France vs IKEA, February 2022, CAA of Versailles, No 19VE03571

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Ikea France (SNC MIF) had concluded a franchise agreement with Inter Ikea Systems BV (IIS BV) in the Netherlands by virtue of which it benefited, in particular, as a franchisee, from the right to operate the ‘Ikea Retail System’ (the Ikea concept), the ‘Ikea Food System’ (food sales) and the ‘Ikea Proprietary Rights’ (the Ikea trade mark) in its shops. In return, Ikea France paid Inter Ikea Systems BV a franchise fee equal to 3% of the amount of net sales made in France, which amounted to EUR 68,276,633 and EUR 72,415,329 for FY 2010 and 2011.

These royalties were subject to the withholding tax provided for in the provisions of Article 182 B of the French General Tax Code, but under the terms of Article 12 of the Convention between France and the Netherlands: “1. Royalties arising in one of the States and paid to a resident of the other State shall be taxable only in that other State”, the term “royalties” meaning, according to point 2. of this Article 12, “remuneration of any kind paid for the use of, or the right to use, (…) a trade mark (…)”. As the franchise fees paid by Ikea France to Inter Ikea Systems BV were taxable in the Netherlands, Ikea France was not obligated to pay withholding taxes provided for by the provisions of Article 182 B of the General Tax Code.

However, the tax authorities held that the arrangement set up by the IKEA group constituted abuse of law and furthermore that Inter Ikea Systems BV was not the actual beneficiary of the franchise fees paid by Ikea France. On that basis, an assessment for the fiscal years 2010 and 2011 was issued according to which Ikea France was to pay additional withholding taxes and late payment interest in an amount of EUR 95 mill.

The court of first instance decided in favor of Ikea and the tax authorities then filed an appeal with the CAA of Versailles.

Judgement of the CAA of Versailles

The Court of appeal upheld the decision of the court of first instance and decided in favor of IKEA.

Excerpt

“It follows from the foregoing that the Minister, who does not establish that the franchise agreement concluded between SNC MIF and the company IIS BV corresponds to an artificial arrangement with the sole aim of evading the withholding tax, by seeking the benefit of the literal application of the provisions of the Franco-Dutch tax convention, is not entitled to maintain that the administration could implement the procedure for abuse of tax law provided for in Article L. 64 of the tax procedure book and subject to the withholding tax provided for in Article 182 B of the general tax code the royalties paid by SNC MIF by considering them as having directly benefited the Interogo foundation.

On the inapplicability alleged by the Minister of the stipulations of Article 12 of the tax convention without any reference to an abusive arrangement:

If the Minister maintains that, independently of the abuse of rights procedure, the provisions of Article 12 of the tax treaty are not applicable, it does not follow from the investigation, for the reasons set out above, that IIS BV is not the actual beneficiary of the 70% franchise fees paid by SAS MIF.

It follows from all of the above that the Minister is not entitled to argue that it was wrongly that, by the contested judgment, the Versailles Administrative Court granted SAS MIF the restitution of an amount of EUR 95,912,185 corresponding to the withholding taxes payable by it, in duties, increases and late payment interest, in respect of the financial years ended in 2010 and 2011. Consequently, without there being any need to examine its subsidiary conclusions regarding increases, its request must be rejected.”

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France vs Ikea, CAA de VERSAILLES, 1ère chambre, 08_02_2022, 19VE03571

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