this household type since the OECD started producing Taxing Wages in 2000.
Between 2019 and 2020, the tax wedge for this household type decreased in 31 countries, and rose in only 6. It decreased by more than 1 percentage point in 16 countries. The largest decreases were in Lithuania, the United States, Poland, Italy, Canada and Korea. The only increase over 1 percentage point was in New Zealand.
The gap between the OECD average tax wedge for the single average worker (34.6%) and the one-earner couple with children (24.4%) has widened by 0.7 percentage points since 2019, reflecting policy changes that provided additional support to families with children during the COVID-19 crisis.
The falls in country tax wedges for the single worker, the one-earner couple with two children, and the single parent resulted predominantly from changes in tax policy settings, although falling average wages also contributed in some countries. By contrast, increases in the tax wedge were almost all driven by rising average wages, offset only slightly by policy changes.
Of the ten countries where specific COVID-19 measures affected the indicators, support was primarily delivered through enhanced or one-off cash benefits, with a focus on supporting families with children.
The report shows that labour taxation continues to vary considerably across the OECD, with the tax wedge on the average single worker ranging from zero in Colombia to 51.5% in Belgium.
Further information and individual country notes: https://www.oecd.org/tax/taxing-wages-20725124.htm.
Thursday, April 22, 2021
Hospital Researcher Sentenced to Prison for Conspiring to Steal Trade Secrets and Sell to China, Defendant Will Pay More Than $2.6 Million in Restitution
Yu Zhou, 51, of Dublin, Ohio, pleaded guilty in December 2020 to stealing scientific trade secrets related to exosomes and exosome isolation from Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s Research Institute for his own personal financial gain. Zhou also conspired to commit wire fraud.
“Yu Zhou sought to exploit U.S. taxpayer dollars intended to fund critical, life-saving research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital through the whole-sale theft of their trade secrets,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers for the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “Zhou’s greed was encouraged and enabled by a series of Chinese Government programs which incentivize thievery in an attempt to supplement China’s own research and development goals on the back of American ingenuity and investment. This successful prosecution should serve as a warning to anyone who seeks to profit from pilfering hard-earned U.S. trade secrets.”
“Yu Zhou willingly took part in the Chinese Government’s long-term efforts to steal American intellectual property,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Vipal J. Patel for the Southern District of Ohio. “Zhou and his wife executed a scheme over the course of several years to set up businesses in China, steal American research, and profit from doing so. The couple deserves the time it received in federal prison.”
According to court documents, Zhou and his co-conspirator and wife, Li Chen, 48, worked in separate medical research labs at the Research Institute for 10 years each (Zhou from 2007 until 2017 and Chen from 2008 until 2018). They pleaded guilty to conspiring to steal at least five trade secrets related to exosome research from Nationwide Children’s Hospital. Chen was sentenced in February to 30 months in prison for her role in the scheme.
Exosomes play a key role in the research, identification and treatment of a range of medical conditions, including necrotizing enterocolitis (a condition found in premature babies), liver fibrosis and liver cancer.
Court documents detail that Zhou and Chen conspired to steal and then monetize one of the trade secrets by creating and selling exosome “isolation kits.” Zhou’s research at Nationwide Children’s included a novel isolation method in which exosomes could be isolated from samples as small as one drop of blood. This method was vital to the research being conducted in Zhou’s lab – because necrotizing enterocolitis is a condition found primarily in premature babies, only small amounts of fluid can safely be taken from them.
Zhou and Chen started a company in China to sell the kits.
The defendants received benefits from the Chinese government, including the State Administration of Foreign Expert Affairs and the National Natural Science Foundation of China. Zhou and Chen were also part of application processes related to multiple Chinese government programs, including talent plans, a method used by China to transfer foreign research and technology to the Chinese government.
As part of their convictions, the couple will forfeit approximately $1.45 million, 500,000 shares of common stock of Avalon GloboCare Corp. and 400 shares of common stock of GenExosome Technologies Inc. They were also ordered to pay $2.6 million in restitution.
Chen and Zhou were arrested in California in July 2019 and their case was unsealed in August 2019 when they appeared in federal court in Columbus.
Wednesday, April 21, 2021
An indictment returned by a federal grand jury in the Southern District of Georgia has been unsealed charging two businesses and nine of their officers and managers located across the country for their roles in an alleged conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government and commit various fraud and criminal immigration offenses for profit.
According to court documents, Regal Hospitality Solutions, LLC; Educational World, Inc.; Karen Makaryan, 42, Sargis Makaryan, 42, and Samvel Nikoghosyan, 40, of Destrehan, La.; Artur Grigoryan, 38, of Biloxi, Miss.; Armen Ayrapetyan, 37, of Duluth, Ga.; Jason Hill, 28, of Virginia Beach, Va.; Fremie Balbastro, 49, of Myrtle Beach, S.C.; and Larisa Khariton, 73, and Jon Clark, 71, of North Port, Fla., were charged in a 36-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury on April 8. Each defendant was charged with one count of conspiracy to defraud and commit offenses against the United States, including encouraging and inducing an alien to reside in the United States, alien harboring, transporting aliens, and visa fraud. Each defendant also was charged with substantive counts of encouraging and inducing an alien to reside in the United States, alien harboring, and transportation of aliens. In addition, Regal Hospitality Solutions, LLC; Karen Makaryan; Sargis Makaryan; Samvel Nikoghosyan; Artur Grigoryan; Armen Ayrapetyan; Fremie Balbastro; and Jason Hill were also charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and 10 counts of wire fraud.
“The defendants in this case allegedly engaged in an expansive conspiracy to enrich themselves by exploiting both the immigration system and noncitizen workers,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Systemic fraud and abuse of U.S. visa programs and processes designed to protect American workers and businesses will not be tolerated, and offenders will be held accountable.”
“Hospitality venues often struggle with finding workers, and in recent years that has been an even greater challenge,” said Acting U.S. Attorney David H. Estes for the Southern District of Georgia. “Agencies that provide workers can be exceptionally helpful in such circumstances – but they must provide that assistance in accordance with the law. In this case, businesses in St. Simons Island were among those allegedly exploited along with the illegally provided workers.”
“The Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs aims to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange,” said Acting Assistant Inspector General for Investigations Robert Smolich of the U.S. Department of State, Office of Inspector General, Office of Investigations. “When bad actors corrupt these programs for personal gain, it not only diminishes an important tool of diplomacy, it harms the thousands of individuals who participate in these programs hoping to gain skills and experience to make a better life. Today we took a step forward in restoring integrity back to those programs.”
