In February 2016 the Regional Tax Commission rejected an appeal filed by the Revenue Agency against the first instance judgment, which had upheld an appeal brought by Italian car manufacturer, Ferrari S.p.A. against a notice of assessment issued by the Revenue Agency in which the company was accused of having applied prices lower than the ‘normal value’ in transactions with its foreign subsidiaries, in particular with the US company Ferrari NA (North America).
In determining the arm’s length price of the relevant controlled transactions Ferrari had applied the CUP method. The Revenue Agency considered the TNMM to be the most appropriate method.
The Regional Tax Commission observed that “for verifying the “normal value”, the Revenue Agency itself, in Circular No. 32 of 22/09/1980, had suggested the use of the CUP method instead of the less reliable TNMM method “which is not advisable due to its considerable approximation and arbitrariness’ for which reason the Office’s objection must be considered inadmissible”. On that basis the Regional Tax Commission determined that the CUP method should be applied in the case.
Furthermore, the Regional Tax Commission found that the Revenue Agency had not discharged the burden of proof of tax avoidance attributed to the appellant company, for having charged prices to foreign subsidiaries that were lower than the normal value.
An appeal was filed by the Revenue Agency with the Supreme Court.
Judgement of the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court set aside the decision of the Regional Tax Commission and upheld the Revenue Agency’s adjustments to the taxable profits of Ferrari Spa.
According to the Court a transfer pricing adjustments does not require the Revenue Agency to prove the existence of tax avoidance, as stated by the Regional Tax Commission, but rather the mere existence of ‘transactions’ between related companies at a price apparently lower than the normal one. The taxpayer, by virtue of the principle of proximity of evidence, bears the burden of proving that such “transactions” took place in accordance with the arm’s length principle.
“8.5.2. In this, the contested decision ignored the fact that the development of the jurisprudence of this Court, already at the time of the issuance of the judgment rendered by the CTR, had abandoned the consideration of the nature of Article 110, paragraph 7, TUIR, as an anti-avoidance clause (see Cass. sez. 5, 18 September 2015, no. 18392; hereinafter see also Cass. sez. 5, 15 April 2016, no. 7493; Cass. sez. 5, 30 June 2016, no. 13387; Court of Cassation, section 5, 15 November 2017, no. 27018; Court of Cassation, section 5, 19 April 2018, no. 9673; most recently, while awaiting the publication of this decision, Court of Cassation, section 5, 17 May 2022, no. 15668), which leads to the further principle, affirmed by the case law of this Court, according to which “[i]n the matter of determining business income, the rules set forth in Article 110, paragraph 7, Presidential Decree no. 917 of 1986, aimed at taxing the income of a company, are not applicable to the taxable person. 917 of 1986, aimed at repressing the economic phenomenon of “transfer pricing”, i.e. the shifting of taxable income as a result of transactions between companies belonging to the same group and subject to different national laws, does not require the administration to prove the avoidance function, but only the existence of “transactions” between related companies at a price apparently lower than the normal price, while it is for the taxpayer, by virtue of the principle of proximity of proof under Article 2697 e.g. and on the subject of tax deductions, the burden of proving that such ‘transactions’ took place for market values to be considered normal within the meaning of Art. 9, paragraph 3, of the same decree, such being the prices of goods and services practiced in conditions of free competition, at the same stage of marketing, at the time and place where the goods and services were purchased or rendered and, failing that, at the nearest time and place and with reference, as far as possible, to price lists and rates in use, therefore not excluding the usability of other means of proof” (cf, more recently, Cass. sez. 5, orci. 19 May 2021, no. 13571 and already, in a conforming sense, Cass. sez. 5, 8 May 2013, no. 10742).
8.5.3. It should also be noted, in relation to the concluding passage of the grounds of the contested judgment, how the same Tax Administration had already specified in Circular No. 42/IIDD/1981 that the adequacy of a transfer pricing method must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
8.6. In conclusion, it should be recalled how the aforementioned Court of Cassation No. 15668/2022, with specific reference to the Transactional Net Margin Method or TNMM, in referring to Section B of Part III of Chapter II of the OECD Guidelines of 2010 which regulates it, as well as, similarly, the subsequent edition of 2017, had the opportunity to affirm the principle, which must be given further continuity herein, according to which “[i]n the matter of determining business income, the rules under Article 110, paragraph 7, of Presidential Decree No. 917 of 1986, aimed at determining the transfer price of a company, are not applicable to the transfer pricing method. 917 of 1986, aimed at repressing the economic phenomenon of “transfer pricing”, i.e., the shifting of taxable income following transactions between companies belonging to the same group and subject to different national regulations, requires the determination of the weighted transfer prices for similar transactions carried out by companies competing on the market, for which purpose it is possible to use the method developed by the OECD that is based on the determination of the net margin of the transaction (so-called “TNM”), which is the basis for the determination of the net margin of the transaction. “TNMM”), provided that the period of investigation is selected, the comparable companies are identified, the appropriate accounting adjustments are made to the financial statements of the tested party, due account is taken of the differences between the tested party and the comparable companies in terms of risks assumed or functions performed, and a reliable indicator of the level of profitability is assumed”.
These are, in all evidence, factual findings that were totally omitted by the CTR in identifying the most appropriate transfer pricing method in this case.””