Category: Tax Avoidance Schemes

Tax avoidance schemes generally refer to complex tax arrangements setup by multinational enterprices to shift profits from high-tax jurisdiction to low-tax jurisdictions.
A difficult destinction has to be made between legal tax planning, abusive tax avoidance schemes which may or may not be legal, and illegal tax evation/sham transactions and arrangements.
It is generally the case that abusive/agressive tax avoidance schemes and arrangements, “colourable devices”, “dubious methods” and “fully artificial arrangements” set up with the primary or sole purpose of avoiding taxes are not permissible – even if the transactions are otherwise individually within the letter of the law.
Illegal tax evasion – fraud or sham transactions and arrangements – are usually considered criminal and prosecuted as such.

European Commission vs Luxembourg and Engie, May 2021, EU General Court, Case No T-516/18 and T-525/18

European Commission vs Luxembourg and Engie, May 2021, EU General Court, Case No T-516/18 and T-525/18

Engie (former GDF Suez) is a French electric utility company. Engie Treasury Management S.à.r.l., a treasury company, and Engie LNG Supply, S.A, a liquefied natural gas trading company, are both part of the Engie group. In November 2017, Total has signed an agreement with Engie to acquire its LNG business, including Engie LNG Supply. In 2018 the European Commission has found that Luxembourg allowed two Engie group companies to avoid paying taxes on almost all their profits for about a decade. This is illegal under EU State aid rules because it gives Engie an undue advantage. Luxembourg must now recover about €120 million in unpaid tax. The Commission’s State aid investigation concluded that the Luxembourg tax rulings gave Engie a significant competitive advantage in Luxembourg. It does not call into question the general tax regime of Luxembourg. In particular, the Commission found that the tax ... Continue to full case
Denmark vs NETAPP ApS and TDC A/S, May 2021, High Court, Cases B-1980-12 and B-2173-12

Denmark vs NETAPP ApS and TDC A/S, May 2021, High Court, Cases B-1980-12 and B-2173-12

On 3 May 2021, the Danish High Court ruled in two “beneficial owner” cases concerning the question of whether withholding tax must be paid on dividends distributed by Danish subsidiaries to foreign parent companies. The first case – NETAPP Denmark ApS – concerned two dividend distributions of approx. 566 million DKK and approx. 92 million made in 2005 and 2006 by a Danish company to its parent company in Cyprus. The National Tax Court had upheld the Danish company in that the dividends were exempt from withholding tax pursuant to the Corporation Tax Act, section 2, subsection. 1, letter c, so that the company was not obliged to pay withholding tax. The Ministry of Taxation brought the case before the courts, claiming that the Danish company should include – and thus pay – withholding tax of a total of approx. 184 million kr. The second ... Continue to full case
St. Vincent & the Grenadines vs Unicomer (St. Vincent) Ltd., April 2021, Supreme Court, Case No SVGHCV2019/0001

St. Vincent & the Grenadines vs Unicomer (St. Vincent) Ltd., April 2021, Supreme Court, Case No SVGHCV2019/0001

Unicomer (St. Vincent) Ltd. is engaged in the business of selling household furniture and appliances. In FY 2013 and 2014 Unicomer entered into an “insurance arrangement” involving an unrelated party, United insurance, and a related party, Canterbury. According to the tax authorities United Insurance had been used as an intermediate/conduit to funnel money from the Unicomer to Canterbury, thereby avoiding taxes in St. Vincent. In 2017 the Inland Revenue Department issued an assessments of additional tax in the sum of $12,666,798.23 inclusive of interest and penalties. The basis of the assessment centered on Unicomer’s treatment of (1) credit protection premiums (hereinafter referred to as “CPI”) under the insurance arrangement, (2) tax deferral of hire-purchase profits and (3) deductions for royalty payments. Unicomer appealed the assessment to the Appeal Commission where a decision was rendered in 2018. The Appeal Commission held that the CPI payments were ... Continue to full case
US Senate Committee request records related to tax schemes involving Caterpillar and Renaissance Technologies