“These defendants’ alleged scheme to game the immigration system and defraud the government has backfired and they will now be held accountable,” said Special Agent in Charge Katrina W. Berger of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Georgia and Alabama. “Schemes like this not only exploit the noncitizen workers involved, they also damage the other legitimate businesses in the community. Protecting the integrity of the visa program and immigration system is vital to the security of our nation.”
According to the indictment, from an unknown date through at least May 2017, the individual defendants enriched themselves by participating in a scheme to recruit and hire noncitizen laborers without authorization to work for defendant Regal Hospitality Solutions, LLC (RHS). RHS allegedly entered into contracts to provide hospitality-related businesses with lawful laborers to work in housekeeping, retail, and foodservice positions. To fill those positions, RHS defendants hired noncitizens who were not authorized to work for RHS in the United States. In some cases, the RHS defendants arranged for and provided housing and transportation to the workers.
The defendants and other co-conspirators also allegedly encouraged and induced noncitizen laborers on expiring and expired J-1 exchange visitor visas to obtain B-2 tourist visas and to work in the United States for RHS, knowing that employing such laborers on B-2 visas was illegal. Educational World, Inc. (Ed World) – a visa preparation company – and the Ed World defendants, after charging noncitizen laborers approximately $650 per application, prepared and submitted applications for B-2 visas on behalf of the workers, which contained false and misleading statements designed to indicate that the noncitizens intended to obtain the B-2 visa for the purpose of engaging in tourism and that the noncitizens were complying with United States immigration laws. In fact, the Ed World defendants knew that those noncitizens were already present in and intended to stay in the United States for employment, not tourism.
The indictment further alleges that the Ed World defendants submitted petitions for H-2B temporary work visas that contained false and misleading information about the location where noncitizen laborers allegedly were to be employed. RHS paid a commission to Ed World for noncitizens Ed World recruited to work for RHS, including those who were not authorized to work for RHS in the United States.
According to the indictment, RHS and the RHS defendants also made false and misleading representations that RHS would staff positions at the hospitality establishments contracting with RHS only with laborers who were legally authorized to work for RHS in the United States.
Individual defendants have made their initial court appearances and the arraignment of all defendants will be scheduled before U.S. Magistrate Judge Benjamin W. Cheesbro of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia. If convicted, the individual defendants face maximum potential statutory penalties of five years in prison on the count of conspiracy to defraud and commit offenses against the United States; 10 years in prison on the counts of encouraging and inducing an alien to reside in the United States, alien harboring, and transportation of aliens; and 20 years in prison on the counts of wire fraud conspiracy and substantive wire fraud. The organizational defendants are subject to a maximum fine on each count of conviction of $500,000 or twice the gross amount of gain or loss resulting from the offense. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The U.S. Department of State Office of Inspector General is investigating the case with assistance provided by HSI and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Tuesday, April 20, 2021
IRS establishes new "Office of Promoter Investigations", appoints Director with 20-year exam experience
As part of the continued focus on compliance issues, the Internal Revenue Service announced yesterday the establishment of the IRS Office of Promoter Investigations. The new office will further expand on the efforts of the Promoter Investigations Coordinator that began last summer.
“By establishing the Office of Promoter Investigations, we are continuing our increased focus on promoters of abusive tax avoidance transactions, which we have demonstrated over the last year,” said IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig. “This office will coordinate efforts across multiple business divisions to address abusive syndicated conservation easements and abusive micro-captive insurance arrangements, as well as other transactions.”
Lois Deitrich, a 20-year veteran of the agency, will be the new office’s acting director.
Even though OPI will be positioned within SB/SE, Deitrich will work on agency-wide compliance issues, including coordination of promoter activities with promoter teams in other business divisions, including Large Business & International, Tax Exempt/Government Entities, the Office of Fraud Enforcement, and Criminal Investigations.. She will serve as the principal advisor and consultant to IRS division commissioners and deputy commissioners on issues involving promoters of abusive transactions and the schemes they peddle. The OPI will also develop strategic plans, programs and policy.
Prior to the creation of OPI, the SB/SE division completed a realignment of field examination employees who work on promoter investigations. This realignment brought SB/SE revenue agents under a single director within the Field Exam Division, increasing the focus and attention they apply to investigations going forward. With additional training, resources and applied analytics, SB/SE will bring improved focus on identifying, investigating and taking necessary enforcement action to halt promotion of abusive transactions.
De Lon Harris, commissioner, SB/SE Exam, noted that the realignment of field employees will continue to strengthen the internal compliance efforts within SB/SE.
"These groups are exclusively dedicated to investigating those who peddle abusive tax schemes. Bringing these agents together, in combination with the creation of the service-wide Office of Promoter Investigations, will help strengthen our compliance work and is yet another opportunity to increase our capacity to conduct these investigations," said De Lon Harris, commissioner, SB/SE Exam. "Our promoter office will strategically focus resources to help expand detection and deterrence efforts of promoter work across the IRS."
Deitrich will take over the work the agency has been pursuing for the past year under Brendan O'Dell, who was selected as the Promoter Investigation Coordinator in early 2020.
Prior to this position, Deitrich served as the director of the southwest area of SB/SE’s Field Examination, where she was responsible for overseeing SB/SE field operation for abusive transaction investigations. She brings extensive experience in the abusive transaction space and the Special Enforcement Program. Previously, she served as director of Exam Case Selection and Exam Quality and Technical Support.
Monday, April 19, 2021
Investigation & Report on Allegations of Misuse of Department of State Resources By Secretary of State
OIG reviewed allegations that former U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo directed Department of State (Department) employees to carry out tasks of a personal nature to benefit him and Mrs. Pompeo. The allegations stated that the Secretary hired a political appointee to complete such tasks and assigned such work to other employees in the Office of the Secretary and the Bureau of Diplomatic Security.
OIG found that both Secretary and Mrs. Pompeo requested that the political appointee and other employees in the Office of the Secretary undertake work of a personal nature, such as picking up personal items, planning events unrelated to the Department’s mission, and conducting such personal business as pet care and mailing personal Christmas cards. OIG found that such requests were inconsistent with Department ethics rules and the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch. However, with only a few exceptions, OIG did not find that Secretary and Mrs. Pompeo made personal requests to the special agents in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security who were protecting them. These agents generally told OIG that the Pompeos did not ask them to undertake tasks of a personal nature.
