France vs Ferragamo France, June 2022, Administrative Court of Appeal (CAA), Case No 20PA03601

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Ferragamo France, which was set up in 1992 and is wholly owned by the Dutch company Ferragamo International BV, which in turn is owned by the Italian company Salvatore Ferragamo Spa, carries on the business of retailing shoes, leather goods and luxury accessories and distributes, in shops in France, products under the ‘Salvatore Ferragamo’ brand, which is owned by the Italian parent company.

An assessment had been issued to Ferragamo France in which the French tax authorities asserted that the French subsidiary had not been sufficiently remunerated for additional expenses and contributions to the value of the Ferragamo trademark. The French subsidiary had been remunerated on a gross margin basis, but had incurred losses in previous years and had indirect cost exceeding those of the selected comparable companies.

In 2017 the Administrative Court decided in favour of Ferragamo and dismissed the assessment issued by the tax authorities. According to the Court the tax administration had not demonstrated the existence of an advantage granted by Ferragamo France to the Italien parent, Salvatore Ferragamo SPA, nor the amount of this advantage. This decision was later upheld by the Administrative Court of Appeal.

An appel was then filed by the tax authorities with the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court (Conseil d’Etat) overturned the decision and remanded the case back to the Administrative Court of Appeal for further considerations.

In ruling that the administration did not establish the existence of an advantage granted to the Italian company on the grounds that the French company’s results for the financial years ending from 2010 to 2015 had been profitable without any change in the company’s transfer pricing policy, whereas it had noted that the exposure of additional charges of wages and rents in comparison with independent companies was intended to increase, in a strategic market in the luxury sector, the value of the Italian brand which did not yet have the same notoriety as its direct competitors, the administrative court of appeal erred in law. Moreover, although it emerged from the documents in the file submitted to the trial judges that the tax authorities had established the existence of a practice falling within the provisions of Article 57 of the General Tax Code, by showing that the remuneration granted by the Italian company was not sufficient to cover the additional expenses which contributed to the value of the Salvatore Ferragamo trade mark incurred by the French subsidiary and by arguing that the latter had been continuously loss-making since at least 1996 until 2009, the court distorted the facts and documents in the file. By dismissing, under these conditions, the existence of an indirect transfer of profits to be reintegrated into its taxable income when the company did not establish, by merely claiming a profitable situation between 2010 and 2015, that it had received a consideration for the advantage in question, the court incorrectly qualified the facts of the case.

Judgement of the Administrative Court of Appeal

The Administrative Court of Appeal issued a final decision in June 2022 in which the 2017 decision of the Paris Administrative Court was annulled and the tax assessment issued by the tax authorities reinstated.

“Firstly, Ferragamo France argued that the companies included in the above-mentioned panel were not comparable, since most of their activities were carried out in the provinces, whereas its activity was concentrated in international tourist areas, mainly in Paris, and their workforce was less than ten employees, whereas it employed 68 people, that they are mere distributors whereas it also manages a network of boutiques and concessions in department stores, and that some of them own their premises whereas it rents its premises for amounts much higher than the rents in the provinces, the relationship between external charges and turnover thus being irrelevant.

However, most of the comparables selected by the administration, which operate as multi-brand distributors in the luxury ready-to-wear sector, were proposed by Ferragamo France itself. Moreover, the company does not indicate the adjustments that should be made to the various ratios of salary and external costs used to obtain a result that it considers more satisfactory, even though it has been established that additional costs in the area of salaries and property constitute an advantage granted to Salvatore Ferragamo Spa. Furthermore, apart from the fact that it has not been established that some of the companies on the panel own their premises, Ferragamo France does not allege that excluding the companies in question from the calculation of the ratios would result in a reduction in the amount of the adjustments. Lastly, as regards the insufficient consideration of the management of a network of department stores’ boutiques and concessions, Ferragamo France does not provide any specific information in support of its allegations, whereas the comparison made by the administration is intended to assess the normality of the remuneration of its retail activity.”

It follows from all of the above that the Minister of the Economy, Finance and Recovery is entitled to argue that it was wrong for the Administrative Court of Paris, in the judgment under appeal, to discharge, in terms of duties and increases, the supplementary corporate tax assessment to which Ferragamo France was subject in respect of the financial year ended in 2010, of the withholding tax charged to it for 2009 and 2010 and of the supplementary minimum business tax and business value added contribution charged to it for 2009 and 2010 respectively. This judgment must therefore be annulled and the aforementioned taxes, in duties and increases, must be remitted to Ferragamo France.”

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France vs Ferragamo CAA de PARIS, 2ème chambre, 30_06_2022, 20PA03601

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