Any corporation or other business entity with at least 10 percent foreign ownership faces a potential $10,000 penalty if it did not file government census forms with the U.S. Department of Commerce by May 31, according to a leading international tax authority.

Further, any individual involved as a direct owner, officer, employee or agent of a corporation could be subject to imprisonment for up to one year in addition to the $10,000 fine, said Barry C. Berelowitz, director of international tax for national accounting firm Kenneth Leventhal & Co."These reporting requirements will come as a big surprise to many people, since they have received little publicity," said Berelowitz. "Foreign owners, who frequently try to maintain anonymity, must disclose their identities and cannot hide behind bearer shares," he added.

The census is being conducted by the Department of Commerce to measure foreign direct investment in the United States and to analyze its effect on the economy.

The obligation to file applies only where a foreign person owns 10 percent or more of the voting stock of a corporation or an equivalent interest in an unincorporated enterprise. Limited partners in partnerships are not considered as owning voting securities. Any direct ownership of U.S. real estate by a foreign person, except a personal residence, is considered to be a business enterprise, Berelowitz said.