OIG made three recommendations to the Department. OIG recommended that the Office of the Legal Adviser update its guidance to the Office of the Secretary to include guidance on the use of Department funds to pay for gifts to U.S. citizens and the use of Department employees to arrange personal dinners and entertainment. OIG recommended that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security amend its Protection Handbook to include examples of appropriate and inappropriate requests to agents performing protective functions, and direction concerning what to do when an agent is tasked with an inappropriate request and who to contact to address concerns. Finally, OIG recommended that the Under Secretary for
Management draft and publish guidance on the use of a subordinate’s time for tasks of a personal nature, including direction concerning what to do and who to contact when a Department employee is tasked with an inappropriate request. The Department concurred with all three recommendations.
Sunday, April 18, 2021
High-Level Organizer of Notorious Hacking Group Sentenced to Prison for More than $1 Billion Scheme of Tens of Millions of Consumers Debit and Credit Cards
A Ukrainian national was sentenced in the Western District of Washington to 10 years in prison for his high-level role in the criminal work of the hacking group FIN7.
Fedir Hladyr, 35, served as a manager and systems administrator for FIN7. He was arrested in Dresden, Germany, in 2018, at the request of U.S. law enforcement and was extradited to Seattle, Washington. In September 2019, he pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit computer hacking.
“The defendant and his conspirators compromised millions of financial accounts and caused over a billion dollars in losses to Americans and costs to the U.S. economy,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “Protecting businesses – both large and small – online is a top priority for the Department of Justice. The department is committed to working with our international partners to hold such cyber criminals accountable, no matter where they reside or how anonymous they think they are.”
“This criminal organization had more than 70 people organized into business units and teams. Some were hackers, others developed the malware installed on computers, and still others crafted the malicious emails that duped victims into infecting their company systems,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Tessa M. Gorman of the Western District of Washington. “This defendant worked at the intersection of all these activities and thus bears heavy responsibility for billions in damage caused to companies and individual consumers.”
“These cyber thieves orchestrated an elaborate network of hackers and systems to infiltrate businesses and exploit consumers’ personal information,” said Special Agent in Charge Donald M. Voiret of the FBI’s Seattle Field Office. “Their specialized skills to target certain industries amplified the damage exponentially. Thanks to the hard work of law enforcement partners both in the U.S. and overseas, these fraudsters are not beyond our reach and cannot hide from the law.”
According to documents filed in the case, since at least 2015, members of FIN7 (also referred to as Carbanak Group and the Navigator Group, among other names) engaged in a highly sophisticated malware campaign to attack hundreds of U.S. companies, predominantly in the restaurant, gambling, and hospitality industries. FIN7 hacked into thousands of computer systems and stole millions of customer credit and debit card numbers that were then used or sold for profit. FIN7, through its dozens of members, launched waves of malicious cyberattacks on numerous businesses operating in the United States and abroad. To execute its scheme, FIN7 carefully crafted email messages that would appear legitimate to a business’ employees, and accompanied emails with telephone calls intended to further legitimize the emails. Once a file attached to a fraudulent email was opened and activated, FIN7 would use an adapted version of the Carbanak malware, in addition to an arsenal of other tools, to access and steal payment card data for the business’s customers. Since 2015, many of the stolen payment card numbers have been offered for sale through online underground marketplaces.
In the United States alone, FIN7 successfully breached the computer networks of businesses in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, stealing more than 20 million customer card records from over 6,500 individual point-of-sale terminals at more than 3,600 separate business locations. According to court documents, victims incurred enormous costs that, according to some estimates, totaled billions of dollars. Additional intrusions occurred abroad, including in the United Kingdom, Australia, and France. Companies that have publicly disclosed hacks attributable to FIN7 include such chains as Chipotle Mexican Grill, Chili’s, Arby’s, Red Robin, and Jason’s Deli.
Hladyr originally joined FIN7 via a front company called Combi Security – a fake cyber security company that had a phony website and no legitimate customers. Hladyr admitted in his plea agreement that he soon realized that, rather than a legitimate company, Combi was part of a criminal enterprise. Hladyr served as FIN7’s systems administrator who, among other things, played a central role in aggregating stolen payment card information, supervising FIN7’s hackers, and maintaining the elaborate network of servers that FIN7 used to attack and control victims’ computers. Hladyr also controlled the organization’s encrypted channels of communication.
This case is the result of an investigation conducted by the Seattle Cyber Task Force of the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the National Cyber-Forensics and Training Alliance, numerous computer security firms and financial institutions, FBI offices across the nation and globe, as well as a number of international agencies provided significant assistance. German law enforcement authorities provided significant assistance by arresting Hladyr.
Saturday, April 17, 2021
According to the indictment, from 1999 to 2014, Carlos E. Kepke helped Robert F. Smith create and maintain offshore entities that were used to conceal from the IRS approximately $225,000,000 of capital gains income that Smith had earned. In approximately March 2000, Kepke allegedly created a Nevisian limited liability company (Flash Holdings) and a Belizean trust (Excelsior Trust) to serve as the tax evasion vehicles. When Smith earned capital gains income from his private equity funds, a portion was allegedly deposited into Flash’s bank accounts in the British Virgin Islands and Switzerland. As alleged, Smith was able to hide this income because Excelsior, and not Smith, was the nominal owner of Flash. Smith then allegedly failed to timely and fully report his income to the IRS. Kepke allegedly assisted in the preparation of Smith’s false 2012 to 2014 returns.
For his services, Smith has allegedly paid Kepke nearly $1,000,000 since 2007. These fees, as charged, included an annual payment for Kepke to purge or “securitize” his records related to Smith, Excelsior, and Flash.
Thursday, April 15, 2021
Requirements for Certain Foreign Persons and Certain Foreign-Owned Partnerships Investing in Qualified Opportunity Funds and Flexibility for Working Capital Safe Harbor Plans
Abstract: This document contains proposed regulations that include requirements that certain foreign persons and certain foreign-owned partnerships must meet in order to elect the Federal income tax benefits provided by section 1400Z-2 of the Internal Revenue Code (Code). This document also contains proposed regulations that allow, under certain circumstances, for the reduction or elimination of withholding under section 1445, 1446(a), or 1446(f) of the Code on transfers that give rise to gain that is deferred under section 1400Z-2(a). Finally, this document contains additional guidance regarding the 24-month extension of the working capital safe harbor in the case of Federally declared disasters. The proposed regulations affect qualified opportunity funds and their investors.
