Panama vs “Construction S.A.”, December 2021, Administrative Tax Court, Case No TAT- RF-111 (112/2019)

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“Construction Service S.A.” is active in Design, Repair and Construction of buildings. During the FY 2011-2013 it paid for services – management services and construction services – rendered from related parties.

Following an audit the tax authorities issued an assessment where payments for these services had been adjusted by reference to the arm’s length principle.
According to the authorities the benchmark studies in the company’s transfer pricing documentation suffered from comparability defects and moreover it had not been sufficiently demonstrated that the services had been effectively provided.

The tax authorities pointed out that since the company is not considered comparable to the taxpayer, the interquartile range would be from 5.15% to 8.30% with a median of 5.70%; therefore, the taxpayer’s operating margin of 4.07% is outside the interquartile range.

Not satisfied with the adjustment “Construction Service S.A.” filed an appeal with the Tax Court

Judgement of the Tax Court

The court ruled in favour of “construction S.A” and revoked the decision of the tax authorities.

Excerpts

“Without prejudice to the foregoing, we must clarify that the adjustments to the financial information must use, precisely, the financial information, which leads us to disagree with the decision of the taxpayer’s expert to use the information from the income tax return for the calculation of the operating margin, knowing that there are quantitative and qualitative differences with respect to the financial information (page 565 of the Court’s file), and even with the information contained in the transfer pricing studies, which makes his answers to questions 1 and 2 less reliable, since the information used to determine the interquartile range is based on financial information (not tax information) of the comparables.”

“In this regard, this Court considers that although the OECD Transfer Pricing Guidelines indicate in the section entitled “Multi-year data” of the Comparability Analysis Section, in paragraphs 3.75 to 3. 79, the possibility of using data relating to several years for the profitability analysis or multi-year data, the Tax Administration, used information from 2010 to 2012 of comparable companies since the appellant itself indicated in the 2012 Transfer Pricing Study, the total transactions carried out with its related parties abroad, taking into account that it was in this period, in which the transactions were carried out, according to the global financial information of the audited Financial Statements as of 31 December 2012 by , therefore the operating margin that should be adjusted to the median of free competition, the costs of the operations with related parties of ———— to the year 2012, but we agree with the Tax Administration that the additional liquidation for the Income Tax is the one declared for the fiscal period 2013, since it was in that period due to the opted method where the total gross income, costs and expenses were allocated, which includes as already mentioned the adjustment of the operating margin (See fs. 221 to 244 of Volume 1 of the DGI’s file).
Therefore, it is not possible for the taxpayer, at this stage, to point out that the Tax Administration should have used the information from the periods of the companies selected as comparable, in accordance with the Transfer Pricing guidelines, taking into consideration the income tax return for the 2013 tax period, which includes the 3 years of operations of the work, i.e. from 2011 to 2013 (instead of 2010-2012), and which yields a profitability indicator or operating margin according to ————, (even though the company ——————– has been rejected, and maintaining those that the DGI did accept), of 4. 58%, a median of 4.67% and 7.85%, which, in its opinion, would place it within the range of compliance with the arm’s length principle.
Similarly, we consider it important to point out that in the same way that the taxpayer cannot claim to use its aggregated financial information, ignoring the analysis made in its transfer pricing report submitted in the 2012 period, neither is it correct for the tax authorities to make an adjustment to the taxpayer’s segmented financial information (2012), and use, for the purposes of the additional assessment, the taxpayer’s accumulated income tax return, corresponding to the entire project.
It is essential that any adjustment to the taxpayer’s financial/tax information is made in a congruent manner, i.e. taking into account the accumulated activity and not in a partial manner.”

“preceding paragraphs and on the OECD’s guidelines in points 1.42, 1.52, 1.53, 1.55, 1.57 and 1.59 of Chapter I, which deals with the Arm’s Length Principle of the Transfer Pricing Guidelines.”

“In this sense, this Court has stated in Resolution n.° TAT-RF-002 of 10 January 2020, regarding the possible manipulation of comparables known by the Anglo-Saxon expression “cherry picking”, in the following terms:
“just as the criteria for discarding must be applied uniformly by the taxpayer, they must also be applied uniformly by the Tax Administration, regardless of whether the results of the analysis are in favour of or against the Treasury (The three companies challenged by the Tax Administration were those that presented the lowest operating margins: 1. 00%; -0.03% and -23.64% respectively), concluding that “it is incongruous to object to comparables that are in similar circumstances with others that have been accepted, i.e. that have a reasonable level of comparability with the examined party”.”

“By virtue of the allegations made by both parties, we consider from the procedural evidence in the file that the process followed to identify potential comparables by both parties has been systematic and verifiable; however, we agree with the taxpayer that the companies selected by them are comparable with ————, and comply with the Principle of Full Competition, therefore, they should be taken into account within the interquartile range, since we consider that the elements of the comparability analysis, indicated by the DGI, are not compromised.
In view of the above, as we do not agree with the objection made to this comparable company by the Tax Administration, and as the taxpayer is within the range of full competence, this Court must revoke Resolution no. 201-3306 of 27 February 2015, and its confirmatory act Resolution no. 201-1278 of 16 April 2019, both issued by the Directorate General of Revenue.”

 

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Exp. 112-2019

TP-Guidelines

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