US Senate Committee request records related to tax schemes involving Caterpillar and Renaissance Technologies

In a letter dated 28. April 2021 the US Senate Committee on Finance has request records related to tax schemes involving Caterpillar and Renaissance Technologies. “In 2015, Caterpillar disclosed that a federal grand jury in Illinois had begun investigating an alleged tax scheme involving the company’s Swiss subsidiary. This investigation led to raids by federal agents on three different Caterpillar offices in March 2017. 4 Days after the raids, Caterpillar announced it retained Mr. Barr “to take a fresh look at Caterpillar’s disputes with the government, get all the facts, and then help us bring these matters to proper resolution based on the merits.” Since January 2018, the IRS has sought to recover $2.3 billion in unpaid taxes and penalties from Caterpillar in connection with the alleged tax practices. Alarmingly, just six days after Mr. Barr was nominated to serve as Attorney General, an inspector ... Continue to full case
UK vs GE Capital, April 2021, Court of Appeal, Case No [2020] EWHC 1716

UK vs GE Capital, April 2021, Court of Appeal, Case No [2020] EWHC 1716

In 2005 an agreement was entered between the UK tax authority and GE Capital, whereby GE Capital was able to obtain significant tax benefits by routing billions of dollars through Australia, the UK and the US. HMRC later claimed, that GE Capital had failed to disclose all relevant information to HMRC prior to the agreement and therefore asked the High Court to annul the agreement. The High Court ruled that HMRC could pursue the claim against GE in July 2020. Judgement of the Court of Appeal The Court of Appeal overturned the judgement of the High Court and ruled in favour of GE Capital. UK vs GE 2021 COA 1716 ... Continue to full case
Bristol-Myers Squibb in Dispute with IRS over "Abusive Offshore Scheme"

Bristol-Myers Squibb in Dispute with IRS over “Abusive Offshore Scheme”

According to the IRS, Bristol-Myers Squibb reduces its U.S. taxes by holding valuable intangibles in an Irish subsidiary. In a legal analysis, the IRS concluded that the Irish scheme saves Bristol-Myers Squibb up to $1.38 billion in US taxes. From Bristol-Myers Squibb’s 2019 10-K form, “Note 7. Income Taxes” “BMS is currently under examination by a number of tax authorities which have proposed or are considering proposing material adjustments to tax positions for issues such as transfer pricing, certain tax credits and the deductibility of certain expenses. It is reasonably possible that new issues will be raised by tax authorities which may require adjustments to the amount of unrecognized tax benefits; however, an estimate of such adjustments cannot reasonably be made at this time. It is also reasonably possible that the total amount of unrecognized tax benefits at December 31, 2019 could decrease in the ... Continue to full case
South Africa vs ABSA bank, March 2021, High Court, Case No 2019/21825

South Africa vs ABSA bank, March 2021, High Court, Case No 2019/21825

During FY 2014 – 2018 a South African company, ABSA, on four occasions bought tranches of preference shares in another South African company, PSIC 3. This entitled ABSA to dividends. The dividends received from PSIC 3 by ABSA were declared as tax free. The income in PSIC 3 was based on dividend payments on preference shares it owned in another South African company, PSIC 4. The income in PSIC 4 was from a capital outlay to an off shore trust, D1 Trust. The trust then lent money to MSSA, a South African subsidiary of the Macquarie Group, by means of subscribing for floating rate notes. The D1 Trust made investments by way of the purchase of Brazilian Government bonds. It then derived interest thereon. In turn, PSIC 4 received interest on its capital investment in D1 Trust. The South African Revenue Service held that ABSA ... Continue to full case
Netherlands vs "Share Owner/Lender", February 2021, Supreme Court (Preliminary ruling by the Advocate General), Case No 20/01884

Netherlands vs “Share Owner/Lender”, February 2021, Supreme Court (Preliminary ruling by the Advocate General), Case No 20/01884