Background: This document contains proposed amendments to 26 CFR part 1 under sections 1400Z-2, 1445, and 1446 (proposed regulations). Section 13823 of Public Law 115-97, 131 Stat. 2054, 2184 (2017), commonly referred to as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), added sections 1400Z-1 and 1400Z-2 to the Code. The purposes of section 1400Z-2 and the section 1400Z-2 regulations (that is, the final regulations set forth in §§ 1.1400Z2(a)-1 through 1.1400Z2(f)-1, 1.1502-14Z, and 1.1504-3) are to provide specified Federal income tax benefits to owners of qualified opportunity funds (QOFs) to encourage the making of longer-term investments, through QOFs and qualified opportunity zone businesses, of new capital in one or more qualified opportunity zones designated under section 1400Z-1 and to increase economic growth in such qualified opportunity zones. See § 1.1400Z2(f)-1(c)(1) (describing the purposes of section 1400Z-2 and the section 1400Z-2 regulations; Notice 2018-48, 2018-28 I.R.B. 9, and Notice 2019-42, 2019-29 I.R.B. 352 (setting forth the combined list of population census tracts designated as qualified opportunity zones).
Section 1400Z-1 provides the procedural rules for designating qualified opportunity zones and related definitions. Section 1400Z-2 provides two main tax incentives to encourage investment in qualified opportunity zones. See section 1400Z-2(b) and (c). First, a taxpayer, upon making a valid election, may generally defer, until the earlier of an inclusion event or December 31, 2026, certain gains in gross income that would otherwise be recognized in the tax year if the taxpayer invests a corresponding amount in a qualifying investment in a QOF within 180 days of the date of the sale or exchange. See section 1400Z-2(b)(1)(A) and (B). The taxpayer may potentially exclude ten percent of such deferred gain from gross income if the taxpayer holds the qualifying investment in the QOF for at least five years. See section 1400Z-2(b)(2)(B)(iii). An additional five percent of such gain may potentially be excluded from gross income if the taxpayer holds the qualifying investment for at least seven years. See section 1400Z-2(b)(2)(B)(iv). Second, a taxpayer, upon making a second valid election under section 1400Z-2(c), may also exclude from gross income any appreciation on the taxpayer's qualifying investment in the QOF if the qualifying investment is held for at least ten years. Section 1400Z-2(e)(4) provides that the Secretary of the Treasury or his delegate shall prescribe regulations as may be necessary or appropriate to carry out the purposes of section 1400Z-2, including rules to prevent abuse.
On October 29, 2018, the Treasury Department and the IRS published in the Federal Register (83 FR 54279) a notice of proposed rulemaking (REG-115420-18) providing guidance under section 1400Z-2 for investing in qualified opportunity funds (83 FR 54279 (October 29, 2018)) (October 2018 proposed regulations). A second notice of proposed rulemaking (REG-120186-18) was published in the Federal Register (84 FR 18652) on May 1, 2019, containing additional proposed regulations under section 1400Z-2 (May 2019 proposed regulations). The May 2019 proposed regulations also updated portions of the October 2018 proposed regulations. On January 13, 2020, final regulations (TD 9889) under section 1400Z-2 were published in the Federal Register (85 FR 1866, as corrected at 85 FR 19082), effective for taxable years beginning after March 13, 2020 (section 1400Z-2 regulations).
Under the section 1400Z-2 regulations, a taxpayer qualifies for deferral under section 1400Z-2(a) only if the taxpayer is an eligible taxpayer. Section 1.1400Z2(a)-1(a)(1). An eligible taxpayer is defined as a person that is required to report the recognition of gains during the taxable year under Federal income tax accounting principles. Section 1.1400Z2(a)-1(b)(13). If an eligible taxpayer that is a partnership does not elect to defer gain, a partner of such partnership may elect to defer its distributive share of the gain. Section 1.1400Z2(a)-1(c)(8).
The section 1400Z-2 regulations provide that only gains that are eligible gains may be deferred. Section 1.1400Z2(a)-1(b)(11). In general, an eligible gain is gain that (i) is treated as a capital gain or is a qualified 1231 gain, (ii) would be recognized for Federal income tax purposes and subject to tax under subtitle A of the Code before January 1, 2027, if section 1400Z-2(a)(1) did not apply to defer the gain, and (iii) does not arise from a sale or exchange of property with certain related persons. Id. Thus, for example, a nonresident alien individual or foreign corporation generally may make a deferral election with respect to an item of capital gain that is effectively connected with a U.S. trade or business, because this gain otherwise is subject to Federal income tax. When a partnership chooses to make a deferral election, the section 1400Z-2 regulations provide an exception to the general requirement that gain be subject to Federal income tax in order to constitute eligible gain, subject to an anti-abuse rule. Section 1.1400Z2(a)-1(b)(11)(ix)(B).
Foreign persons are generally subject to U.S. income tax on amounts that are effectively connected with the conduct of a trade or business within the United States (ECI). A foreign person that directly or indirectly is engaged in a trade or business in the United States must file a U.S. income tax return and pay any tax due.
To ensure the collection of tax, in certain circumstances, the Code imposes withholding requirements on payments or allocations of ECI to foreign persons. See sections 1445, 1446(a), and 1446(f). The amount of withholding under these provisions is intended to serve as a proxy for the amount of the foreign person's substantive tax liability and may not match the actual amount of tax due. The amount withheld may be claimed as a credit against the amount of tax due and shown on the foreign person's tax return.
Specifically, section 1445(a) requires a transferee to withhold tax on a disposition of a United States real property interest (as defined in section 897(c)) (U.S. real property interest) by a foreign person. Generally, the transferee must withhold 15 percent of the amount realized and deposit the tax with the IRS within 20 days of the transfer. Certain exceptions and reductions to the rate of withholding can apply, including by the foreign person obtaining a withholding certificate from the IRS to reduce or eliminate the amount required to be withheld on the transfer.
Section 1445(e)(1) requires a domestic partnership, trust, or estate that disposes of a United States real property interest to withhold on any portion of the gain that is allocable to a foreign partner or beneficiary. The rate of withholding is the highest rate of tax in effect under section 11(b) (currently 21 percent).
Section 1445(e)(2) requires a foreign corporation that recognizes gain on the distribution of a United States real property interest to withhold on the gain at the highest rate of tax in effect under section 11(b).
