Germany vs “HQ Lender GmbH”, January 2022, Bundesfinanzhof, Case No IR 15/21

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“HQ Lender GmbH” is the sole shareholder and at the same time the controlling company of A GmbH. The latter held 99.98% of the shares in B N.V., a corporation with its seat in Belgium. The remaining shares in B N.V. were held by HQ Lender GmbH itself.

A GmbH maintained a clearing account for B N.V., which bore interest at 6% p.a. from 1 January 2004. No collateralisation was agreed in regards of the loan. In the year in dispute (2005), the interest rate on a working capital loan granted to the plaintiff by a bank was 3.14%.

On 30 September 2005, A GmbH and B N.V. concluded a contract on a debt waiver against a debtor warrant (… €). The amount corresponded to the worthless part of the claims against B N.V. from the clearing account in the opinion of the parties to the contract.

Although it was deducted from the balance sheet of A GmbH to reduce profits, the tax authorities neutralised the reduction in profits with regard to the lack of collateralisation of the claim in accordance with section 1 (1) of the German Income Tax Act (AStG) through an off-balance sheet addition.

An appeal was filed by HQ Lender GmbH.

Judgement of the BFH

The BFH allowed the appeal of HQ Lender GmbH and referred the case back to the FG Düsseldorf.

The FG has to determine whether there is a loan that can be recognized for tax purposes at all or whether this “clearing account” is more of an equity transfer by the shareholder.

The distinction between loans occasioned by business and contributions occasioned by the company relationship is to be made on the basis of the totality of the objective circumstances. Individual criteria of the arm’s length comparison are not to be accorded the quality of indispensable prerequisites of the facts.

The lack of collateral for a loan is one of the “conditions” within the meaning of § 1, para. 1 of the German Income Tax Act (AStG) which, when considered as a whole, can lead to the business relationship being unusual; the same applies to Article 9, para. 1 of the OECD Model Convention (here: Article 9 of the DTC-between Germany and Belgium 1967).

Whether an unsecured intercompany loan is in conformity with the arm’s length principle in the context of an overall consideration of all circumstances of the individual case depends on whether a third party would also have granted the loan under the same conditions – if necessary, taking into account possible risk compensation.

If an unsecured group loan would only have been granted at a higher interest rate than the one actually agreed, an income adjustment must be made primarily in the amount of this difference.

In the context of arm’s length determinations, the granting of unsecured loans by third parties to the group parent company is not suitable to replace the assessment of the loan granted to a (subsidiary) company on the basis of the standard of an arm’s length granting of a loan.

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