“I fully complied with Treasury Department conflicts rules by not meeting with PwC representatives” during a two-year “cooling off” period that restricts government officials from meeting with their former employers, Mr. Harter said. Although he was involved in the construction of the offshore tax break and met with corporate lobbyists, Mr. Harter said he did not recall meeting with Ms. Olson or other PwC officials on the topic.
Ms. Olson referred questions to PwC.
An Inside Track
The 2017 tax overhaul included a provision that let some people take a 20 percent tax deduction on certain types of business income. But the law — known as Section 199A — largely excluded an undefined category of “brokerage services.” In 2018, lobbyists for several industries, including real estate and insurance, visited the Treasury to try to persuade officials that the broker prohibition should not apply to them.
On Aug. 1, records show, Ms. Ellis met with her former PwC colleague, Mr. Feuerstein, and three other lobbyists for his client, the National Association of Realtors. They wanted real estate brokers to qualify for the 20 percent deduction.
The meeting took place before the first draft of the proposed rules was even made public, which meant that, right off the bat, Ms. Ellis’s former PwC colleague and his client had an inside track.
When the Treasury published its first version of the proposed rules a week later, real estate brokers were eligible. The National Association of Realtors took credit for the victory on its website. (The final rules applied only to brokers of stocks and other securities.)
Ms. Ellis’s meeting with Mr. Feuerstein appeared to violate a federal ethics rule that restricts government officials from meeting with their former private sector colleagues, said Don Fox, the acting director of the Office of Government Ethics during the Obama administration and, before that, a lawyer in Republican and Democratic administrations.
Mr. Fox described the meeting as improper. “It certainly is going to call into question how that regulation was drafted,” he said. “There’s no way to undo the taint that is now going to be attached to that.”
A yearslong dispute between a pioneering hedge fund and the Internal Revenue Service ended Thursday with an enormous bill for taxes and penalties: as much as $7 billion.
James Simons, a mathematician whose algorithmic approach has been adopted by many other investment funds, and some of his former colleagues at Renaissance Technologies have settled a decade-long dispute with the government over the tax treatment of some of their investments, the firm said in letter to investors.
The settlement, which involves 10 years’ worth of trades made by the hedge fund, could be worth as much as $7 billion, according to a person with knowledge of the agreement. It is one of the largest federal tax disputes in history.
The deal ends a standoff that led to a congressional investigation and involved two politically connected financiers: Mr. Simons, a longtime patron of Democratic candidates with an estimated net worth of $25 billion, and Robert Mercer, a former Renaissance executive whose advocacy for conservative causes included helping to found Cambridge Analytica. After Donald J. Trump won the 2016 presidential election, the now-defunct political consulting firm became embroiled in a scandal for harvesting Facebook data without users’ consent to assist his campaign.
$10 million in Breitbart News, and was a key supporter of Stephen K. Bannon, who was Breitbart’s chairman before becoming Mr. Trump’s chief strategist.
The billions in payments to the I.R.S. will be made by current and former investors in a small group of Renaissance funds, but principally its Medallion fund. Those investors include seven people who were members of the firm’s board between 2005 and 2015, as well as their spouses. Mr. Simons will make a payment of $670 million on top of his obligation as part of that group, according to the letter.
“Renaissance’s board ultimately concluded that the interests of our investors from the relevant period would be best served by agreeing to this resolution with the I.R.S., rather than risking a worse outcome, including harsher terms and penalties, that could result from litigation,” Peter Brown, the firm’s chief executive, wrote.
Renaissance is best known for pioneering a data-intensive form of stock trading called quantitative strategy, which has been adopted by many other hedge funds and trading platforms on Wall Street. The settlement centers on the firm’s Medallion fund, which manages about $15 billion, mostly for employees and former employees of the firm and their family members.
