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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Wire Fraud Based on Scheme to Defraud Foreign Government of Taxes

In Pasquantino v. U.S., No. 03-725 (April 26, 2005), the Court held that a plot to defraud the Canadian government of tax revenue violates the federal wire fraud statute, 18 U.S.C. § 1343. The plot involved the smuggling of large quantities of liquor from the United States to evade Canada's heavy alcohol import taxes. The Court found that Canada's right to uncollected excise taxes on liquor is "property" within the wire fraud statute's meaning. Further, the Court found that its construction of § 1343 did not derogate from the common law revenue rule, which prohibits one sovereign from enforcing its tax liabilities in the courts of another sovereign. The Court noted that this criminal prosecution did not have as its purpose the collection of revenues. Further, the prosecution was not the "indirect" enforcement of tax liability collection, and, based on the then-existing caselaw, would not have been regarded as such by the 1952 Congress which enacted the wire fraud statute. In addition, the prosecution poses little risk of the principal evil against which the revenue rule protects: judicial evaluation of the revenue policies of foreign sovereigns. The prosecution was brought by the Executive Branch of the United States government, which is entrusted with primary responsibility for foreign relations. Further, even though part of the criminal judgment involved restitution of the unpaid taxes, this restitution did not matter, as the government had an independent interest in criminal prosecution. The Court also rejected the argument based on the principle of avoiding giving statutes extraterritorial effects, pointing out that the criminal scheme was complete when the scheme was executed in the United States.