Section 1445(e)(3) requires a domestic corporation that is or has been a United States real property holding corporation to withhold 15 percent of a distribution to a nonresident alien or foreign corporation.
Section 1445(e)(6) requires a qualified investment entity to withhold at the highest rate of tax specified in section 11(b) on the amount of the distribution that is treated as gain from the sale or exchange of a United States real property interest.
Section 1446(a) generally requires a partnership to withhold tax on effectively connected taxable income as determined under § 1.1446-2 (ECTI) allocable to a foreign partner, with limited adjustments, regardless of whether the income is distributed to the partner (section 1446(a) tax). A partnership must generally withhold section 1446(a) tax on a foreign partner's allocable share of ECTI at the highest rate of tax specified in section 1 (for a foreign partner other than a corporation) or section 11(b) (for a foreign partner that is a corporation). A partnership is generally required to pay the section 1446(a) tax in four installment payments. The partnership may consider certain partner-level deductions and losses as a reduction to the ECTI on which it must withhold section 1446(a) tax. See § 1.1446-6.
Section 1446(f) requires withholding under certain circumstances in connection with a disposition of a partnership interest. Specifically, if, on a disposition (which includes a distribution from a partnership to a partner) of a partnership interest, section 864(c)(8) treats any portion of a foreign partner's gain as effectively connected gain, section 1446(f) requires the transferee to withhold tax equal to 10 percent of the amount realized, unless an exemption or reduced rate of withholding applies. The transferee must deposit the tax with the IRS within 20 days of the transfer. See § 1.1446(f)-2. For purposes of section 1446(f), a transferor may in certain cases certify to the transferee that the transfer is not subject to withholding or otherwise qualifies for an exception to withholding or an adjustment to the amount required to be withheld. Id.
Under sections 33 and 1462, a foreign person subject to withholding under section 1445, 1446(a), or 1446(f) may credit the amount withheld against the amount of income tax liability shown on the person's tax return.
Thursday, April 8, 2021
BEA logo and link to website BEA News: U.S. International Investment Position, Fourth Quarter and Year 2020
The U.S. net international investment position, the difference between U.S. residents' foreign financial assets and liabilities, was –$14.09 trillion at the end of the fourth quarter of 2020, according to statistics released by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA). Assets totaled $32.16 trillion and liabilities were $46.25 trillion.
At the end of the third quarter, the net investment position was –$13.86 trillion (Table 1).
The –$227.5 billion change in the net investment position from the third quarter to the fourth quarter came from net financial transactions of –$287.1 billion and net other changes in position, such as price and exchange rate changes, of $59.6 billion (Table A).
Table A. Quarterly Change in the U.S. Net International Investment Position
Billions of dollars, not seasonally adjusted
|Change in position in 2020 Q4||Position,
in position 1
|U.S. net international investment position||-13,864.6||-227.5||-287.1||59.6||-14,092.1|
|Net position excluding financial derivatives||-13,891.6||-193.9||-289.7||95.8||-14,085.5|
|Financial derivatives other than reserves, net||26.9||-33.6||2.6||-36.2||-6.6|
|Assets excluding financial derivatives||26,971.3||2,638.9||121.4||2,517.5||29,610.3|
|Financial derivatives other than reserves||2,545.2||0.6||(2)||(2)||2,545.7|
|Liabilities excluding financial derivatives||40,862.9||2,832.9||411.2||2,421.7||43,695.8|
|Financial derivatives other than reserves||2,518.2||34.1||(2)||(2)||2,552.4|
1. Disaggregation of other changes in position into price changes, exchange rate changes, and other changes in volume and valuation is presented for annual statistics released in June each year.
2. Financial transactions and other changes in financial derivatives positions are available on a net basis; they are not separately available for U.S. assets and U.S. liabilities.
U.S. assets increased by $2.64 trillion, to a total of $32.16 trillion at the end of the fourth quarter, reflecting increases in all major categories of assets, particularly in portfolio investment and direct investment assets. Portfolio investment assets increased by $1.59 trillion, to $14.67 trillion, and direct investment assets increased by $955.5 billion, to $9.30 trillion, driven mainly by foreign stock price increases and, to a lesser extent, the appreciation of major foreign currencies against the U.S. dollar that raised the value of U.S. assets in dollar terms.
U.S. liabilities increased by $2.87 trillion, to a total of $46.25 trillion at the end of the fourth quarter, reflecting increases in all major categories of liabilities, particularly in portfolio investment and direct investment liabilities. Portfolio investment liabilities increased by $1.64 trillion, to $24.67 trillion, and direct investment liabilities increased by $1.12 trillion, to $11.97 trillion, driven mainly by U.S. stock price increases that raised the value of these liabilities.
Updates to Third Quarter 2020 International Investment Position Aggregates
Trillions of dollars, not seasonally adjusted
|Preliminary estimate||Revised estimate|
|U.S. net international investment position||-13.95||-13.86|
The U.S. net international investment position was –$14.09 trillion at the end of 2020 compared to –$11.05 trillion at the end of 2019 (Table 1).
The –$3.04 trillion change in the net investment position from the end of 2019 to the end of 2020 came from net financial transactions of –$743.6 billion and net other changes in position, such as price and exchange rate changes, of –$2.30 trillion (Table B).
U.S. assets increased by $3.00 trillion, to a total of $32.16 trillion, at the end of 2020, reflecting increases in all major categories of assets, particularly in portfolio investment, financial derivatives, and direct investment assets. Portfolio investment assets increased $1.30 trillion, to $14.67 trillion, and direct investment assets increased $496.9 billion, to $9.30 trillion, driven mainly by the appreciation of major foreign currencies against the U.S. dollar that raised the value of U.S. assets in dollar terms, and to a lesser extent, by financial transactions. Financial derivatives increased $755.3 billion, to $2.55 trillion, mostly reflecting increases in single-currency interest rate contracts.