Mr. Simons founded the firm in 1982. Once the head of the math department at Stony Brook University on Long Island, he was a code-breaker for the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. He stepped down from the firm’s day-to-day operations in 2010, handing the reins to Mr. Mercer and Mr. Brown as co-chief executives.
reported that contractors and employees of Cambridge Analytica, eager to sell psychological profiles of American voters to political campaigns, acquired the private Facebook data of tens of millions of users — the largest known leak in the company’s history. Facebook eventually said as many as 87 million users — mostly in the United States — had their data harvested by the firm.
Mr. Mercer’s decision to resign as co-chief of Renaissance shortly after Mr. Trump won the presidency came about in part because of his involvement in bankrolling Cambridge Analytica. Some of the hedge fund’s investors had voiced concerns about Mr. Mercer’s political activities.
The firm’s letter on Thursday said that aside from the board members and their spouses, other investors will be required to pay additional tax and interest owed, but no penalties. Renaissance’s outside clients, who include wealthy individuals, pensions and other investors, are not expected to be affected by the settlement.
The tax dispute involved Medallion’s fast-paced options trading and how those transactions should be taxed — a major consideration given that the firm’s rapid-fire trading had a history of generating big profits.
At the time of the transactions the federal tax rate on long-term capital gains was about half what it was for short-term capital gains. The hedge fund argued that many of its trades were eligible to be taxed at the lower rate because it had converted those options trades into longer-term holdings through the use of complex financial instruments.
These instruments involved baskets of stocks put together by a bank. But Medallion didn’t buy the actual basket of stocks; it instead bought an option on that basket and sometimes gave the banks instructions on how to trade those stocks. Basket options have been criticized for having allowed hedge funds to borrow money more easily and allowing them to make bigger and potentially riskier trades.
The I.R.S. argued that the basket option trades should have been taxed at the higher rate because they were mainly the result of short-term trading.
The disagreement drew the attention of Congress, and led to rule changes. Following a report from the Senate Permanent Committee on Investigations, the I.R.S. issued new guidance in 2015 that sought to clamp down on this type of trading by making it more difficult and costly for hedge funds to buy basket options. Such investment vehicles had to be declared on the tax returns of any investor who used them, the agency said.
The I.R.S. had said its guidance on basket options would be retroactive, and applied to all transactions as far back as Jan. 1, 2011.
Still, some senators were critical of the I.R.S. for taking so long to change its rules and start investigating the trading practice, including at Renaissance.
Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who headed the Senate committee in 2014 and died in July, said the I.R.S. guidance would stop banks and hedge funds from using “dubious structured financial products” that had cost taxpayers billions.
Elise Bean, a former aide to Mr. Levin, said she wished her former boss had lived to see the settlement. “It’s good to see that, despite a yearslong, knock-down, bare-knuckles battle, the I.R.S. prevailed in compelling at least one set of billionaires to pay the taxes they owe,” she said.
“The advance of the credit reduces the total amount of taxes paid,” said Rob Seltzer, an accountant in Los Angeles. “So there could be a problem with an estimated tax penalty,” depending on how much the taxpayer earns this year compared with last. It may make sense to run a tax projection with a professional to see if it makes sense to opt out.
If you’ve left the country
You need to live in the United States for more than half of 2021 to be eligible for the advanced payments, but expatriate taxpayers can still claim the expanded credit on their return, according to the I.R.S. (The refundable portion of the credit, however, will be curtailed to the prior $1,400 limit.) Military members stationed abroad are still eligible for the advanced payments.
If you rely on a big refund
Some households are simply accustomed to getting a large refund when they file, using it as a forced savings plan. If you have come to depend on a big refund, you can opt out of all future payments and receive the full value of the credit when you file your return next year.
“Opting out or making changes to the payment comes down to personal preference of when and how you want to receive the money,” said Andy Phillips, the director of the Tax Institute at H&R Block. “If you prefer monthly payments of smaller amounts, no need to make changes.”
If you’re still unsure what to do
Sheila Taylor-Clark, a certified public accountant and secretary of the National Society of Black C.P.A.s, has practical advice for clients who don’t necessarily want to opt out but who may be uncertain on where they stand: “Drop that money into an interest-bearing account, so if you owe money you can just send that back next April,” she said.
