Turning Up The Heat On Tax Shelters

IRS Logo over tax forms, receipts, and paperwork.
The Justice Department on Tuesday filed separate lawsuits against the giant accounting firms KPMG LLP and BDO Seidman LLP, asking the court to order the companies to disclose information about tax shelters to the Internal Revenue Service.

On behalf of the IRS the Justice Department asked a federal court in Washington to order KMPG to disclose information about tax shelters it has marketed since 1998.

In a similar suit filed in Chicago, the department asked the federal court there to enforce summonses issued to BDO Seidman for information related to its marketing of tax shelters since 1995.

Under the tax code, promoters of tax shelters are required to register each shelter with the IRS before offering it for sale. The code also requires promoters and sellers of certain tax shelters to keep lists of all the investors in each shelter and to make that list available to the IRS on 10 days notice.

Promoters and sellers that do not register the tax shelter or maintain or produce the list of investors may be liable for penalties.

"Certain tax shelter transactions are devised to exploit the complexity of the law to claim benefits Congress never intended," said Eileen O'Connor, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Tax Division. "The Justice Department is working with the IRS in its efforts to root out and shut down abusive tax shelter promotions."

The Justice Department said in a statement that the court filing showed KPMG had failed to provide all the documents the IRS had requested in connection with its probe into KPMG's compliance with the requirements for the selling of tax shelters.

The statement furthermore alleges that while KPMG has supplied the IRS with many documents, "it has also withheld a substantial number of documents that the government has requested."

The IRS hopes to obtain information from BDO Seidman concerning tax shelter transactions that the government believes it has marketed, the statement said, adding that BDO denies it has promoted any such transactions.

"Today's action demonstrates that the IRS will vigorously use all enforcement authority available to it to obtain essential information from promoters of tax shelters," IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti said in a statement.

"It is unacceptable for those holding themselves out as tax professionals providing legitimate tax advice to refuse to comply with legal disclosure requirements."