The interested party bought AEX-listed shares, sold three-month futures based on those shares through its shareholder/broker [D], and lent the shares to [D] (stock lending). It received cash collateral ($ deposits as collateral) and a stock lending fee for its lending. According to the interested party, the shares always briefly reverted to its ownership around their dividend dates through registration in the interested party’s securities account with the French custodian bank on the basis of legal transactions between its shareholder [D] and it, represented by [D]. In dispute is the question whether the interested party is entitled to a set-off of € 39,249,246 in Dutch dividend tax withheld from the dividends on the shares lent by her. Did she receive the dividends (was she the beneficial owner?) and if so, was she also the ultimate beneficiary of the dividend? Also in dispute is whether the ... Continue to full case
Canada vs Cameco Corp., February 2021, Supreme Court, Case No 39368.

Canada vs Cameco Corp., February 2021, Supreme Court, Case No 39368.

Cameco, together with its subsidiaries, is a large uranium producer and supplier of the services that convert one form of uranium into another form. Cameco had uranium mines in Saskatchewan and uranium refining and processing (conversion) facilities in Ontario. Cameco also had subsidiaries in the United States that owned uranium mines in the United States. The Canadian Revenue Agency found that transactions between Cameco Corp and the Swiss subsidiary constituted a sham arrangement resulting in improper profit shifting. Hence, a tax assessment was issued for FY 2003, 2005, and 2006. Cameco disagreed with the Agency and brought the case to the Canadian Tax Court. In 2018 the Tax Court ruled in favor of Cameco and dismissed the assessment. This decision was appealed by the tax authorities to the Federal Court of Appeal. The Federal Court of Appeal in 2020 dismissed the appeal and also ruled ... Continue to full case
Switzerland vs "Contractual Seller SA", January 2021, Federal Supreme Court, Case No 2C_498/2020

Switzerland vs “Contractual Seller SA”, January 2021, Federal Supreme Court, Case No 2C_498/2020

C. SA provides “services, in particular in the areas of communication, management, accounting, management and budget control, sales development monitoring and employee training for the group to which it belongs, active in particular in the field of “F”. C. SA is part of an international group of companies, G. group, whose ultimate owner is A. The G group includes H. Ltd, based in the British Virgin Islands, I. Ltd, based in Guernsey and J. Ltd, also based in Guernsey. In 2005, K. was a director of C. SA. On December 21 and December 31, 2004, an exclusive agreement for distribution of “F” was entered into between L. Ltd, on the one hand, and C. SA , H. Ltd and J. Ltd, on the other hand. Under the terms of this distribution agreement, L. Ltd. undertook to supply “F” to the three companies as of January ... Continue to full case
Netherlands vs X B.V., December 2020, Supreme Court (Preliminary ruling by the Advocate General), Case No 20/02096 ECLI:NL:PHR:2020:1198

Netherlands vs X B.V., December 2020, Supreme Court (Preliminary ruling by the Advocate General), Case No 20/02096 ECLI:NL:PHR:2020:1198

This case concerns a private equity takeover structure with apparently an intended international mismatch, i.e. a deduction/no inclusion of the remuneration on the provision of funds. The case was (primarily) decided by the Court of Appeal on the basis of non-business loan case law. The facts are as follows: A private equity fund [A] raised LP equity capital from (institutional) investors in its subfund [B] and then channelled it into two (sub)funds configured in the Cayman Islands, Fund [C] and [D] Fund. Participating in those two Funds were LPs in which the limited partners were the external equity investors and the general partners were Jersey-based [A] entities and/or executives. The equity raised in [A] was used for leveraged, debt-financed acquisitions of European targets to be sold at a capital gain after five to seven years, after optimising their EBITDA. One of these European targets was ... Continue to full case
India vs. M/s Redington (India) Limited, December 2020, High Court of Madras, Case No. T.C.A.Nos.590 & 591 of 2019

India vs. M/s Redington (India) Limited, December 2020, High Court of Madras, Case No. T.C.A.Nos.590 & 591 of 2019