How to make changes and opt out
To opt out of receiving the payments, taxpayers should visit the Child Tax Credit Update Portal. If you don’t already have an account, you’ll need to create one. And if you’re married and file a joint return, both spouses will need to create accounts and opt out; spouses who don’t opt out will continue to receive half of the advance monthly payment.
Besides stopping the checks, the portal can be used to check the status of your payments; change the bank account receiving them; or to switch your payments to direct deposit from paper checks.
There were two weeks left in the Trump administration when the Treasury Department handed down a set of rules governing an obscure corner of the tax code.
Overseen by a senior Treasury official whose previous job involved helping the wealthy avoid taxes, the new regulations represented a major victory for private equity firms. They ensured that executives in the $4.5 trillion industry, whose leaders often measure their yearly pay in eight or nine figures, could avoid paying hundreds of millions in taxes.
The rules were approved on Jan. 5, the day before the riot at the U.S. Capitol. Hardly anyone noticed.
The Trump administration’s farewell gift to the buyout industry was part of a pattern that has spanned Republican and Democratic presidencies and Congresses: Private equity has conquered the American tax system.
one recent estimate, the United States loses $75 billion a year from investors in partnerships failing to report their income accurately — at least some of which would probably be recovered if the I.R.S. conducted more audits. That’s enough to roughly double annual federal spending on education.
It is also a dramatic understatement of the true cost. It doesn’t include the ever-changing array of maneuvers — often skating the edge of the law — that private equity firms have devised to help their managers avoid income taxes on the roughly $120 billion the industry pays its executives each year.
Private equity’s ability to vanquish the I.R.S., Treasury and Congress goes a long way toward explaining the deep inequities in the U.S. tax system. When it comes to bankrolling the federal government, the richest of America’s rich — many of them hailing from the private equity industry — play by an entirely different set of rules than everyone else.
The result is that men like Blackstone Group’s chief executive, Stephen A. Schwarzman, who earned more than $610 million last year, can pay federal taxes at rates similar to the average American.
Lawmakers have periodically tried to force private equity to pay more, and the Biden administration has proposed a series of reforms, including enlarging the I.R.S.’s enforcement budget and closing loopholes. The push for reform gained new momentum after ProPublica’s recent revelation that some of America’s richest men paid little or no federal taxes.
nearly $600 million in campaign contributions over the last decade, has repeatedly derailed past efforts to increase its tax burden.
Taylor Swift’s back music catalog.
The industry makes money in two main ways. Firms typically charge their investors a management fee of 2 percent of their assets. And they keep 20 percent of future profits that their investments generate.
That slice of future profits is known as “carried interest.” The term dates at least to the Renaissance. Italian ship captains were compensated in part with an interest in whatever profits were realized on the cargo they carried.
The I.R.S. has long allowed the industry to treat the money it makes from carried interests as capital gains, rather than as ordinary income.
article highlighting the inequity of the tax treatment. It prompted lawmakers from both parties to try to close the so-called carried interest loophole. The on-again, off-again campaign has continued ever since.
Whenever legislation gathers momentum, the private equity industry — joined by real estate, venture capital and other sectors that rely on partnerships — has pumped up campaign contributions and dispatched top executives to Capitol Hill. One bill after another has died, generally without a vote.
An Unexpected Email
One day in 2011, Gregg Polsky, then a professor of tax law at the University of North Carolina, received an out-of-the-blue email. It was from a lawyer for a former private equity executive. The executive had filed a whistle-blower claim with the I.R.S. alleging that their old firm was using illegal tactics to avoid taxes.
The whistle-blower wanted Mr. Polsky’s advice.
Mr. Polsky had previously served as the I.R.S.’s “professor in residence,” and in that role he had developed an expertise in how private equity firms’ vast profits were taxed. Back in academia, he had published a research paper detailing a little-known but pervasive industry tax-dodging technique.
$89 billion in private equity assets — as being “abusive” and a “thinly disguised way of paying the management company its quarterly paycheck.”
