France vs Electricité de France, January 2022, CAA de VERSAILLES, Case No 20VE00792

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In 2009 the English company EDF Energy UK Ltd (EDFE), a wholly-owned subsidiary of SAS Electricité de France International (SAS EDFI), issued 66,285 bonds convertible into shares (OCAs) for a unit nominal value of EUR 50,000. SAS EDFI subscribed to all of these OCAs for their nominal value, i.e. a total subscription price of EUR 3,314,250,000. The OCAs had a maturity of five years, i.e. until October 16, 2014, and could be converted into new EDFE shares at the instigation of the subscriber at any time after a three-year lock-up period, i.e. from October 16, 2012. Each bond entitled the holder to receive 36,576 EDFE shares after conversion. The annual coupon for the OCAs was set at 1.085%. In this respect, SAS EDFI determined, on the basis of a panel of bond issues of independent comparables, the arm’s length rate that should be applied to conventional bonds, i.e. 4.41% (mid-swap rate and premium of 1.70%), 490 million according to the “Tsiveriotis and Fernandes” model, so that the sum of the present value of the flows of the “debt” component of the bond and the value of the “conversion” option is equal to the subscription price of the OCAs. SAS EDFI recognised the annual interest received at a rate of 1.085% on the bonds as income, thus subject to corporate income tax, i.e. 36 million euros..

The tax authorities considered that the “conversion” component had a zero value for SAS EDFI and that, given the terms of the loan – in this case, via the OCA mechanism – and the context of the issuance transaction, the reduction in the interest rate applied compared with the arm’s length rate of 4.41% to which SAS EDFI was entitled, made it possible to achieve a transfer of profits, In the case of SAS EDFI, the difference between the interest rate of 4.41% and the rate corresponding to the actual remuneration recorded had to be reintegrated in order to determine its taxable income. Before the appeal judge, the Minister of Action and Public Accounts contested any value to the “conversion” component on the double ground, on the one hand, that the OCAs issued by EDFE having been subscribed by its sole shareholder, the financial profit that SAS EDFI can hope to make by subscribing and then converting the OCAs into new shares mechanically has a value of zero, since it would be offset by a loss of the same amount on the value of the EDFE shares held prior to this conversion, and on the other hand, that since the OCAs issued by EDFE were subscribed by its sole shareholder, the financial benefit that SAS EDFI can hope to make by subscribing and then converting the OCAs into new shares has a value of zero, since it would be offset by a loss of the same amount on the value of the EDFE shares held before this conversion, on the other hand, since the objective sought by SAS EDFI was not that of a “classic” financial investor and the decision to convert or not the OCAs into new shares will not be taken solely in the interest of the subscriber with a view to maximising his profit, the valuation of the “conversion” component of the OCAs based solely on such an interest is not relevant and, since the financial impact of a conversion was then random, this component must necessarily be given a value close to zero.

Not satisfied with the assessment, Electricité de France brought the case to court.

The Court of first instance held in favour of the tax authorities. An appeal was then filed by Electricité de France with the CAA.

Decision of the Court of Appeal

The Court overturned the decision from the court of first instance and found in favor of Electricité de France.

…since the Minister for Public Action and Accounts does not justify the zero value of the ‘conversion’ component he refers to, SA EDF and SAS EDFI are entitled to maintain that he was wrong to consider that, by subscribing to the OCAs issued by EDFE, for which the interest rate applied was 1.085% and not the borrowing rate for traditional bonds of 4, 41%, SAS EDFI had transferred profits to its subsidiary under abnormal management conditions, and the amounts corresponding to this difference in rates had to be reintegrated to determine its taxable results pursuant to Article 57 of the General Tax Code and, for EDFE, represented hidden distributions within the meaning of c. of article 111 of the same code which must be subject to the withholding tax mentioned in 2. of article 119 bis of the same code”

 

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CAA de VERSAILLES, 3ème chambre, 25_01_2022, 20VE00792, Inédit au recueil Lebon

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