SA Compagnie Gervais Danone was the subject of an tax audit at the end of which the tax authorities questioned, among other things, the deduction of a compensation payment of 88 million Turkish lira (39,148,346 euros) granted to the Turkish company Danone Tikvesli, in which the french company holds a minority stake.
The tax authorities considered that the payment constituted an indirect transfer of profits abroad within the meaning of Article 57 of the General Tax Code and should be considered as distributed income within the meaning of Article 109(1) of the Code, subject to the withholding tax provided for in Article 119a of the Code, at the conventional rate of 15%.
SA Compagnie Gervais Danone brought the tax assessment to the administrative court.
In a decision of 9 July 2019 the Court discharged SA Compagnie Gervais Danone from the taxes in dispute. This decision was appealed to Administrative Court of Appeal by the tax authorities.
Judgement of the Court
The Administrative Court of Appeal decided in favor of the tax authorities and annulled the decision of the administrative court.
Excerpts from the Judgement
“Firstly, it appears from the investigation that SA Compagnie Gervais Danone entered in its accounts for the financial year ending in 2011 a subsidy recorded under the name “loss compensation Danone Tikvesli”, paid to its Turkish subsidiary facing financial difficulties characterised by a negative net position of almost 40 million euros as at 31 December 2010, a deficit situation incompatible with Turkish regulations. The deductibility of this aid was allowed, in proportion to the 22.58% stake held by SA Compagnie Gervais Danone in this company. In view of the relationship of dependence between the applicant company and its beneficiary subsidiary, it is for SA Compagnie Gervais Danone to justify the existence of the consideration it received in return. In order to justify its commercial interest in taking over the whole of the subsidy intended to compensate for its subsidiary’s losses, Compagnie Gervais Danone argues that it was imperative for it to remain present on the Turkish dairy products market, a strategically important market with strong development potential, in order to preserve the brand’s international reputation, and that it expected to receive royalties from its subsidiary in a context of strong growth. However, the 77.48% majority shareholder, Danone Hayat Icecek, a company incorporated under Turkish law and wholly owned by Holding Internationale de boisson, the bridgehead company of the Danone group’s ‘water’ division, had an equal financial interest in preserving the brand’s reputation, so that this reason does not justify the fact that the cost of refinancing Danone Tikvesli had to be borne exclusively by SA Compagnie Gervais Danone. Although the applicant company relies on the strategic importance of the Turkish dairy products market, having regard to Turkish eating habits, its population growth, the country’s GDP growth rate and its exports to the Middle East, the extracts from two press articles from 2011 and 2015 and the undated table of figures which it produces in support of that claim do not make it possible to take the alleged growth prospects as established. Moreover, these general considerations are contradicted, as the administration argues, by the results of the exploitation by Danone Tikvesli of its exclusive licence contract for the production and distribution of Groupe Danone branded dairy products, since it is common ground that SA Compagnie Gervais Danone, which had not received any royalties from its subsidiary since the acquisition of the latter in 1998, did not benefit from any financial spin-off from this licensing agreement until 2017, the royalties received since 2017, which in any case are subsequent to the years of taxation, being moreover, as the court noted, out of all proportion to the subsidy of more than 39 million euros paid in 2011. In these circumstances, the tax authorities must be considered as providing evidence that, as the expected consideration was not such as to justify the commercial interest of SA Compagnie Gervais Danone in granting this aid to Danone Tikvesli, this subsidy constituted, for the fraction exceeding its shareholding, an abnormal act of management constituting a transfer of profits abroad within the meaning of Article 57 of the General Tax Code.”
“It follows from the foregoing that the Minister for the Economy, Finance and Recovery is entitled to maintain that it was wrongly that, by the contested judgment, the Montreuil Administrative Court discharged SA Compagnie Gervais Danone from the taxes in dispute. It is therefore appropriate to annul the judgment and to make SA Gervais Danone liable for these taxes.”
France vs Danone June 2021 Case No 19ve03151