Apollo said in a statement that the company stopped using fee waivers in 2012 and is “not aware of any I.R.S. inquiries involving the firm’s use of fee waivers.”
floated the idea of cracking down on carried interest.
Private equity firms mobilized. Blackstone’s lobbying spending increased by nearly a third that year, to $8.5 million. (Matt Anderson, a Blackstone spokesman, said the company’s senior executives “are among the largest individual taxpayers in the country.” He wouldn’t disclose Mr. Schwarzman’s tax rate but said the firm never used fee waivers.)
Lawmakers got cold feet. The initiative fizzled.
In 2015, the Obama administration took a more modest approach. The Treasury Department issued regulations that barred certain types of especially aggressive fee waivers.
But by spelling that out, the new rules codified the legitimacy of fee waivers in general, which until that point many experts had viewed as abusive on their face.
So did his predecessor in the Obama administration, Timothy F. Geithner.
Inside the I.R.S. — which lost about one-third of its agents and officers from 2008 to 2018 — many viewed private equity’s webs of interlocking partnerships as designed to befuddle auditors and dodge taxes.
One I.R.S. agent complained that “income is pushed down so many tiers, you are never able to find out where the real problems or duplication of deductions exist,” according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office investigation of partnerships in 2014. Another agent said the purpose of large partnerships seemed to be making “it difficult to identify income sources and tax shelters.”
The Times reviewed 10 years of annual reports filed by the five largest publicly traded private equity firms. They contained no trace of the firms ever having to pay the I.R.S. extra money, and they referred to only minor audits that they said were unlikely to affect their finances.
Current and former I.R.S. officials said in interviews that such audits generally involved issues like firms’ accounting for travel costs, rather than major reckonings over their taxable profits. The officials said they were unaware of any recent significant audits of private equity firms.
No Money Owed
For a while, it looked as if there would be an exception to this general rule: the I.R.S.’s reviews of the fee waivers spurred by the whistle-blower claims. But it soon became clear that the effort lacked teeth.
Kat Gregor, a tax lawyer at the law firm Ropes & Gray, said the I.R.S. had challenged fee waivers used by four of her clients, whom she wouldn’t identify. The auditors struck her as untrained in the thicket of tax laws governing partnerships.
“It’s the equivalent of picking someone who was used to conducting an interview in English and tell them to go do it in Spanish,” Ms. Gregor said.
The audits of her clients wrapped up in late 2019. None owed any money.
The Mnuchin Compromise
As a presidential candidate, Mr. Trump vowed to “eliminate the carried interest deduction, well-known deduction, and other special-interest loopholes that have been so good for Wall Street investors, and for people like me, but unfair to American workers.”
wanted to close the loophole, congressional Republicans resisted. Instead, they embraced a much milder measure: requiring private equity officials to hold their investments for at least three years before reaping preferential tax treatment on their carried interests. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, who had previously run an investment partnership, signed off.
McKinsey, typically holds investments for more than five years. The measure, part of a $1.5 trillion package of tax cuts, was projected to generate $1 billion in revenue over a decade.
credited Mr. Mnuchin, hailing him as “an all-star.”
Mr. Fleischer, who a decade earlier had raised alarms about carried interest, said the measure “was structured by industry to appear to do something while affecting as few as possible.”
Months later, Mr. Callas joined the law and lobbying firm Steptoe & Johnson. The private equity giant Carlyle is one of his biggest clients.
‘The Government Caved’
It took the Treasury Department more than two years to propose rules spelling out the fine print of the 2017 law. The Treasury’s suggested language was strict. One proposal would have empowered I.R.S. auditors to more closely examine internal transactions that private equity firms might use to get around the law’s three-year holding period.
The industry, so happy with the tepid 2017 law, was up in arms over the tough rules the Treasury’s staff was now proposing. In a letter in October 2020, the American Investment Council, led by Drew Maloney, a former aide to Mr. Mnuchin, noted how private equity had invested in hundreds of companies during the coronavirus pandemic and said the Treasury’s overzealous approach would harm the industry.
