A non-interest-bearing loan had been granted by GI Group S.p.A., to a related company – Goldfinger Limited – in Hong Kong, in order to acquire a 56% shareholding in the Chinese company Ningbo Gi Human Resources Co. Limited.
The Italien tax authorities had issued an assessment, where an interest rate on the loan had been determined and an amount equal to the interest calculated on that basis had been added to the taxable income of GI Group S.p.A.
GI Group brought this assessment to the Regional Tax Commission where a decision was rendered setting aside the assessment. This decision was appealed to the Supreme Court by the tax authorities.
Judgement of the Supreme Court
The Supreme court upheld the appeal of the tax authorities and referred the case back to the Regional Tax Commission. According to the Supreme Court, the decision of the Tax Commission dit not comply with the principles of law concerning the subject matter of evidence and the burden of proof on tax authorities and the taxpayer.
“…In conclusion, according to the Court, “such discipline, being 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 one”
“according to the application practice of the Italian Revenue Agency (Circular No. 6/E of 30 March 2016 on leveraged buy-outs), the reclassification of debt (or part of it) as a capital contribution should represent an “exceptional measure”. Moreover, it is not excluded that free intra-group financing may have a place in the legal system where it can be demonstrated that the deviation from the arm’s length principle is due to “commercial reasons” within the group, related to the role that the parent company assumes in supporting the other companies of the group; “
“…the Regional Commission did not comply with the (aforementioned) principles of law concerning the subject-matter of the evidence and the criterion for sharing the burden of proof, between the tax authorities and the taxpayer, on the subject of international transfer pricing. In essence, the examination of the trial judge had to be oriented along two lines:
first, it had to verify whether or not the tax office had provided the evidence, to which it was entitled, that the Italian parent company had carried out a financing transaction in favour of the foreign subsidiary, as a legitimate condition for the recovery of the taxation of the interest income on the loan, on the basis of the market rate observable in relation to loans with sufficiently “comparable” characteristics and provided to entities with the same credit rating as the associated debtor company (see the OECD Report 2020), the determination of which is quaestio facti referred to the judge of merit;
secondly, once this preliminary profile had been established, also on the basis of the principle of non-contestation, it had to be verified whether, for its part, the company had demonstrated that the non-interest-bearing loan was due to commercial reasons within the group, or in any event was consistent with normal market conditions or whether, on the contrary, it appeared that that type of transaction (i.e. the loan of money) between independent companies operating in the free market would have taken place under different conditions.
Instead, as stated above (see p. 2 of the “Findings”), the C.T.R. required the Office to demonstrate facts and circumstances extraneous to the onus pro bandi of the Administration, such as the existence of an interest of Goldfinger Ltd in obtaining and remunerating the loan and, again, that there had been other similar onerous intra-group loans;