Table B. Annual Change in the U.S. Net International Investment Position
Billions of dollars
|Change in position in 2020||Position,
in position 1
|U.S. net international investment position||-11,050.5||-3,041.6||-743.6||-2,298.0||-14,092.1|
|Net position excluding financial derivatives||-11,070.7||-3,014.8||-740.3||-2,274.6||-14,085.5|
|Financial derivatives other than reserves, net||20.2||-26.8||-3.3||-23.5||-6.6|
|Assets excluding financial derivatives||27,362.4||2,247.9||763.5||1,484.4||29,610.3|
|Financial derivatives other than reserves||1,790.4||755.3||(2)||(2)||2,545.7|
|Liabilities excluding financial derivatives||38,433.0||5,262.7||1,503.7||3,759.0||43,695.8|
|Financial derivatives other than reserves||1,770.3||782.1||(2)||(2)||2,552.4|
1. Disaggregation of other changes in position into price changes, exchange rate changes, and other changes in volume and valuation is presented for annual statistics released in June each year.
2. Financial transactions and other changes in financial derivatives positions are available on a net basis; they are not separately available for U.S. assets and U.S. liabilities.
U.S. liabilities increased by $6.04 trillion, to a total of $46.25 trillion, at the end of 2020, reflecting increases in all major categories of liabilities, particularly in portfolio investment, direct investment, and financial derivatives liabilities. Portfolio investment liabilities increased by $3.28 trillion, to $24.67 trillion, and direct investment liabilities increased by $1.42 trillion, to $11.97 trillion, driven mainly by U.S. stock price increases and, to a lesser extent, financial transactions. Financial derivatives increased $782.1 billion, to $2.55 trillion, mostly reflecting increases in single-currency interest rate contracts.
Upcoming Update to the U.S. International Investment Position
The annual update of the U.S. international investment position will be released along with preliminary estimates for the first quarter of 2021 on June 30, 2021. A preview of the annual update will appear in the April 2021 issue of the Survey of Current Business.
Wednesday, April 7, 2021
The U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis announced today that the goods and services deficit was $71.1 billion in February, up $3.3 billion from $67.8 billion in January, revised.
Next release: Tuesday, May 4, 2021
(°) Statistical significance is not applicable or not measurable. Data adjusted for seasonality but not price changes
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis; U.S. International Trade in Goods and Services, April 7, 2021
The global pandemic and the economic recovery continued to impact international trade in February 2021. The full economic effects of the pandemic cannot be quantified in the statistics because the impacts are generally embedded in source data and cannot be separately identified.
Exports, Imports, and Balance (exhibit 1)
February exports were $187.3 billion, $5.0 billion less than January exports. February imports were $258.3 billion, $1.7 billion less than January imports.
The February increase in the goods and services deficit reflected an increase in the goods deficit of $2.8 billion to $88.0 billion and a decrease in the services surplus of $0.5 billion to $16.9 billion.
Year-to-date, the goods and services deficit increased $56.5 billion, or 68.6 percent, from the same period in 2020. Exports decreased $36.2 billion or 8.7 percent. Imports increased $20.3 billion or 4.1 percent.
Three-Month Moving Averages (exhibit 2)
The average goods and services deficit increased $0.7 billion to $68.6 billion for the three months ending in February.
- Average exports increased $1.1 billion to $189.9 billion in February.
- Average imports increased $1.8 billion to $258.5 billion in February.
Year-over-year, the average goods and services deficit increased $25.9 billion from the three months ending in February 2020.
- Average exports decreased $19.2 billion from February 2020.
- Average imports increased $6.7 billion from February 2020.
Exports (exhibits 3, 6, and 7)
Exports of goods decreased $4.8 billion to $131.1 billion in February.
Exports of goods on a Census basis decreased $4.8 billion.
- Capital goods decreased $2.5 billion.
- Other industrial machinery decreased $0.7 billion.
- Civilian aircraft decreased $0.5 billion.
- Semiconductors decreased $0.4 billion.
- Consumer goods decreased $0.9 billion.
- Foods, feeds, and beverages decreased $0.7 billion.
- Automotive vehicles, parts, and engines decreased $0.7 billion.
Net balance of payments adjustments increased $0.1 billion.
Exports of services decreased $0.2 billion to $56.1 billion in February.
- Travel decreased $0.1 billion.
Imports (exhibits 4, 6, and 8)
Imports of goods decreased $2.0 billion to $219.1 billion in February.
Imports of goods on a Census basis decreased $2.1 billion.
- Automotive vehicles, parts, and engines decreased $3.4 billion.
- Passenger cars decreased $1.8 billion.
- Consumer goods decreased $2.7 billion.
- Pharmaceutical preparations decreased $3.9 billion.
- Industrial supplies and materials increased $3.5 billion.
- Finished metal shapes increased $1.1 billion.
- Crude oil increased $1.0 billion.
- Natural gas increased $0.9 billion.
Net balance of payments adjustments increased $0.1 billion.
Imports of services increased $0.3 billion to $39.2 billion in February.
- Transport increased $0.2 billion.
- Insurance services increased $0.1 billion.
Real Goods in 2012 Dollars – Census Basis (exhibit 11)
The real goods deficit increased $3.0 billion to $99.1 billion in February.
- Real exports of goods decreased $7.9 billion to $139.4 billion.
- Real imports of goods decreased $4.9 billion to $238.5 billion.
Revisions to January exports
- Exports of goods were revised up $0.2 billion.
- Exports of services were revised up $0.1 billion.
Revisions to January imports
- Imports of goods were revised up less than $0.1 billion.
- Imports of services were revised down $0.1 billion.
Goods by Selected Countries and Areas: Monthly – Census Basis (exhibit 19)
The February figures show surpluses, in billions of dollars, with South and Central America ($3.7), Brazil ($1.4), Hong Kong ($1.2), Singapore ($0.6), United Kingdom ($0.2), and Saudi Arabia ($0.1). Deficits were recorded, in billions of dollars, with China ($30.3), European Union ($19.0), Mexico ($6.8), Germany ($5.3), Japan ($4.5), Canada ($4.0), Italy ($3.2), France ($2.7), Taiwan ($2.4), South Korea ($2.3), and India ($1.7).
- The deficit with China increased $3.1 billion to $30.3 billion in February. Exports decreased $4.5 billion to $10.4 billion and imports decreased $1.5 billion to $40.6 billion.
- The deficit with Canada increased $2.2 billion to $4.0 billion in February. Exports decreased $0.5 billion to $23.7 billion and imports increased $1.7 billion to $27.7 billion.
- The deficit with Mexico decreased $5.1 billion to $6.8 billion in February. Exports increased $2.1 billion to $22.8 billion and imports decreased $3.0 billion to $29.6 billion.
Saturday, March 6, 2021
Countries should increase efforts to better deter, detect and disrupt the activities of professionals who enable tax evasion and other financial crimes, according to a new OECD report.