The rules were the responsibility of Treasury’s top tax official, David Kautter. He previously was the national tax director at EY, formerly Ernst & Young, when the firm was marketing illegal tax shelters that led to a federal criminal investigation and a $123 million settlement. (Mr. Kautter has denied being involved with selling the shelters but has expressed regret about not speaking up about them.)
On his watch at Treasury, the rules under development began getting softer, including when it came to the three-year holding period.
Monte Jackel, a former I.R.S. attorney who worked on the original version of the proposed regulations.
Mr. Mnuchin, back in the private sector, is starting an investment fund that could benefit from his department’s weaker rules.
A Charmed March
Even during the pandemic, the charmed march of private equity continued.
The top five publicly traded firms reported net profits last year of $8.6 billion. They paid their executives $8.3 billion. In addition to Mr. Schwarzman’s $610 million, the co-founders of KKR each made about $90 million, and Apollo’s Leon Black received $211 million, according to Equilar, an executive compensation consulting firm.
now advising clients on techniques to circumvent the three-year holding period.
The most popular is known as a “carry waiver.” It enables private equity managers to hold their carried interests for less than three years without paying higher tax rates. The technique is complicated, but it involves temporarily moving money into other investment vehicles. That provides the industry with greater flexibility to buy and sell things whenever it wants, without triggering a higher tax rate.
Private equity firms don’t broadcast this. But there are clues. In a recent presentation to a Pennsylvania retirement system by Hellman & Friedman, the California private equity giant included a string of disclaimers in small font. The last one flagged the firm’s use of carry waivers.
The Biden administration is negotiating its tax overhaul agenda with Republicans, who have aired advertisements attacking the proposal to increase the I.R.S.’s budget. The White House is already backing down from some of its most ambitious proposals.
Even if the agency’s budget were significantly expanded, veterans of the I.R.S. doubt it would make much difference when it comes to scrutinizing complex partnerships.
“If the I.R.S. started staffing up now, it would take them at least a decade to catch up,” Mr. Jackel said. “They don’t have enough I.R.S. agents with enough knowledge to know what they are looking at. They areso grossly overmatched it’s not funny.”
Ms. Madoff and others pushing for change see a growing gap between reputation-burnishing promises of money and distributions to people who need it. The Giving Pledge, which was started by Bill Gates, Melinda French Gates and their friend and collaborator Warren E. Buffett, gave billionaires a space where they could announce their intention to give away half their fortunes or more, often to great acclaim. But it provides no mechanism to monitor or ensure the giving actually happens.
Earlier this year, the Chronicle of Philanthropy ranked Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder of Amazon, as the top philanthropist of 2020 because he committed $10 billion to his Bezos Earth Fund to fight climate change. But he had handed out less than one-tenth of that, $791 million, to working nonprofits like the Environmental Defense Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council.
Charitable giving has remained relatively steady for decades, clocking in at roughly 2 percent of disposable income per year, give or take a few tenths of a percent. In 1991, the year that Fidelity began to offer donor-advised funds, just 5 percent of giving went to foundations and DAFs. By 2019, the most recent year available, that figure had risen to 28 percent.
It was January 2020 when that small group gathered at the offices of the nonprofit consulting firm the Bridgespan Group in Manhattan for a wonky brainstorming session about the state of philanthropy. The group included foundation leaders, former congressional staff members, former senior Internal Revenue Service officials and a key constituency in any effort to change how billionaires give away their money: billionaires.
One of the organizers was John D. Arnold. Once a trader at Enron, the Houston energy company that infamously collapsed in 2001, Mr. Arnold later ran his own hedge fund, which made him one of the youngest billionaires in the United States.
Ms. Madoff, another leader of the initiative, has written a book, “Immortality and the Law,” about the growing legal power of dead people in America and has applied her knowledge of estate taxes and inheritance law to the rising field of philanthropy.
The group focused on the fact that most of the laws governing philanthropy were half a century old, dating back to 1969.
