S.C. A. had paid for intra group services in FY 2013 and 2014 and deducted the costs for tax purposes. The purchases of services were made on the basis of a management services contract concluded with related party C. S.A. and a production service contract, logistics service contract, product management service contract and service contract concluded with related party B.
The tax authorities had issued an assessment where deductions for the costs had been denied.
The court of first instance set aside the tax assessment.
Judgement of Supreme Administrative Court
The Supreme Administrative Court upheld the decision from the court of first instance and decided in favor of S.C. A.
“As regards the necessity of providing the services
The High Court finds that the expert held, with regard to that aspect, that by the contracts concluded, C. S.A. and B. undertook to carry out for the applicant multiple and complex activities requiring the allocation of a large amount of time and human resources, the strategic decisions concerning the development of the product range, the most appropriate technology to be used, the identification of sources of financing for the acquisition of that technology, the quantities to be manufactured, the market segment to which they were addressed, the innovation part, the software part, being taken by the members of the management on the basis of the services provided by the business partners C. S.A. and B..
The expert stated that A. produced the product range developed by the product managers of C. S.A. in the quantities and at the request of the customers identified through the services provided by B. respectively C. SAU, using the manufacturing technology identified by B. for the plaintiff without any overlap between the services provided by B. respectively C. SAU with those provided by other suppliers or by the company’s own staff.
The High Court finds that the manner in which the first instance assessed the evidence cannot be criticised in the context of the ground for annulment in Article 488(8) of the EC Treaty. (The appellants have not proved the existence of a misapplication of the law by the first instance when the expert evidence was administered or when its conclusions were assessed.
On the other hand, the tax authority takes a contradictory position: it held as grounds for refusing the deductibility of expenses both the lack of proof of actual provision and the lack of proof of the necessity of the services; however, in the appeal, it is stated that the tax inspection authorities did not mention in the contested act that the intra-group management/consultancy services are not necessary for the activity which the company S.C. A. carries out, and as proof, of the total intra-group services of 64,781. 915 RON, recorded by the company in the period 2009-2014, the tax inspection bodies granted the right to deduct expenses in the total amount of 44,725,484 RON related to intra-group services of the nature specified by the company, which the company justified with documents, and did not grant the right to deduct expenses in the total amount of 20,056,431 RON related to intra-group services for which the company did not submit supporting documents showing that they were performed for the benefit of the contested company.
The tax authority also certainly imputed to the applicant the lack of necessity of those services, but in the light of the analysis carried out by the tax authority, the first instance correctly rejected that criticism.
With regard to the provisions of the OECD Guidelines (OECD Transfer Pricing Guidelines), the tax inspection authorities state in the Transfer Pricing File that the audited company does not demonstrate that “the transactions relating to management services and consultancy services have a real economic justification and that they would have been decided on the same conditions as between independent enterprises, within the framework of free competition”.
It was argued that the cost-plus method is not appropriate for assessing compliance with the market value principle in the case of the provision of management services between B. and A., on the one hand, and in the case of the provision of consultancy services between C. and A., on the other, because the comparability of gross margins depends on the similarity of the functions performed, the risks assumed and the contractual terms, and the application of the net margin method is the most appropriate for assessing compliance with the market value principle of the costs incurred by A. in the purchase of management and consultancy services. However, no additional information was requested from S.C. A. on this point because, following the tax inspection, it was found that the audited company did not submit supporting documents showing that management, consultancy, assistance, production management, product management and logistics services in the amount of RON 20,056,430.90 were performed.
The High Court finds that, according to the expert’s report, the price paid by the Company to the affiliates for the purchased services met the conditions to be considered within the market price range, in accordance with the transfer pricing legislation. Furthermore, in view of the provisions of paragraph 2.39 of Chapter II, lit. D).1 of the OECD Guidelines, which states that the cost plus method is probably most useful when semi-finished products are traded between affiliated companies, when affiliated companies have entered into joint arrangements for certain facilities or long-term sale and purchase agreements or when the transaction consists of the provision of services, the tax expert considered that the use of the cost plus method in respect of management services was justified.
He also pointed out that the legislation does not stipulate a minimum percentage for the mark-up to be applied, but only that it exists, so that invoicing at cost plus a 10% mark-up is justified. As the respondent-claimant rightly pointed out, the cost-plus method was selected only in respect of management services, and the method of pricing for consultancy services was cost-plus billing with a 10% profit margin. Thus, in relation to consultancy services an additional analysis was necessary from the perspective of compliance with the market price principle of a 10 % profit margin.
With regard to paragraph 41(a) of General Order No 44/2004, the Court of First Instance correctly held that that legal provision did not apply in the present case, since the legal basis for the provision of the services in question was not the specific relationship between the group, but the individual contractual relationship represented by the contract for the provision of services itself, which is subject to tax analysis, and which includes technical and specific tasks, and, on the other hand, according to the transfer pricing file, the price for the services purchased is justified.
In conclusion, with the correct application of the law, the first instance held that the services contracted with the members of the group were in fact provided, were necessary for the carrying out of the applicant company’s activity and did not fall within the express and limitative exclusions provided for in Article 21(1)(b) of the VAT Directive. (4) letter m) of the Tax Code.
For those expenses incurred by the applicant in connection with the contracts concluded with B. respectively C. OR contracts were concluded, the applicant has justified the necessity of their provision for the purpose of its own business and has provided evidence that the services contracted with the members of the group were in fact provided, given that the law does not impose restrictions of form or content on the means of proof in respect of the contracts referred to in Article 21(1)(b). (4) letter m) of the Tax Code.”