Ending the Shell Game: Cracking down on the Professionals who enable Tax and White Collar Crimes explores the different strategies and actions that countries can take against those professional service providers who play a crucial part in the planning and pursuit of criminal activity, referred to in the report as “professional enablers.” White collar crimes like tax evasion, bribery and corruption are often hidden through complex legal structures and financial transactions facilitated by lawyers, notaries, accountants, financial institutions and other professional enablers.
The report notes that the majority of professional service providers are law-abiding, and play an important role in assisting businesses and individuals understand and comply with the law. The aim of the new OECD report is to assist countries in dealing with the small subset that use their specialised skills and knowledge to enable clients to defraud the government and evade their tax obligations.
Professional enablers often play a critical role in the concealment of the commission of tax and other financial crimes perpetrated by their clients. Those who facilitate the concealment of such crimes undermine the rule of law and public confidence in the legal and financial system, as well as the level playing field between compliant and non-compliant taxpayers. Highly publicised recent tax scandals have highlighted the cross-border nature of these practices, further undermining public trust in the integrity of the tax system.
“Professional enablers often hold the key to the successful commission of white collar crimes like tax evasion, bribery and corruption, which depend on ensuring anonymity and hiding the financial trail,” said Grace-Perez Navarro, Deputy Director of the OECD’s Centre of Tax Policy and Administration. “Professional enablers help criminals conceal their identities and activities through shell companies, complex legal structures and financial transactions, relying on their specialised knowledge and veneer of legitimacy. Our ongoing work is intended to help countries develop and strengthen national strategies and international co-operation to crack down on the so-called professionals, whose actions are undermining government revenue, public confidence and economic growth.”
The report calls on countries to establish or strengthen national strategies to deal with professional enablers more effectively. Such strategies should:
- ensure that tax crime investigators are equipped to identify the types of professional enablers operating in their jurisdiction, and to understand the risks posed by how they devise, market, implement and conceal tax crime and financial crimes;
- ensure the law provides investigators and prosecutors with sufficient authority to identify, prosecute and sanction professional enablers, both to deter and penalise;
- implement multi-disciplinary prevention and disruption strategies, notably through engagement with supervisory, industry and professional bodies, to prevent abusive behaviour, incentivise early disclosure and whistle-blowing and take a strong approach to enforcement;
- ensure relevant authorities proactively maximise the availability of information, intelligence and investigatory powers held by other domestic and international agencies to tackle sophisticated professional enablers operating across borders;
- appoint a lead person and agency in the jurisdiction with responsibility for overseeing the implementation of the professional enablers strategy, undertake a review of its effectiveness over time and devise further changes as necessary.
Friday, March 5, 2021
Cryptocurrency Fraudster Pleads Guilty to Securities Fraud and Money Laundering Charges in Multi-Million Dollar Investment Scheme
A citizen of Sweden pleaded guilty to securities fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering charges that defrauded more than 3,500 victims of more than $16 million.
Roger Nils-Jonas Karlsson, 47, and his company, Eastern Metal Securities (EMS), was charged in a criminal complaint filed March 4, 2019, with crimes involving a scheme to defraud victims of more than $16 million. Karlsson, also known by several aliases including Steve Heyden, Euclid Deodoris, Joshua Millard, Lars Georgsson, Paramon Larasoft, and Kenth Westerberg, was arrested on June 17, 2019, in Thailand and was extradited to the United States to face the charges. A federal grand jury indicted Karlsson and EMS on July 25, 2019. Karlsson pleaded guilty to all the charges pending against him. EMS has ceased to exist.
The indictment and a factual basis filed by the government describe a long-running scheme by which Karlsson and EMS used a website to commit wire fraud against thousands of victims. Specifically, the indictment explains that from Nov. 27, 2012, through June 19, 2019, Karlsson and EMS used www.easternmetalsecurities.com to make fraudulent representations and convince victims to send funds using a virtual currency exchange. During the same period, Karlsson and EMS used deceptive “devices and contrivances” to sell securities and then tried to conceal the proceeds of the wire fraud and securities fraud.
During the proceedings, Karlsson admitted that he used the website to invite potential investors to purchase shares of the plan for less than $100 per share, promising an eventual payout of 1.15 kilograms of gold per share, an amount of gold which as of Jan. 2, 2019, was worth more than $45,000. Karlsson advised investors that, in the unlikely event that the gold payout did not happen, he guaranteed to them 97% of the amount they invested. Karlsson admitted he had no way to pay off the investors. Instead, the funds provided by victims were transferred to Karlsson’s personal bank accounts and he then used proceeds to purchase expensive homes and a resort in Thailand.
As the government has alleged, Karlsson also used a second website, www.hci25.com, to make multiple false communications to potential investors. Karlsson brought the investors in HCI25 together with the investors in the “Pre Funded Reversed Pension Plan” (PFRPP) and posted multiple communications to delay the moment investors would realize there would be no payout. For example, on one occasion, Karlsson explained that a payout had not occurred because releasing so much money all at once could cause a negative effect on financial systems throughout the world. Karlsson also falsely represented that EMS was working with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission to prepare the way for a payout.
Karlsson directed his victims to make investments using virtual currencies, such as Bitcoin. Karlsson admitted he defrauded no less than 3,575 victims of more than $16 million.
Karlsson faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a maximum $250,000 fine for the wire fraud and securities fraud charges, and 20 years in prison and a $500,000 maximum fine for the money laundering charge. In addition, the court also may order an additional term of supervised release, fines or other assessments, and restitution, if appropriate. However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court only after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Hinds of the Northern District of California; and Special Agent in Charge Kelly R. Jackson of the IRS Criminal Investigation (IRS-CI) Washington, D.C. Field Office made the announcement.
Trial Attorney Catherine Alden Pelker of the Criminal Division’s Computer Crime and Intellectual Property Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney William Frentzen are prosecuting this case. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Beausey of the Asset Forfeiture Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office is prosecuting the forfeiture proceedings.
Tuesday, March 2, 2021
Criminal complaints have been unsealed charging two Ecuadorian citizens for their alleged roles in a bribery and money laundering scheme involving Ecuador’s public police pension fund (ISSPOL).
John Luzuriaga Aguinaga, 52, and Jorge Cherrez Miño, 46, were each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering in complaints filed in the Southern District of Florida on Feb. 10 and Feb. 19, respectively. Luzuriaga was arrested Feb. 26 and had his initial appearance Monday. An arrest warrant has been issued for Cherrez who is believed to be in Mexico.