The Biden administration on Thursday defended its assessment that it could raise $700 billion in revenue by pumping money into the Internal Revenue Service to beef up its enforcement capabilities amid criticism that its projections were overly rosy.
The Treasury Department released a 22-page report laying out the administration’s new “tax compliance agenda,” which is a centerpiece of its plans to pay for a $1.8 trillion infrastructure and jobs proposal. The Biden administration wants to give the I.R.S. $80 billion over the next decade so that it can overhaul its outdated technology and ramp up audits of wealthy taxpayers and corporations.
The Biden administration’s estimates of the return on investment that it could generate from boosting the I.R.S. budget far surpassed projections by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. And John Koskinen, a former I.R.S. commissioner under President Barack Obama and President Donald J. Trump, has suggested that it would be hard for the cash-strapped agency to efficiently spend that much money.
The Treasury Department said that it believes its projections are conservative. Much of the revenue from more rigid enforcement would become evident in the later part of the decade, the report said, but Treasury officials believe that with more enforcement staff and better technology the I.R.S. can chip away at the “tax gap.”
$1 trillion owed to the government is not being collected every year. The Treasury Department estimated on Thursday that in 2019 the tax gap was $584 billion and is on pace to total $7 trillion over the next 10 years.
The Treasury report said that much of the revenue it estimates would come through its “information reporting” rules for financial institutions. This would give the I.R.S. more visibility into corporate accounts to determine how much money they are actually taking in and what should be taxed. The department said it expects that such reporting would be helpful for audits and would serve as a deterrent against corporate tax evasion.
The new information reporting rules would also include an effort by the Biden administration to bring cryptocurrencies into the tax regime and to crack down on those using cryptocurrencies to avoid paying taxes. The report said that cryptocurrency exchange accounts and payment accounts that accept them would fall under the reporting rules. Businesses that receive cryptoassets with a fair market value of more than $10,000 would be subject to information reporting.
The Biden administration has faced questions from Republican lawmakers, such as Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho, to justify its claims that giving the I.R.S. so much money will yield such robust returns. Conservative political groups have criticized the Biden administration plan to hire an army of I.R.S. agents, saying it’s a way to hike taxes.
The Treasury report attempted to rebut such claims, noting that increased audits would be focused on the rich.
“It is important to note that the President’s compliance proposals are designed to ameliorate existing inequities by focusing on high-end evasion,” the report said. “Audit rates will not rise relative to recent years for those with less than $400,000 in actual income.”
Ms. Martinez, who lives not far from the dorm, said she had invested a little over $100,000 in the deal — money that came from the sale of a rental property. Like many investors in Skyloft, she was looking for a way to defer paying capital gains on the prior sale, and the private placement was marketed by brokers as a “1031 exchange” deal that would keep the Internal Revenue Service at bay.
A 1031 exchange deal, named after a section of the federal tax code, allows an investor to defer paying capital gains on the sale of property as long as the proceeds are invested into another property of equal or greater value to the one sold. These transactions are often criticized as a tax break for the rich, but the deals have also long attracted interest from investors of more moderate means.
The Biden administration is considering eliminating many of these deals as a way to raise additional revenue to pay for increased spending on child care and family leave programs. The Biden plan would allow 1031 exchanges to continue for most investors seeking to defer up to $500,000 in capital gains — many in the Skyloft deal fit that bill.
In recent years, student housing projects like Skyloft have become especially attractive real estate investments — especially as universities have encouraged the building of luxury apartment buildings to cater to students from wealthy families. Before the pandemic, there were, on average, $7 billion in student housing transactions in the United States each year. That was up from $3 billion just a decade ago, according to CBRE, a commercial real estate services firm.
Today in Business
Court filings and interviews with investors set out how the Skyloft project financing worked. To secure the $124 million purchase of Skyloft, Nelson Partners obtained a $66 million mortgage from a group of lenders led by UBS, in addition to the $75 million raised from ordinary investors. It also got $35 million in short-term financing from Axonic Capital, a New York hedge fund that specializes in commercial real estate transactions. The loan from Axonic was used to complete the purchase while Nelson Partners was raising money from investors.
