South Korea to toughen rules to collect cryptocurrencies from tax dodgers

FILE PHOTO: Representations of cryptocurrencies Bitcoin, Ethereum, DogeCoin, Ripple, Litecoin are placed on PC motherboard in this illustration taken June 29, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea will look to tighten a crackdown on tax evasion by cryptocurrency investors and high-income earners as it seeks fresh revenue to cover rising welfare costs, its finance ministry said on Monday.

The government proposes revising tax codes so that tax authorities will be able to seize crypto assets held by tax dodgers even if their cryptocurrencies are stored in digital wallets, starting next year.

Current regulations make it difficult for authorities to confiscate virtual assets held in digital wallets, although those accessible through exchanges can be seized to pay overdue taxes.

Going after tax evaders is part of South Korea's broader probe to tighten oversight of crypto markets to root out money laundering and other financial crimes using cryptocurrencies, as President Moon Jae-in looks to expand the tax base to fund increased welfare spending.

The government has been hiking taxes from big earners and conglomerates to ensure wealthy citizens share the burden of growing costs of an aging population, as South Korea became the world's fastest-aging society with the lowest birth rate anywhere in 2020.

Monday's proposal is one pillar of the government's once-a-year review of its tax system, which seeks to revise a total of 16 tax codes.

The revisions will lead to a decline in tax revenue of at least 1.5 trillion won ($1.30 billion) between now and 2026, as tax breaks for research and development in semiconductors, batteries and vaccine sectors more than offset any additional revenue expected from high-income earners, according to the ministry.

"Although that 1.5 trillion can't be described as tax neutral, it isn't that big of an amount and something necessary as we revised tax codes," finance minister Hong Nam-ki said at a news conference.

The government also proposed expanding tax incentives to companies for hiring especially outside the capital Seoul, and offered to cut corporate income taxes for companies reshoring production capacities.

The ministry will submit the tax review to parliament by Sept. 3 as the proposal needs approval from lawmakers to make it enforceable, the statement said.

($1 = 1,151.4300 won)

(Reporting by Cynthia Kim; Editing by Sam Holmes)

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