Denmark vs. Adecco A/S, June 2020, Supreme Court, Case No SKM2020.303.HR

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The question in this case was whether royalty payments from a loss making Danish subsidiary Adecco A/S (H1 A/S in the decision) to its Swiss parent company Adecco SA (G1 SA in the decision – an international provider of temporary and permanent employment services active throughout the entire range of sectors in Europe, the Americas, the Middle East and Asia – for use of trademarks and trade names, knowhow, international network intangibles and business concept were deductible expenses for tax purposes or not.

In 2013, the Danish tax authorities (SKAT) had amended Adecco A/S’s taxable income for the years 2006-2009 by a total of DKK 82 million.

Adecco A/S submitted that the company’s royalty payments were operating expenses deductible under section 6 (a) of the State Tax Act and that it was entitled to tax deductions for royalty payments of 1.5% of the company’s turnover in the first half of 2006 and 2% up to and including 2009, as these prices were in line with what would have been agreed if the transactions had been concluded between independent parties and thus compliant  with the requirement in section 2 of the Tax Assessment Act (- the arm’s length principle). In particular, Adecco A/S claimed that the company had lifted its burden of proof that the basic conditions for deductions pursuant to section 6 (a) of the State Tax Act were met, and the royalty payments thus deductible to the extent claimed.

According to section 6 (a) of the State Tax Act expenses incurred during the year to acquire, secure and maintain income are deductible for tax purposes.
There must be a direct and immediate link between the expenditure incurred and the acquisition of income.
The company hereby stated that it was not disputed that the costs were actually incurred and that it was evident that the royalty payment was in the nature of operating costs, since the company received significant economic value for the payments.

The High Court ruled in favor of the Danish tax authorities and concluded as follows:

Despite the fact that, as mentioned above, there is evidence to suggest that H1 A/S’s payment of royalties for the use of the H1 A/S trademark is a deductible operating expense, the national court finds, in particular, that H1 A/S operates in a national Danish market, where price is by far the most important competitive parameter, that the company has for a very long period largely only deficit, that it is an agreement on payment to the company’s ultimate parent company – which must be assumed to have its own purpose of being represented on the Danish market – and that royalty payments must be regarded as a standard condition determined by G1 SA independent of the market in which the Danish company is working, as well as the information on the marketing costs incurred in the Danish company and in the Swiss company compared with the failure to respond to the relevant provocations that H1 A/S has not lifted the burden of proof that the payments of royalties to the group-affiliated company G1 SA, constitutes a deductible operating expense, cf. section 6 (a) of the State Tax Act. 4.5 and par. 4.6, the national court finds that the company’s royalty payment cannot otherwise be regarded as a deductible operating expense.

Adecco appealed the decision to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court overturned the decision of the High Court and ruled in favor of Adecco.

The Supreme Court held that the royalty payments had the nature of deductible operating costs. The Supreme Court also found that Adecco A/S’s transfer pricing documentation for the income years in question was not insufficient to such an extent that it could be considered equal to lack of documentation. The company’s income could therefore not be determined on a discretionary basis by the tax authorities. Finally, the Supreme Court did not consider that a royalty rate of 2% was not at arm’s length, or that Adecco A/S’s marketing in Denmark of the Adecco brand provided a basis for deducting in the royalty payment a compensation for a marketing of the global brand.


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