Nelson Partners was to pay Axonic back the bridge loan, plus interest, using money raised from investors like Ms. Martinez. But Mr. Nelson’s firm did not pay back the loan, according to court filings. In February 2020, Axonic put Nelson Partners on notice, and it notified him last May that it was declaring Nelson Partners in default and taking control of the building.
Mr. Nelson opposed Axonic’s move but did not inform investors about his dealings with the hedge fund, according to the lawsuits. Instead, in April 2020, Nelson Partners stopped paying monthly cash dividends to the investors, telling them that it needed to conserve cash during the pandemic in the event students and their parents stopped paying rent. Mr. Nelson’s firm also received a loan of just over $1.2 million from the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program.
It’s May 17 and it’s Tax Day, the deadline for filing your 2020 taxes. The Internal Revenue Service in March said that Americans who needed it could take extra time to file their taxes. That time has arrived.
The one-month delay from the usual April deadline did not offer as much extra time as the I.R.S. gave people last year, when the filing deadline was pushed to July 15. But the aim was the same: to make it easier for taxpayers to get a handle on their finances — as well as tax changes that took effect this year with the signing of the American Rescue Plan.
Still have questions? Here are some articles that might help.
How the Pandemic Has Changed Your Taxes
New rules for a new reality, from stimulus payments to retirement withdrawals to unemployment insurance, could cut your bill or even generate extra refunds.
After Michael Jackson died in 2009, at age 50, the executors of his estate began shoring up the shaky finances of the onetime King of Pop, settling debts and striking new entertainment and merchandising deals. Before long the estate was in strong shape, with debts reduced and millions of dollars in earnings.
But there was another matter that has taken more than seven years to litigate: Jackson’s tax bill with the Internal Revenue Service, in which the government and the estate held vastly different views about what Jackson’s name and likeness were worth when he died.
The I.R.S. thought they were worth $161 million. The estate put it at just $2,105 — arguing that Jackson’s reputation was in tatters at the end of his life, after years of lurid reporting on his eccentric lifestyle and a widely covered trial on child molestation charges, in which Jackson was acquitted.
On Monday, in a closely watched case that may have implications for other celebrity estates, Judge Mark V. Holmes of United States Tax Court ruled that Jackson’s name and likeness were worth $4.2 million, rejecting many of the I.R.S.’s arguments. The decision will significantly lower the estate’s tax burden from the government’s first assessment.
But the tax case turned on the value of Jackson’s public image at the time of his death. His reputation had been badly damaged, and since 1993, Judge Holmes noted, Jackson had no endorsements or merchandise deals unrelated to a musical tour or album.
Yet the judge found that the estate’s estimate of $2,105 was just too low and that the estate was “valuing the image and likeness of one of the best known celebrities in the world — the King of Pop — at the price of a heavily used 20-year-old Honda Civic” (complete with a footnote citation to a used car price guide).
In a 271-page ruling dotted with literary references to Hemingway and Plutarch, Judge Holmes — who is noted for his clear and sometimes humorous writing style summarizing dense tax cases — summed up the vicissitudes of Jackson’s life, public reputation and finances.
$750 million to buy out its share of that catalog.)
The Jackson case has been watched closely as a guide for how celebrity estates may be valued, and for their tax liabilities. Among the major estates with large tax issues still before the I.R.S. are those of Prince and Aretha Franklin.
In a statement, John Branca and John McClain, co-executors of the Jackson estate, called the decision “a huge, unambiguous victory for Michael Jackson’s children.”
“For nearly 12 years Michael’s estate has maintained that the government’s valuation of Michael’s assets on the day he passed away was outrageous and unfair, one that would have saddled his heirs with an oppressive tax liability of more than $700 million,” Branca and McClain said. “While we disagree with some portions of the decision, we believe it clearly exposes how unreasonable the I.R.S. valuation was and provides a path forward to finally resolve this case in a fair and just manner.”
The I.R.S. did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday night.