Redington India Limited (RIL) established a wholly-owned subsidiary Redington Gulf (RG) in the Jebel Ali Free Zone of the UAE in 2004. The subsidiary was responsible for the Redington group’s business in the Middle East and Africa. Four years later in July 2008, RIL set up a wholly-owned subsidiary company in Mauritius, RM. In turn, this company set up its wholly-owned subsidiary in the Cayman Islands (RC) – a step-down subsidiary of RIL. On 13 November 2008, RIL transferred its entire shareholding in RG to RC without consideration, and within a week after the transfer, a 27% shareholding in RC was sold by RG to a private equity fund Investcorp, headquartered in Cayman Islands for a price of Rs.325.78 Crores. RIL claimed that the transfer of its shares in RG to RC was a gift and therefore, exempt from capital gains taxation in India. It ... Continue to full case
AXA S.A. issued an income assessment of EUR 130 million by the French tax authorities

AXA S.A. issued an income assessment of EUR 130 million by the French tax authorities

Insurance group AXA S.A. is now paying back millions of euros in taxes after French tax authorities found that a Luxembourg-based structure had been used by the group for tax avoidance. According to the French tax authorities AXE S.A. had undeclared taxable profits of at least 130 million in FY 2005 and 2010.    The scheme involved use of a group entity in Luxembourg granting loans to AXA’s foreign subsidiaries. The entity in Luxembourg benefited from a tax ruling issued by Luxembourg’s authorities that allowed it to be tax-exempt. According to AXA the tax laws of France and Luxembourg were fully respected and the group is confident regarding the outcome of this process and will keep collaborating with fiscal authorities to assert its rights ... Continue to full case
UK vs Blackrock, November 2020, First-tier Tribunal, Case No TC07920

UK vs Blackrock, November 2020, First-tier Tribunal, Case No TC07920

In 2009 the BlackRock Group acquired Barclays Global Investors for a total sum of $13,5bn . The price was paid in part by shares ($6.9bn) and in part by cash ($6.6bn). The cash payment was paid by BlackRock Holdco 5 LLC – a US Delaware Company tax resident in the UK – but funded by the parent company by issuing $4bn loan notes to the LLC. In the years following the acquisition Blackrock Holdco 5 LLC claimed tax deductions in the UK for interest payments on the intra-group loans. Following an audit in the UK the tax authorities disallowed the interest deductions. The tax authorities held that the transaction would not have happened between independent parties. They also found that the loans were entered into for an unallowable tax avoidance purpose. A UK taxpayer can be denied a deduction for interest where a loan has ... Continue to full case
UK vs Total E&P North Sea UK Ltd, October 2020, Court of Appeal, Case No A3/2019/1656

UK vs Total E&P North Sea UK Ltd, October 2020, Court of Appeal, Case No A3/2019/1656

Companies carrying on “oil-related activities” are subject to both corporation tax and a “supplementary charge”. “Oil-related activities” are treated as a separate trade and the income from them represents “ring fence profits” on which corporation tax is charged. The “supplementary charge” is levied on “adjusted” ring fence profits, in calculating which financing costs are left out of account. Between 2006 and 2011, the supplementary charge amounted to 20% of adjusted ring fence profits. On 23 March 2011, however, it was announced that the supplementary charge would be increased to 32% from midnight. The change in rate was subsequently carried into effect by section 7 of the Finance Act 2011, which received the royal assent on 19 July 2011. Total E&P, previously Maersk Oil North Sea UK Limited and Maersk Oil UK Limited, carried on “oil-related activities” and so were subject to the supplementary charge. The ... Continue to full case
Allegations of tax avoidance in Dutch Pharma Group Qiagen

Allegations of tax avoidance in Dutch Pharma Group Qiagen

According to investigations by SOMO – an independent center for Research on Multinational Corporations – the annual accounts of Pharma Group Qiagen shows that the group has avoided tax on profits by passing internal loans through an elaborate network of letterbox companies in European tax havens including Ireland, Luxembourg and Malta. It is estimated that, since 2010, the group has avoided at least  €93 million in taxes and has accumulated tax deduction in an amount of €49 million ... Continue to full case
European Commission vs. Ireland and Apple, September 2020, Appeal of the Judgement of the General Court on the Apple tax State aid case in Ireland

