A hard-line written response by Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra to the latest in a series of questions put to him and other Dutch officials over the past two years, about the banking problems so-called “accidental Americans” have been struggling with, has thrust the issue back into the media spotlight in the Netherlands, at least, since it was posted on the Dutch government's website on Oct. 6.
The issue received media and political attention earlier this year, when concerns about the possibility of Dutch citizens losing their bank accounts, as a new phase in the enforcement of the U.S. tax evasion law known as FATCA came into force on Jan. 1, and even saw a meeting taking place on Jan. 22 in the Dutch House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer) between representatives from two accidental Americans organizations and around half a dozen Dutch MPs. Since then, however, the matter has neither progressed nor appeared to be getting lawmakers' attention, sources in the Dutch accidental American community say.
One of the reasons Finance Minister Hoekstra's response has seen the issue suddenly reappear, according to spokespeople for organizations representing Dutch "accidentals" – who are basically Dutch citizens whom the U.S. regards as being American citizens as well, and thus obliged to enter into the U.S. tax filing infrastructure, which many are wary of doing – is because the numbers of Dutch citizens who are starting to lose their Dutch bank accounts because of their failure to obtain U.S. "Tax Identification Numbers" (TINs) is growing.
Thus far, it's still small – only around 12, according to official government figures, although accidental American group spokespeople say they believe it's larger, and increasing.
But perhaps more importantly, they note, the numbers of Dutch citizens who have been told by their banks that they must get TINs or risk losing access to their accounts within the next few weeks or months has also been growing – and rapidly at that, according to some accounts.
As reported, in his nine-page response to the questions sent to him last month by Dutch parliamentarian Helma Lodders, of the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy, Finance Minister Hoekstra appeared to align himself fully on the side of the banks that are closing, and threatening to close, the bank accounts of accidental Americans who don't have TINs, more than some other Dutch lawmakers have previously.
He also seemed to view the claims of Dutch citizens who seek to avoid getting U.S. TINs or Certificates of Loss of [U.S.] Nationality” (CLN) in order to maintain their Dutch bank accounts, mortgages and so on – on grounds that they don't wish to move further in the direction of becoming American citizens than they already are – as unjustified.
(It was the sixth set of questions Lodders had posed on the matter since last December, and the twelfth since March 2018, according to a Lodders spokesperson.)
Among the media organizations to vigorously report the news of Finance Minister Hoekstra's comments has been NRC Handelsblad (www.nrc.nl), one of the Netherlands' most well-established mainstream media groups, where the coverage has largely been the work of NRC.nl editor Eva Smal.
It began last Thursday with an overview of the problem of "unintentionally American Dutch people" at risk of losing their bank accounts "because of their American citizenship", focusing on the example of a retired, 62-year-old KLM pilot named Ronald Ariës, who, it noted, appears certain to lose his Regiobank account by the end of November.
A separate piece, also by Smal, described how "dozens of Dutch citizens who are also American have heard in recent weeks that their accounts with Dutch banks are [to be] shut down", as they fall "victim [to] strict U.S. tax laws and agreements" that the Dutch government is helping to enforce.
Noting that such account closures had been "warned of for years", Smal ended her piece by quoting a spokesperson for the Netherlands Association of Accidental Americans as "blam[ing]" the Dutch government for "doing nothing for years", noting that without bank accounts accidental Americans were in danger of being "evicted from their home, [being] no longer insured, [unable to] buy food...
"This is not tax evasion. This is a great injustice."
On Sunday, Smal followed up her earlier stories with a third piece, headed (in Dutch) "EU must act together for unintentional Americans", which quoted Lodders – whose questions Hoekstra had been responding to in his Oct. 6 posting – and Sophie in 't Veld, a member of the European Parliament, who, like Lodders, has also been a regular campaigner on behalf of the Dutch accidentals.
Smal also quotes the Nederlandse Vereniging van Banken (NVB) as saying that the Dutch government had given the impression that it had failed to "properly oversee the consequences of FATCA [Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act] and the bilateral agreement" [between the U.S. and the Netherlands, which set out how the Dutch banks comply with it] when these were being negotiated, and transposed into law.
meet with Lodder
Another sign that the Dutch accidentals and their problems with their bank accounts has resurfaced is that Lodders, the Dutch MP, met on Monday with the two main Dutch accidentals' groups and some of their members, and that one of these groups, the Americans Overseas, presented her with what it's calling its "Black Book" of research on the subject (see photo of Lodders, above, taken on Monday).
Dan Durlacher, the Netherlands-born, U.S.-citizen founder of Americans Overseas (pictured left), said the meeting went well enough, but that one point that seems to be emerging is that even with assurances that they do not, at least for now, have a genuine reason to believe the U.S. will take action against them for having American account holders – as Dutch Finance Secretary Johannes "Hans" Vijlbrief reiterated as recently as March – Dutch banks seem determined not to take any chances of being found to be in violation of FATCA, the penalties for which are significant.
Nor is the matter helped, he noted, by the fact that the questions banks are asking their clients are often misleading and unclear, resulting in statements from accidental Americans that some banks then interpret as deliberate mis-statements of the truth, which can then give banks an excuse to either close their existing accounts or refuse to open a new one.
Before she left, Durlacher said, Lodders told him she was hopeful that the case examples and petitions contained in the booklet she'd been given would enable her to finally convince her fellow lawmakers in the Hague "to solve this nightmare that's happening to these people".
Added Durlacher: "As we speak, we [at Americans Overseas] are in the process of launching an online survey of German accidental Americans, to see what the situation is like there right now.
"Our focus now is not to try to find a long-term solution to FATCA and CBT, but to find a short-term solution for the effects the combination of FATCA and CBT are having on European citizens with a coincidental U.S. background.
"In the meantime, we believe, based on the earlier statements of the Dutch Financial Ministry, that the banks banks need to understand better than they do that FATCA compels them to actively ask their clients for their TIN or Social Security Number, no more, no less. So as long as they do that, and are able to prove that they do, their risks of being fined by the U.S. are minimal, certainly for now."
A spokesperson for the Nederlandse Accidental Americans Groep (NLAA) said "Helma Lodders is aware of the problems, and is willing to discuss our case in Parliament.
"Together we agreed that stopping the banks from closing accounts is the first and short-term priority." After that, the spokesperson added, "the next step [will be] to find a way to exclude accidental Americans from the FATCA Intergovernmental Agreement between the Netherlands and the U.S."
Joren Bakker, an assistant to Lodders, who attended the meeting on Monday, added: "Our opinion is that the Dutch government has to come up with a solution for the accidentals."
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