NAIROBI, Kenya — During his years as an administrator at the Department of Transportation in upstate New York, the Somali refugee turned American citizen took classes in political science, imbibing democratic values he hoped to one day export back to his homeland.
That dream came true for Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed in 2017, when he returned to Somalia and was elected president in a surprise victory that evinced high hopes he might reform — even transform — his dysfunctional, war-weary country.
But those aspirations have crumbled since Mr. Mohamed failed to hold elections when his four-year term ended in February, then moved to extend his rule by two years — a step many Somalis viewed as a naked power grab.
A furious political dispute turned violent on Sunday when a series of gunfights broke out between rival military factions in the capital, Mogadishu, evoking fears that Somalia, after years of modest yet gradual progress, could descend into the kind of clan-based bloodshed that ripped it apart in the 1990s.
young Somalis determined to find a better future and progress in the fight against insurgents with Al Shabab, one of the world’s best organized and funded Al Qaeda affiliates.
Mr. Mohamed did not respond to a request for an interview or to questions sent to his aides.
Popularly known as “Farmaajo” — a derivation of the Italian word for cheese and purportedly his father’s favorite food — Mr. Mohamed was once the bearer of many Somalis’ hopes.
Mr. Mohamed was widely seen as less corrupt, more reform-oriented and less manipulated by foreign interests than the other 24 candidates.
“This is the beginning of unity for the Somali nation,” Mr. Mohamed told supporters shortly after winning the election.
Mr. Mohamed came to the United States in 1985 as a junior diplomat at the Somali Embassy and, as his country tumbled into conflict, decided to stay. A family friend said he first applied for political asylum in Canada, where his mother and siblings lived, and later obtained a Canadian passport.
But in the early 1990s, Mr. Mohamed, newly married, moved back to the United States where his family eventually settled in Grand Island, next to Buffalo and Niagara Falls.
back at his desk at the Department of Transportation in Buffalo, where he enforced nondiscrimination and affirmative action policies.
The great hopes many Somalis invested in Mr. Mohamed in 2017, when he won the presidency against all expectations, stemmed partly from his public image as a calm and bespectacled, if somewhat uncharismatic, technocrat. But disappointment soon set in.
human rights groups, United Nations and Western officials.
Mr. Yasin, a former journalist with Al Jazeera, had become a conduit for unofficial Qatari funds that were used to help get Mr. Mohamed elected, and which he used to solidify his political base while in power, the officials said — part of a wider proxy battle for influence between rival oil-wealthy Persian Gulf states in the strategically located country.
Some in Mr. Mohamed’s inner circle, including Colonel Sheikh, grew disillusioned and quit. “I said to myself: ‘These people are bad news,’” he said.
In 2019, Mr. Mohamed gave up his American citizenship. He didn’t explain the decision, but officials familiar with the matter pointed to one possible factor.
At the time Mr. Mohamed surrendered his passport, his finances had come under investigation by the Internal Revenue Service in the United States, said three Western officials familiar with the matter, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter about a foreign head of state.
cutting ties with neighboring Kenya in December as part of a long-running diplomatic dispute.
allying with the autocratic president of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, whose military has trained thousands of Somali troops, Western and Somali officials say.
“It comes as cash and it’s uncounted,” Abdirizak Mohamed, a former interior minister and now opposition lawmaker, said of the Qatari funds. “It’s an open secret.”
Now Mr. Mohamed is confined to Villa Somalia, the presidential compound in central Mogadishu, as military units loyal to his most powerful opponents — a coalition of presidential candidates and the leaders of two of Somalia’s five regional states — camp on a major junction a few hundred yards away.
Worried residents say they don’t know whether the president’s latest concession will offer a genuine opportunity for new talks, or a pause before rival fighters open fire again.
“I feel a lot of fear,” said Zahra Qorane Omar, a community organizer, by phone from Mogadishu. “We’ve gone through enough suffering. The bullet is not what this city or its people deserve.”
Hussein Mohamed contributed reporting from Mogadishu, Somalia.