SAS Blue Solutions manufactures electric batteries and accumulators for electric and hybrid vehicles and car-sharing systems. In FY 2012-2014 it granted a related party – Blue Solutions Canada – non-interest-bearing current account advances of EUR 42.9 million, EUR 43 million, and EUR 39 million.
The French tax authorities considered that the failure to charge the interest on these advances was an indirect transfer of profit subject to withholding taxes and reintegrated the interest into the taxable income of Blue Solutions in France.
Not satisfied with the resulting assessment an appeal was filed where SAS Blue Solutions. The company argued that the loans was granted interest free due to industrial and technological dependence on its Canadian subsidiary and that the distribution of profits was not hidden. Finally it argued that the treatment of the transactions in question was contrary to the freedom of movement of capital guaranteed by Article 63 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
Judgement of the Court
The court dismissed the appeal of SAS Blue Solutions and upheld the assessment issued by tax authorities.
“7. The applicant company maintains that it was in a situation of industrial and technological dependence on its Canadian subsidiary, its sole supplier of LMP (lithium metal polymer) batteries, without which it would not have been able to meet its own contractual commitments to its main customers. However, it has not been established, as the Minister maintains, that Blue Solutions was unable to obtain supplies from other companies and that its Canadian subsidiary held patents relating to the type of batteries marketed. Nor is it established that the Canadian company was not in a position to remunerate the advances granted, although it is not disputed that it paid interest in return for the advances granted by its former shareholder, SA Bolloré, before the tax years in dispute, a period during which its situation was even less favourable, and that it is clear from the opinion of the National Commission on Direct Taxes and Turnover Taxes that its turnover had been growing since 2011. Furthermore, SAS Blue Solutions was in a more fragile situation than its Canadian subsidiary, which was exacerbated by the waiver of interest on the advances granted to its subsidiary. Under these conditions, it did not establish that the advantages it had granted were justified by obtaining the necessary consideration. The administration was therefore justified in reintegrating the interest that should have paid for these advances into Blue Solutions’ taxable income in France.”
“8. Finally, even though the waiver of interest was expressly stipulated by the parties in the current account advance agreement, it does not follow from the investigation that this benefit was recorded by Blue Solution in the accounts in a manner that made it possible to identify the purpose of the expenditure and its beneficiary, nor that this recording in itself reveals the liberality in question. This advantage was therefore of a hidden nature within the meaning of c. of Article 111 of the General Tax Code.
9. Thus, the administration was able to consider that the absence of invoicing of this interest constituted an indirect transfer of profits abroad within the meaning of the aforementioned provisions of Article 57 of the General Tax Code and that the interest that should have been paid fell into the category of hidden remuneration and benefits within the meaning of c. of Article 111 of the General Tax Code, which were liable to be subject to the withholding tax referred to in 2 of Article 119 bis of the same code.”
“13. However, in the present case, the remuneration and benefits are subject to withholding tax in accordance with Article 111(c) of the General Tax Code, corresponding to the interest that should have been paid by Blue Solutions Canada in respect of the advances granted by Blue Solutions. The income of the non-resident company thus taxed in France does not correspond to that of an investment made in that country by the taxpayer in the context of the exercise of the freedom of movement of capital. The applicant company cannot therefore usefully argue that the legislative provisions applied to it in its capacity as debtor of the withholding tax levied on the income deemed to have been distributed to its subsidiary are contrary to the aforementioned provisions of Article 63(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union since they cannot be regarded, in this case, as being such as to dissuade non-residents from making investments in a Member State or to dissuade residents of that Member State from making such investments in other States.”
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