South Africa vs Sasol, 30 June 2017, Tax Court, Case No. TC-2017-06 – TCIT 13065

The taxpayer is registered and incorporated in the Republic of South Africa and carries on business in the petrochemical industry. It has some of its subsidiaries in foreign jurisdictions. Business activities include the importation and refinement of crude oil.

This matter concerns the analysis of supply agreements entered into between the XYZ Corp and some of its foreign subsidiaries. It thus brings to fore, inter alia the application of the South African developing fiscal legal principles, namely, residence based taxation, section 9D of the Income Tax Act 58 of 1962 and other established principles of tax law, such as anti-tax avoidance provisions and substance over form. Tax avoidance is the use of legal methods to modify taxpayer’s financial situation to reduce the amount of tax that is payable

SARS’s ground of assessment is that the XYZ Group structure constituted a transaction, operation or scheme as contemplated in section 103(1) of the Act. The structure had the effect of avoiding liability for the payment of tax imposed under the Act.

The case is based on the principle of substance over form, in which event the provisions of section 9D will be applicable. Alternatively the respondent’s case is based on the application of section 103 of the Act.

XYZ Group denies that the substance of the relevant agreements differed from their form. It contends that both in form and substance the relevant amounts were received by or accrued to XYZIL from sale of crude oil by XYZIL to SISIL.

XYZ Group states that in order to treat a transaction as simulated or a sham, it is necessary to find that there was dishonesty. The parties did not intend the transaction to have effect in accordance with its terms but intended to disguise the transaction. The transaction should be intended to deceive by concealing what the real agreement or transaction between the parties is.

Substance over form:
If the transaction is genuine then it is not simulated, and if it is simulated then it is a dishonest transaction, whatever the motives of those who concluded the transaction. The true position is that „the court examines the transaction as a whole, including all surrounding circumstances, any unusual features of the transaction and the manner in which the parties intend to implement it, before determining in any particular case whether a transaction is simulated. Among those features will be the income tax consequences of the transaction. Tax evasion is of course impermissible and therefore, if a transaction is simulated, it may amount to tax evasion. But there is nothing impermissible about arranging one’s affairs XYZ as to minimise one’s tax liability, in other words, in tax avoidance. If the revenue authorities regard any particular form of tax avoidance as undesirable they arefree to amend the Act, as occurs annually, to close anything they regard as a loophole. That is what occurred when s 8C was introduced. Once that is appreciated the argument based on simulation must fail. For it to succeed, it required the participants in the scheme to have intended, when exercising their options to enter into agreements of purchase and sale of shares, to do XYZ on terms other than those set out in the scheme.

Before a transaction is in fraudem legis in the above sense, it must be satisfied that there is some unexpressed agreement or tacit understanding between the parties.

The Court rules as follows:

The question is whether the substance of the relevant agreements differs from form. The interposition of XIXL and the separate reading of “back-to-back” agreements take XIXL out of the equation.

Regrettably no matter how the appellant’s witnesses try to dress the contracts and their implementation, the surrounding circumstances; implementation of the uncharacteristic features of the transaction point to none other than disguised contracts. The court can only read one thing not expressed as it is; tax avoidance. Based on the evidence the court concludes that the purpose of relevant supply agreements was to avoid the anticipated tax which would accrue to XYZIL, a CFC if it sold the crude oil directly to XYZ.

The court has concluded that the whole scheme and or the implementation of supply agreements is a sham. The court, therefore cannot consider the facsimile argument in isolation to support the averment that the contracts were concluded in IOM. Furthermore there is nothing before court to the effect that XYZIL has an FBE with a truly active business with connections to South Africa being used for bona fide non- tax business purposes. There is not even a shred of evidence alluding to the existence of an FBE.

Section 76 (2) empowers SARS with a discretion to remit a portion or all of the additional tax assessment in terms of section 76 (1). Additional tax prescribed in Section 76(1) is 200% of the relevant tax amount.

The appeal is dismissed.

The assessments by the South African Revenue Services for 2005, 2006 and 2007 tax years as well as interest and penalties, are confirmed.

LAPD-DRJ-TC-2017-06 - TCIT 13065 JHB 30 June 2017

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