European Commission vs. Ireland and Apple, September 2020, Appeal of the Judgement of the General Court on the Apple tax State aid case in Ireland

The European Commission has decided to appeal the decision of the EU General Court in the State Aid case of Apple and Ireland. According to the European Commission Ireland gave illegal tax benefits to Apple worth up to €13 billion, because it allowed Apple to pay substantially less tax than other businesses. In a decision issued july 2020 the General Court held in favor of Apple and Ireland. This decision will now be reviewed by the European Court of Justice. “Statement by Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager on the Commission’s decision to appeal the General Court’s judgment on the Apple tax State aid case in Ireland Brussels, 25 September 2020 “The Commission has decided to appeal before the European Court of Justice the General Court’s judgment of July 2020 on the Apple State aid case in Ireland, which annulled the Commission’s decision of August 2016 finding ... Continue to full case
New Zealand vs Frucor Suntory, September 2020, Court of appeal, Case No [2020] NZCA 383

New Zealand vs Frucor Suntory, September 2020, Court of appeal, Case No [2020] NZCA 383

Frucor Suntory (FHNZ) had deducted purported interest expenses that had arisen in the context of a tax scheme involving, among other steps, its issue of a Convertible Note to Deutsche Bank, New Zealand Branch (DBNZ), and a forward purchase of the shares DBNZ could call for under the Note by FHNZ’s Singapore based parent Danone Asia Pte Ltd (DAP). The Convertible Note had a face value of $204,421,565 and carried interest at a rate of 6.5 per cent per annum. Over its five-year life, FHNZ paid DBNZ approximately $66 million which FHNZ characterised as interest and deducted for income tax purposes. The tax authorities issued an assessment where deductions of interest expenses in the amount of $10,827,606 and $11,665,323 were disallowed in FY 2006 and 2007 under New Zealand´s general anti-avoidance rule in s BG 1 of the Income Tax Act 2004. In addition, penalties ... Continue to full case
Tanzania vs African Barrick Gold PLC, August 2020, Court of Appeal, Case No. 144 of 2018, [2020] TZCA 1754

Tanzania vs African Barrick Gold PLC, August 2020, Court of Appeal, Case No. 144 of 2018, [2020] TZCA 1754

AFRICAN BARRICK GOLD PLC (now Acacia Mining Plc), the largest mining company operating in Tanzania, was issued a tax bill for unpaid taxes, interest and penalties for alleged under-declared export revenues. As a tax resident in Tanzania, AFRICAN BARRICK GOLD was asked to remit withholding taxes on dividend payments amounting to USD 81,843,127 which the company allegedly made for the years 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013 (this sum was subsequently reduced to USD 41,250,426). AFRICAN BARRICK GOLD was also required to remit withholding taxes on payments which the mining entities in Tanzania had paid to the parent, together with payments which was made to other non-resident persons (its shareholders) for the service rendered between 2010 up to September 2013. AFRICAN BARRICK GOLD argued that, being a holding company incorporated in the United Kingdom, it was neither a resident company in Tanzania, nor did it conduct ... Continue to full case
UK vs GE Capital, July 2020, High Court, Case No RL-2018-000005

UK vs GE Capital, July 2020, High Court, Case No RL-2018-000005

GE Capital (GE) have been routing financial transactions (AUS $ 5 billion) related to GE companies in Australia via the UK in order to gain a tax advantage – by “triple dipping” in regards to interest deductions, thus saving billions of dollars in tax in Australia, the UK and the US. Before entering into these transactions, GE obtained clearance from HMRC that UK tax rules were met, in particular new “Anti-Arbitrage Rules” introduced in the UK in 2005, specifically designed to prevent tax avoidance through the exploitation of the tax treatment of ‘hybrid’ entities in different jurisdictions. The clearance was granted by the tax authorities in 2005 based on the understanding that the funds would be used to invest in businesses operating in Australia. In total, GE’s clearance application concerned 107 cross-border loans amounting to debt financing of approximately £21.2 billion. The Australian Transaction was ... Continue to full case