The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) made a pair of announcements on July 2 that it is increasing its focus on taxpayers who avoid their tax obligations using cryptocurrency.

Background

By way of background, in April 2014, the IRS issued Notice 2014-21, which generally provided that “convertible virtual currency” is treated as property, not currency, for tax purposes and explained, in question and answer format, the application of existing general tax principles to transactions using convertible virtual currency.  The Notice defines virtual currency as “a digital representation of value that functions as a medium of exchange, a unit of account, and/or a store of value.”  It further provides that convertible virtual currency is “[v]irtual currency that has an equivalent value in real currency, or that acts as a substitute for real currency,” citing bitcoin as one example of a convertible virtual currency.

The Notice describes some of the tax consequences of receiving or exchanging virtual currency for property or services.  If a taxpayer receives virtual currency in payment for goods or services, he or she has taxable income equal to the fair market value of the virtual currency.  If the taxpayer uses virtual currency to acquire goods or services, and the fair market value of property received in exchange for virtual currency exceeds the taxpayer’s adjusted basis of the virtual currency, then the taxpayer has taxable gain.

The IRS became concerned that taxpayers were not reporting cryptocurrency transactions, and in November 2016, sought a court order to serve a John Doe summons on Coinbase, one of the world’s largest digital asset exchange companies.  The summons sought broad information on all US customers conducting transactions in cryptocurrency from 2013-2015.  Although the court ultimately narrowed the scope of information that the summons could request, it did order Coinbase to comply with the summons.  Click here to read Steptoe’s blog post about the Coinbase summons.

New IRS Announcements

On July 2, the IRS Large Business and International division (LB&I) announced a new audit campaign to address tax noncompliance related to the use of virtual currency.  LB&I campaigns direct the IRS’s audit resources to specific areas the IRS believes have the greatest risk of noncompliance.  Virtual currency is one of 40 campaigns that have been announced by the IRS since January 2017.  The IRS’s announcement means that taxpayers who failed to report virtual currency transactions face an increased risk for audit.
Continue Reading IRS Turning up the Heat on Cryptocurrency Transactions

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) last week added itself to the list of regulators that have issued guidance or raised warnings about crytpocurrency when it sent a notification about interference with wireless broadband signals from a Bitcoin mining device.

The FCC is the independent agency that regulates communications in the United States, and it has responsibility for regulating spectrum and radio waves in the United States to ensure, among other things, that licensed users of spectrum do not suffer from interference.  While seemingly a remote concern from Bitcoin, the mission of the FCC collided with a miner in New York City. 
Continue Reading Bitcoin Captures the Attention of Yet Another Regulator

Today, Steptoe & Johnson LLP’s Blockchain and Digital Currency practice applauded the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s (CFTC) decision to propose, through the rulemaking process, an interpretation defining the term “actual delivery” in the context of retail commodity transactions involving cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin.

“We are pleased that the commission has chosen to respond to Steptoe’s petition

An appellate decision from a provincial high court in northeastern China may help to shed some additional light on the Chinese government’s regulation of virtual currency exchanges in China, the anti-money laundering (AML) and know-your-customer (KYC) expectations placed on these exchanges, and the liability that might accrue to exchanges in the event of criminal activity involving virtual currencies.

The Lekuda (OKCOIN trading platform) case was initially filed in the civil division of the intermediate court of the municipality of Suihua (绥化) in northeastern China, Heilongjiang Province. Coincidentally, China’s northeastern region is also known for Bitcoin mining.  In China, there are three types of litigation (三类诉讼), each with their own set of procedural rules and jurisprudence, and the Lekuda case filed in Suihua was styled as a tort case, a type of civil litigation.  While characterized and classified as a civil tort case, the case also implicates certain criminal and administrative issues at its periphery.

The decision that was recently made publicly available was the July 2016 decision of the second instance court (an appellate decision). The underlying Suihua intermediate court decision has not yet been made publicly available, but may eventually become so.  That said, from the appellate decision, we can learn the basic facts.


Continue Reading Perils in Hosting Virtual Currency Exchanges in China: The Lekuda (OKCOIN Trading Platform) Case