Senior Tax Litigator at DOJ, Rob Kovacev, joins Steptoe & Johnson in Washington

 In Department of Justice, steptoe johnson

Steptoe & Johnson LLP has announced that Rob Kovacev, a former senior litigation counsel in the US Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Tax Division, has joined the firm as a partner.  Mr. Kovacev’s arrival continues the expansion of Steptoe’s Tax Group, which welcomed partner Bob Rizzi in October.

As senior litigation counsel in the DOJ’s Tax Division, Mr. Kovacev litigated high-profile civil tax cases and developed substantial trial experience.  He was lead trial counsel in several complex tax cases involving cross-border transactions, Section 482 disputes, claims for research credits and foreign tax credits, corporate reorganizations and acquisitions, and valuation of pharmaceutical patents and other intellectual property.  The amounts at issue in each of these cases ranged from $10 million to more than $1 billion in claimed tax benefits.  Mr. Kovacev was also lead counsel in several summons enforcement matters of the highest priority to the IRS.

While at the DOJ, Mr. Kovacev gained particular experience regarding the IRS’s use of the economic substance, substance over form, and sham partnership doctrines to disallow the tax benefits of transactions that comply with the technical requirements of the tax code.  For example, Mr. Kovacev was lead trial counsel for the United States in AWG Leasing, involving a cross-border leveraged leasing transaction.  The court in AWG Leasing disallowed over $100 million in tax benefits from that transaction, and sustained the IRS’s determination of penalties against the taxpayer.  Mr. Kovacev was also on the trial team for the Southgate Master Fundcase, in which the court disallowed more than $1 billion in tax benefits arising from a distressed debt transaction based on the court’s interpretation of the sham partnership doctrine.

In welcoming Mr. Kovacev to Steptoe, firm Chair Roger Warin commented:  “Our tax controversy practice has been a mainstay of our Tax Group for decades.  Rob will help bolster the next generation of lead tax controversy partners with a smart, effective, well-credentialed tax litigator who has first-chair trial experience in significant cases.”

Steptoe’s Tax Controversy practice includes experienced litigators who have served as Justice Department trial and appellate attorneys, judicial law clerks, and Treasury officials.  The practice combines trial-tested litigation skills with up-to-date substantive tax experience.  Steptoe’s highly regarded tax group has earned top rankings and recommendations from the prestigious legal directories Chambers USA and The Legal 500, among other publications.

“Steptoe’s tax practice has a superb reputation, and I’m delighted to be a part of it,” said Mr. Kovacev.  “As the IRS and DOJ Tax Division deploy tax shelter tools against transactions that are not generally considered abusive tax shelters, unwary taxpayers will be caught surprised.  I look forward to using the experience I gained as a DOJ tax litigator to help taxpayers meet the challenges they will face in this new environment.”

Mr. Kovacev won several awards for his work at the DOJ Tax Division, including the John Marshall Award for Trial of Litigation, the Tax Division’s Outstanding Attorney award (three times), and the Mitchell Rogovin Award, the IRS’s award for outstanding support to the Office of Chief Counsel.

magna cum laude graduate of Harvard College, Mr. Kovacev earned his J.D. from Columbia Law School, where he was a senior editor of the Columbia Law Review, a Kent Scholar and a Stone Scholar.  He clerked for the Honorable M. Blane Michael on the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit and worked in private practice before joining the government in 2006.

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