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.

ATO and Singtel in Court over Intra-company Financing Arrangement

ATO and Singtel in Court over Intra-company Financing Arrangement

In 2001, Singtel, through its wholly owned Australian subsidiary, Singapore Telecom Australia Investments Pty Limited (Singtel Au), acquired the majority of the shares in Cable & Wireless Optus for $17.2 billion. The tax consequences of this acqusition was decided by the Federal Court in Cable & Wireless Australia & Pacific Holding BV (in liquiatie) v Commissioner of Taxation [2017] FCAFC 71. Cable & Wireless argued that part of the price paid under a share buy-back was not dividends and that withholding tax should therefor be refunded. The ATO and the Court disagreed. ATO and Singtel is now in a new dispute  – this time over tax consequences associated with the intra-group financing of the takeover. This case was heard in the Federal Court in August 2021. At issue is a tax assessments for FY 2011, 2012 and 2013 resulting in additional taxes in an amount ... Continue to full case
Argentina vs Molinos Río de la Plata S.A., September 2021, Supreme Court, Case No CAF 1351/2014/1/RH1

Argentina vs Molinos Río de la Plata S.A., September 2021, Supreme Court, Case No CAF 1351/2014/1/RH1

In 2003 Molinos Argentina had incorporated Molinos Chile under the modality of an “investment platform company” regulated by Article 41 D of the Chilean Income Tax Law. Molinos Argentina owned 99.99% of the shares issued by Molinos Chile, and had integrated the share capital of the latter through the transfer of the majority shareholdings of three Uruguayan companies and one Peruvian company. Molinos Argentina declared the dividends originating from the shares of the three Uruguayan companies and the Peruvian company controlled by Molinos Chile as non-taxable income by application of article 11 of the DTA between Argentina and Chile. On that factual basis, the tax authorities applied the principle of economic reality established in article 2 of Law 11.683 (t.o. 1998 and its amendments) and considered that Molinos Argentina had abused the DTA by using the Chilean holding company as a “conduit company” to divert ... Continue to full case
Israel vs Sephira & Offek Ltd and Israel Daniel Amram, August 2021, Jerusalem District Court, Case No 2995-03-17

Israel vs Sephira & Offek Ltd and Israel Daniel Amram, August 2021, Jerusalem District Court, Case No 2995-03-17

While living in France, Israel Daniel Amram (IDA) devised an idea for the development of a unique and efficient computerized interface that would link insurance companies and physicians and facilitate financial accounting between medical service providers and patients. IDA registered the trademark “SEPHIRA” and formed a company in France under the name SAS SEPHIRA . IDA then moved to Israel and formed Sephira & Offek Ltd. Going forward the company in Israel would provid R&D services to SAS SEPHIRA in France. All of the taxable profits in Israel was labled as “R&D income” which is taxed at a lower rate in Israel. Later IDA’s rights in the trademark was sold to Sephira & Offek Ltd in return for €8.4m. Due to IDA’s status as a “new Immigrant” in Israel profits from the sale was tax exempt. Following the acquisition of the trademark, Sephira & Offek ... Continue to full case
Switzerland vs "A SA", July 2021, Federal Supreme Court, Case No 2C_80/2021

Switzerland vs “A SA”, July 2021, Federal Supreme Court, Case No 2C_80/2021

In this case, the Swiss tax authorities had refused to refund A SA withholding tax on an amount of the so-called distributable reserves. The refund was denied based on the Swiss “Old Reserves-doctrin”. “…the doctrine relates the existence of the practice of the Federal Tax Administration of 15 November 1990, known as the “purchase of a full wallet” (“Kauf eines vollen Portemonnaies” or the “old reserves” practice… According to this practice, “tax avoidance is deemed to have occurred when a holding company based in Switzerland buys all the shares of a company based in Switzerland with substantial reserves from persons domiciled (or having their seat) abroad at a price higher than their nominal value, …” The doctrin is applied by the tax authorities based on a schematic asset/liability test: if there are distributable reserves/retained earnings prior to the transfer of shares from a jurisdiction with ... Continue to full case

Luxembourg vs “Lux PPL SARL”, July 2021, Administrative Tribunal, Case No 43264

Lux PPL SARL received a profit participating loan (PPL) from a related company in Jersey to finance its participation in an Irish company.  The participation in the Irish company was set up in the form of debt (85%) and equity (15%). The profit participating loan (PPL) carried a fixed interest of 25bps and a variable interest corresponding to 99% of the profits derived from the participation in the Irish company, net of any expenses, losses and a profit margin. After entering the arrangement, Lux PPL SARL filed a request for an binding ruling with the Luxembourg tax administration to verify that the interest  charge under the PPL would not qualify as a hidden profit distribution subject to the 15% dividend withholding tax. The tax administration issued the requested binding ruling on the condition that the ruling would be terminate if the total amount of the ... Continue to full case
Malaysia vs Ensco Gerudi Malaysia SDN. BHD., July 2021, Juridical Review, High Court, Case No. WA-25-233-08-2020

Malaysia vs Ensco Gerudi Malaysia SDN. BHD., July 2021, Juridical Review, High Court, Case No. WA-25-233-08-2020

Ensco Gerudi provided offshore drilling services to the petroleum industry in Malaysia, including leasing drilling rigs, to oil and gas operators in Malaysia. In order to provide these services, the Ensco entered into a Master Charter Agreement dated 21.9.2006 (amended on 17.8.2011) (“Master Charter Agreement”) with Ensco Labuan Limited (“ELL”), a third-party contractor, to lease drilling rigs from ELL. Ensco then rents out the drilling rigs to its own customers. As part of the Master Charter Agreement, Ensco agreed to pay ELL a percentage of the applicable day rate that Ensco earns from its drilling contracts with its customers for the drilling rigs. By way of a letter dated 12.10.2018, the tax authorities initiated its audit for FY 2015 to 2017. The tax authorities issued its first audit findings letter on 23.10.2019 where it took the position that the pricing of the leasing transactions between ... Continue to full case
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