In view of its purpose and the comments made on Article 12 of the OECD Model Convention, the Conseil d’État found that Article 12(2) of the Franco-New Zealand tax treaty was applicable to French source royalties whose beneficial owner resided in New Zealand, even if the royalties had been paid to an intermediary company established in a third country.
The Supreme Court thus set aside the previous 2020 Judgement of the Administrative Court of Appeal.
The question of whether the company in New Zealand actually qualified as the beneficial owner of the royalties for the years in question was referred to the Court of Appeal.
“1. It is clear from the documents in the file submitted to the judges of the court of first instance that the company Planet, which carries on the business of distributing sports programmes to fitness clubs, was subject to reminders of withholding tax in respect of sums described as royalties paid to the companies Les Mills Belgium SPRL and Les Mills Euromed Limited, established in Belgium and Malta respectively, in respect of the financial years 2011 to 2014 in consideration of the sub-distribution of collective fitness programmes developed by the company Les Mills International LTD, established in New Zealand. The Planet company is appealing to the Court of Cassation against the judgment of 15 July 2020 by which the Marseille Administrative Court of Appeal, on appeal by the Minister for Public Action and Accounts, annulled the judgment of 18 May 2018 of the Marseille Administrative Court insofar as it had discharged it from these reminders and reinstated these taxes.
2. If a bilateral agreement concluded with a view to avoiding double taxation can, by virtue of Article 55 of the Constitution, lead to the setting aside, on such and such a point, of national tax law, it cannot, by itself, directly serve as a legal basis for a decision relating to taxation. Consequently, it is up to the tax judge, when he is seized of a challenge relating to such a convention, to look first at the national tax law in order to determine whether, on this basis, the challenged taxation has been validly established and, if so, on the basis of what qualification. It is then up to the court, if necessary, by comparing this classification with the provisions of the convention, to determine – on the basis of the arguments put forward before it or even, if it is a question of determining the scope of the law, of its own motion – whether or not this convention is an obstacle to the application of the tax law.
3. Under Article 12 of the Convention of 30 November 1979 between France and New Zealand for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income: “1. Royalties arising in a State and paid to a resident of the other State may be taxed in that other State / 2. However, such royalties may also be taxed in the State in which they arise and according to the laws of that State, but if the person receiving the royalties is the beneficial owner the tax so charged shall not exceed 10 per cent of the gross amount of the royalties / 3. The term “royalties” as used in this Article means payments of any kind received as a consideration for the use of, or the right to use, any copyright of literary, artistic or scientific work, including cinematograph films and works recorded for radio or television broadcasting, any patent a trademark, a design or model, a secret plan, formula or process, as well as for the use of or the right to use industrial, commercial or scientific equipment and for information concerning industrial, commercial or scientific experience. In view of their purpose, and as clarified by the comments of the Tax Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on Article 12 of the Model Convention drawn up by that organisation, published on 11 April 1977, and as is also clear from the same comments published on 23 October 1997, 28 January 2003 and 15 July 2014 and most recently on 21 November 2017, the provisions of Article 12(2) of the Franco-New Zealand tax treaty are applicable to French source royalties whose beneficial owner resides in New Zealand, even if they have been paid to an intermediary established in a third country.
4. It is clear from the statements in the judgment under appeal that, in order to determine whether the sums in question constituted royalties, the court examined the classification of the sums paid by the company Planet to the Belgian company Les Mills Belgium SPRL in 2011 and to the Maltese company Les Mills Euromed Limited from 2012 to 2014, in the light of the stipulations of the Franco-New Zealand tax convention of 30 November 1979 alone. In limiting itself, in holding that this agreement was applicable to the dispute, to noting that the tax authorities maintained that the New Zealand company Les Mills International LTD should, pursuant to an agency agreement signed on 2 December 1998 between that company and the company Planet, be regarded as the actual beneficiary of the sums in dispute paid by the French company to the Belgian and Maltese companies, without itself ruling on its status as the actual beneficiary of the said sums for the four years in dispute, the court erred in law.”
Click here for English translation
Click here for other translationFrance vs Planet - Conseil d'État, 20_05_2022, 444451
1 comment on France vs Société Planet, May 2022, Conseil d’État, Case No 444451
Some more facts. French company had agency agreement with its parent in New Zealand. Later on it entered into sub-distribution agreements with group companies in Belgium and Malta and paid royalties to these intermediate companies which were collected from customers.
Tax authorities held that beneficial owner of royalties was parent company in New Zealand and withholding tax of 10% applies. Rate was 10% in treaty with Malta hence no incremental tax. However, the benefit of no withholding tax with Belgium was denied.
I am unable to understand when the Supreme Court decided in favour of tax administration then why cost was awarded to the tax administration.