Netherlands vs “Fertilizer BV”, April 2022, Court of Appeal, Case No. ECLI:NL:GHSHE:2022:1198

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In 2016 Fertilizer BV had been issued a tax assessment for FY 2012 in which the tax authorities had imposed additional taxable income of €133,076,615.

In November 2019 the district court ruled predominantly in favor of the tax authorities but reduced the adjustment to €78.294.312.

An appel was filed by Fertilizer BV with the Court of Appeal.

Judgement of the Court of Appeal

Various issues related to the assessment was disputed before the Court.

Dispute 1: Allocation of debt and equity capital to a permanent establishment in Libya in connection with the application of the object exemption. More specifically, the dispute is whether the creditworthiness of the head office was correctly taken as a starting point and a sufficient adjustment was made for the increased risk profile of the permanent establishment. The Court of Appeal answered this question in the affirmative, referring to the capital allocation approach that is regarded as the preferred method for the application of Article 7 of the OECD Model Convention.

Dispute 2: Should all claims and liabilities denominated in dollars be valued in conjunction? The mere fact that claims and debts are denominated in the same currency is insufficient to conclude that there is cohesion. The court takes into account the nature of the contracts in the light of the risks present and whether hedging of risks is intended. The Court shall make a separate assessment for each risk to be identified. The Court values the forward exchange contracts USD 200,000,000 and USD 225,000,000 in connection with USD debt I and USD debt II, and the claim of [N SA] in connection with the forward exchange contract USD 60,000,000.

Dispute 3: Was the profit of a subsidiary of interested party, [E BV], (deliberately) set too high? Interested party wants to deviate from its own tax return and internal transfer pricing documentation and refers to a report prepared by [W]. The Court of Appeal places the burden of proof on the interested party. In the opinion of the Court of Appeal, it does not follow from the aforementioned report that there is no trade at arm’s length within the group. The Court of Appeal also pointed to the global character of the report, which means that it is not a transfer pricing report. Furthermore, it has not become plausible that the companies with which [E BV] is compared in the report are sufficiently comparable. The interested party has not made it plausible that the profit has been set at a prohibitively high level.

Dispute 4: Did the tax inspector rightly make an adjustment of € 42,843,146 in connection with the Supply Agreement concluded between [E BV] and an affiliated company of the interested party and [E BV], [J Ltd]? The Supply Agreement states that [J Ltd] is obliged to purchase the surplus produced by [E BV] with a new factory at cost price plus a mark-up of 5%. For the remaining goods, transfer prices are used which are based on the [concern Transfer Pricing Master File]. The Court of Appeal placed the burden of proof that the transfer price applied to the surplus was at arm’s length on the interested party. In the opinion of the Court of Appeal, the interested party has not provided this evidence. The Court of Appeal ignored the Supply Agreement. This agreement does not reflect the economic reality, since [E BV] is also a ‘fully fledged’ producer with regard to the surplus. The Court of Appeal derives this from the transfer price documentation and the fact that after the conclusion of the Supply Agreement, the functions performed, the investments made and the capital utilisation have (practically) not changed. The transfer price report from [Y] submitted by the interested party does not lead to a different opinion. There is no breach of the principle of equality since the interested party does not substantiate, or substantiates in too general a manner, that its case is comparable to the Starbucks, Nike and Apple cases and the other examples mentioned by it. The fact that the [group] also concluded agreements with third parties that are (somewhat) similar to the Supply Agreement does not lead to a different opinion either. It cannot be determined whether the functions performed, risks run and assets used by these third parties are comparable to the functions performed, risks run and assets used by [E BV].

Finally, the Court of Appeal ruled that the taxation of a possible profit transfer should not be taken in 2011, the year in which the Supply Agreement was agreed upon, but from month to month (year to year) in which the non-business conduct took place.

In all, the Judgement of the Court of Appeal resulted in the additional taxable income of Fertilizer BV being reduced to € 65.609.318.

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