ICL ESPAÑA, S.A., ICL Packaging Coatings, S.A., were members of the Tax Consolidation Group and obtained extraordinary profits in the financial years 2000, 2001 and 2002. (AKZO NOBEL is the successor of ICL ESPAÑA, as well as of the subsidiary ICL PACKAGING.)
On 26 June 2002, ICL ESPAÑA, S.A. acquired from ICL Omicron BV (which was the sole shareholder of ICL ESPAÑA, S.A. and of Elotex AG and Claviag AG) 45.40% of the shares in the Swiss company, Elotex AG, and 100% of the shares in the Swiss company of Claviag AG.
The acquisition was carried out by means of a sale and purchase transaction, the price of which was 164.90 million euros, of which ICL ESPAÑA, S.A. paid 134.90 million euros with financing granted by ICL Finance, PLC (a company of the multinational ICL group) and the rest, i.e. 30 million euros, with its own funds.
On 19 September 2002, ICL Omicron BV contributed 54.6% of the shares of Elotex AG to ICL ESPAÑA, S.A., in a capital increase of ICL ESPAÑA, S.A. with a share premium, so that ICL ESPAÑA, S.A. became the holder of 100% of the share capital of Elotex AG.
The loan of 134,922,000 € was obtained from the British entity, ICL FINANCE PLC, also belonging to the worldwide ICL group, to finance the acquisition of the shares of ELOTEX AG. To pay off the loan, the entity subsequently obtained a new loan of €75,000,000.
The financial burden derived from this loan was considered by ICL ESPAÑA as an accounting and tax expense in the years audited, in which for this concept it deducted the following amounts from its taxable base – and consequently from that of the Group: FY 2005 2,710,414.29, FY 2006 2,200,935.72, FY 2007 4,261,365.20 and FY 2008 4.489.437,48.
During the FY under review, ICL ESPAÑA SA has considered as a deductible expense for corporate tax purposes, the interest corresponding to loans obtained by the entity from other companies of the group not resident in Spain. The financing has been used for the acquisition of shares in non-resident group companies, which were already part of the group prior to the change of ownership.
The amounts obtained for the acquisition of shares was recorded in the groups cash pooling accounts, the entity stating that “it should be understood that the payments relating to the repayment of this loan have not been made in accordance with a specific payment schedule but rather that the principal of the operation has been reduced through the income made by Id ESPAÑA SA from the cash available at any given time”. Similarly, as regards the interest accrued on the debit position of ICL ESPAÑA SA, the entity stated that “the interest payments associated with them have not been made according to a specific schedule, but have been paid through the income recorded by ICL ESPAÑA SA in the aforementioned cash pooling account, in the manner of a credit policy contract, according to the cash available at any given time”.
The Spanish tax authorities found the above transactions lacked any business rationale other than tax avoidance and therefor disallowed the interest deductions for tax purposes.
This decision was appealed to the National Court.
Judgement of the National Court
The Court partially allowed the appeal.
“It follows from the above:
1.- The purchase and sale of securities financed with the loan granted by one of the group companies did not involve a restructuring of the group itself. The administration claims that the transfer of 100% ownership of the shares of both Swiss companies is in all respects formal. And it is true that no restructuring of the group can be seen as a consequence of the operation, nor is this alleged by the plaintiff.
2.- There are no relevant legal or economic effects apart from the tax savings in the operation followed, since, as we have pointed out, we are dealing with a merely formal operation, with no substantive effect on the structure and organisation of the Group.
3.- The taxation in the UK of the interest on the loan does not affect the correct application of Spanish tax legislation, since, if there is no right to deduct the interest generated by the loan, this is not altered by the fact that such interest has been taxed in another country.
It is clear that the Spanish authorities cannot make a bilateral adjustment in respect of the amounts paid in the United Kingdom for the taxation of the interest received. For this purpose, provision is made for the mutual agreement procedure under Article 24 of the Convention between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion in relation to taxes on income and on capital and its Protocol, done at London on 14 March 2013 (and in the same terms the previous Instrument of Ratification by Spain of the Convention between Spain and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for the Avoidance of Double Taxation and the Prevention of Fiscal Evasion in respect of Taxes on Income and on Capital, done at London on 21 October 1975, Article 26 ).”
“For these reasons, we share the appellant’s approach and we understand that the non-compliance with the reinvestment takes place in the financial year 2004 (as the start of the calculation of the three-year period is determined by the deed of sale dated 29 June 2001), and that therefore the regularisation on this point should be annulled because it corresponds to a financial year not covered by the inspection.”
“Therefore, and in the absence of the appropriate rectification, this tax expense would be double-counted, firstly because it was considered as a tax expense in 1992 and 1999, and secondly because it was included in seventh parts – in 2003 and in the six subsequent years – only for an amount lower than the amount due, taking into account the proven amount of the deferred income, and also the tax expense already calculated in 1992 for the accounting (and tax) depreciation of that year. In this way, and according to the Inspectorate’s criteria, the deferred income originated by this extraordinary benefit and verified amounts to 17,359,673.33 euros, so that the integration by seventh parts of the deferral is 2,479,953.33 euros”.
“And it ruled that it appreciated the existence of “simulation” in the same and that the – therefore – apparent transfer of 100% ownership of these two Swiss companies was fictitious, and that it pursued no other purpose than that of being a means to erode the Spanish tax bases in an absolutely inadmissible manner. And, on the basis of this classification as a simulation, the Regional Court of Catalonia settled the consequences arising from these operations in the taxation of Group 30/92 for corporate income tax (consolidation regime) for the financial years 2002 to 2004, in the part of the same reached by them, as it should be recalled that its nature had been partial; and even then imposed the penalties -agreements of 15 November 2010- which it considered to be appropriate.
A pronouncement that we must take as our own, and therefore accept and assume it, and take it as the starting point for everything we resolve; as we could not change it without resorting to one of the extraordinary review pronouncements specifically contemplated in Law 58/2003, General Taxation Law, in its Articles 217, 218 and 219″.
Obviously, if there is simulation, there is an intentional element, as simulation requires an artifice that is incompatible with the idea of acting in good faith.
We consider these infringements to be proven, as well as the concurrence of the subjective element of the wrongful act.”