As alleged in the complaints, between approximately 2014 and 2020, Cherrez, an investment advisor, paid more than $2.6 million in bribes to ISSPOL officials, including at least approximately $1,397,066 to Luzuriaga, ISSPOL’s Risk Director and a member of ISSPOL’s Investment Committee, in order to obtain and retain investment business from ISSPOL. Cherrez allegedly obtained approximately $65 million in profits from one aspect of the scheme.
According to the complaint, Cherrez received payments from the ISSPOL investment business in an account in the United States, used Florida-based companies and bank accounts to pay the bribes, and took acts in furtherance of the bribery scheme while in the Southern District of Florida. Further, to conceal and promote the bribery scheme, Cherrez and Luzuriaga allegedly laundered the corrupt proceeds through Florida-based companies and bank accounts, including numerous U.S. investment fund companies incorporated in Florida with Cherrez as an officer or director.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Special Agent in Charge Kelly Jackson of the IRS-Criminal Investigation’s (IRS-CI) Washington, D.C. office, and Special Agent in Charge Anthony Salisbury of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Miami office made the announcement.
This case is being investigated by HSI and IRS-CI, jointly under the auspices of the Global Illicit Financial Team. Trial Attorneys Katherine Raut and Alexander Kramer of the Criminal Division’s Fraud Section are prosecuting the case. Southern District of Florida Assistant United States Attorney Annika Miranda is handling asset forfeiture.
The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs has provided significant assistance in this case.
The Fraud Section is responsible for investigating and prosecuting all Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) matters. Additional information about the Justice Department’s FCPA enforcement efforts can be found at www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa.
To learn more about the government’s FCPA enforcement efforts, go to www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/fcpa.
Monday, March 1, 2021
A federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Texas has returned an indictment charging eight individuals with various federal violations related to a complex international drug trafficking conspiracy, announced Acting U.S. Attorney Nicholas J. Ganjei today.
Debbie Mercer, 58, and Kayleigh Moffett, 33, both of Oklahoma City; Federico Machado, 53, of Florida; Carlos Villaurrutia, 40, of McAllen, Texas; and four others were named in an indictment charging them with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute cocaine, conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit export violations, and conspiracy to commit federal registration violations involving aircraft. The indictment details approximately $350 million in alleged criminal activity since 2016. The seven-count superseding indictment was returned by a federal grand jury earlier this week and unsealed today. The defendants have already been arrested and will be arraigned in federal court next week.
“The threat posed by transnational crime cannot be overstated,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Nicholas J. Ganjei. “The use of United States-registered aircraft by these criminal organizations and their networks of associates poses a clear and present danger to the security of our nation. The American public can expect EDTX to be relentless in its fight against the sometimes invisible, but always dangerous, threat of transnational organized crime.”
“The indictments resulting from this highly complex investigation showcases HSI’s unique and far-reaching authorities, serving as an example of what the global law enforcement community can accomplish when we work together,” said Ryan L. Spradlin, Special Agent in Charge, HSI Dallas. “We were able to deliver a significant blow to the transnational criminal organizations around the world by exposing a money laundering and drug trafficking scheme perpetuated by sophisticated drug cartels.”
“As this case demonstrates, we will aggressively investigate the illegal exportation of aircraft contrary to U.S. national security interests,” said Trey McClish, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security – Office of Export Enforcement’s Dallas Field Office. “Alongside our Federal and State partners, OEE will leverage its unique criminal and administrative enforcement powers to detect and disrupt serious criminal schemes that violate U.S. export control law.”
“The indictment in this case demonstrate that individuals who choose to circumvent Federal regulations pertaining to aircraft registration and ownership will be pursued to the fullest extent of the law,” said Todd Damiani, Special Agent-In-Charge, Southern Region, U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General (DOT-OIG). “The collaborative nature of this investigation is representative of the ongoing investigative work DOT-OIG performs to ensure aviation safety and maintain national security interests in order to prevent the nefarious acts these defendants are being charged with from occurring.”
According to unsealed court documents, the defendants allegedly purchased and illegally registered aircraft under foreign corporations and other individuals for export to other countries. The indictment specifically alleges that Mercer and Moffett, through their company Aircraft Guarantee Corporation (AGC), registered thousands of aircraft in Onalaska, Texas, an east Texas town without an airport.
According to the indictment, several of the illegally registered and exported aircraft were used by transnational criminal organizations in Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico to smuggle large quantities of cocaine destined for the United States. The indictment further alleges that illicit proceeds from the subsequent drug sales were then transported as bulk cash from the United States to Mexico and used to buy more aircraft and cocaine. According to the indictment, aircraft purchases were typically completed by wiring funds from casa de cambios and/or banks in Mexico to shell corporations operating in the United States as aircraft sellers/brokers.
The indictment describes that foreign governments seized United States-registered aircraft containing multi-ton shipments of cocaine. According to the indictment, the aircraft were held in trust by AGC for the benefit of foreign corporations or individuals. The indictment identifies Federico Machado, through his company South Aviation, and Carlos Villaurrutia, who used his companies TEXTON, TWA International, and Ford Electric, as aircraft sellers/brokers operating in the United States.
The indictment separately charges Mercer, Moffett, and Machado with engaging in a fraud scheme related to the acquisition of aircraft. According to the indictment, Machado recruited investors to invest in aircraft purchase deposits for sales transactions that never took place. Investors allegedly placed their funds in an escrow account held by Wright Brothers Title Company, which was owned and managed by Mercer and Moffett. Machado then allegedly used these funds for purposes other than the purchase of aircraft.
If convicted, the defendants face a minimum of 10 years and up to life in federal prison for the drug conspiracy charges and up to 20 years for the money laundering, export and wire fraud violations.
This is an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) case and is being investigated by Homeland Security Investigations (Dallas, Brownsville and Laredo offices); Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security (Dallas and Houston offices); Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General (DOT-OIG); Polk County Constable Precinct 1; Southeast Texas Export Investigations Group; Internal Revenue Service; and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ernest Gonzalez, Colleen Bloss and Robert Wells. OCDETF is the largest anti-crime task force in the country and its mission is to disrupt and dismantle the most significant drug trafficking and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States. The prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency task forces leverage the authorities and expertise of federal, state, and local law enforcement.