In this case the Italien company, T. S.r.l. is entirely controlled by H. S.A., registered in Switzerland, and is part of the American multinational group T., being its only branch in Italy for the exclusive marketing of its software products (games for personal computers, play station, etc.).
T. S.r.l. imports these products through T. Ltd (which is also part of the same multinational group and controlled by the same parent company), which is registered in the United Kingdom and is the sole supplier of the products that are marketed by the Italian branch.
On 31st October 2004 (the last day of the financial year), T. S.r.l. posted an invoice that the British company T. Ltd had issued on that date for £ 947,456.
This accounts document referred to “Price adjustment to product sold during FY 2003/2004”, and charges the Italian company with adjustment increases to previously applied prices relative to certain software products the company had purchased during the aforesaid financial year.
The Inland Revenue challenged the operation claiming it was evasive, and addressed to reducing the taxable profit of the Italian company by the abusive use of transfer pricing. To back up these claims the Inland Revenue emphasised that:
• the operation was carried out on the last day of the financial year;
• it involved posting an invoice for the adjustment increases to previously applied prices by the English supplier company;
• the prices differ from the average purchase price for the same products by T. S.r.l..
The Supreme Court established that:
“(…)the application of transfer pricing regulations does not fight the concealment of the price, which is a form of evasion, but the manoeuvres that affect an evident price, allowing the surreptitious transfer of profits from one country to another, which has a tangible effect on the applicable tax regime. Therefore, given these essential requirements it must be considered that this regulation constitutes – according to the more widespread interpretation in case law in this court – an anti-avoidance provision (…)”.
The infringement of an anti-avoidance provision means that the burden of proof for recourse to this premise of fact, in principle is the responsibility of the Inland Revenue office that intends carrying out the controls. Therefore, the Supreme Court felt that:
“(…) when determining company income, or rather, the problem of sharing the intra-group costs, the question of pertinence must be considered as well as the existence of the declared costs further to charging for a service or asset transfer to the subsidiary from the holding, or another company that is controlled by the same company (…). The burden for demonstrating the existence and pertinence of these negative income items, and, as in the case in question, it concerns costs derived from services or assets loaned or transferred by a foreign holding to an Italian subsidiary, each element that enables the inland revenue to verify the arm’s length value of the relative costs – further to the so-called principle of sphere of influence– can only be the responsibility of the taxpayer”.
Transfer pricing legislation is included among the anti-avoidance dispositions, as it is addressed to fight the transfer of income from one country to another by “manipulating” the intra-group costs. Consequently, the burden of proof that there are the premises of fact of evasion lies, mainly, with the Inland Revenue, which should prove the grounds for the adjustment, or the deviation from the applied cost with respect to the arm’s length value.
However, as the sharing of intra-group costs also involves the matter of whether the costs exist and are pertinent, the burden of proof of the costs to the company’s business lies with the taxpayer according to the Supreme Court.
The Italien Supreme Court have drawn a distinction between cases regarding income and cases regarding expenses. In cases regarding income the burden of proof lies with the tax authorities. In cases regarding costs, the burden of proof lies with the taxpayer.