Switzerland vs R&D Pharma, December 2018, Tribunal fédéral suisse, 2C_11/2018

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The Swiss company X SA (hereinafter: the Company or the Appellant), is part of the multinational pharmaceutical group X, whose parent holding is X BV (hereinafter referred to as the parent company) in Netherlands, which company owns ten subsidiaries, including the Company and company X France SAS (hereinafter: the French company). According to the appendices to the accounts, the parent company did not employ any employees in 2006 or in 2007, on the basis of a full-time employment contract. In 2010 and 2011, an average of three employees worked for this company.

By agreement of July 5, 2006, the French company undertook to carry out all the works and studies requested by the parent company for a fee calculated on the basis of their cost, plus a margin of 15%. The French company had to communicate to the parent company any discoveries or results relating to the work entrusted to it. It should also keep the parent company informed of the progress of the transactions, directly or through the Company. The results of all studies became the property of the parent company. By an agreement of February 19, 2008, the parent company granted the Swiss Company access to the research and development activities carried out by the French company, in exchange for paying the parent company a royalty of 2.5% of all revenues generated on the products or registered by the parent company through the French company.

In 2013, the Swiss Tax Administration informed the Company of the initiation of a tax assessment for the years 2008 to 2010, as well as a tax evasion attempt procedure for the year 2011. These proceedings resulted from a communication from the Federal Tax Administration that mentioned the existence of charges not justified by commercial use during the years in question. Later the same year the Tax Administration informed the Company that the proceedings were extended to the years 2003 to 2007. In 2014 a tax assessment was issued for the tax years 2003 and 2005 to 2010.

The Tax Administration estimated that the Company had paid royalties to the parent company for the use of research and development of certain molecules. However, the latter company had no substance or technical expertise to carry out this activity. In practice, the research and development of the X group was led by the Swiss Company, which subcontracted some of the tasks to the French company. The amount of royalties paid by the Swiss Company to the parent company, after deduction of the costs actually borne by the company for subcontracting, constituted unjustified expenses on a commercial basis.

The Swiss company stated that the parent company assumes important financial, regulatory and operational risks, for which it should be compensated.

The Supreme Court concluded that the parent company was a mere shell company, and as a result, disregarded the transaction.

The court found that the parent did not hold the required substance to be entitle to any royalty payments. The parent was not involved in the group’s R&D activity and had no/very few employees. It was not even the legal owner because the patents were registered in the Swiss company’s name. The Swiss company had 60 employees and made all the strategic decisions over the R&D functions.

The Federal Tribunal ruled in favor of the Swiss Tax Administration. The Court found the transactions and payments to be a hidden distribution of profit leading to tax evasion.

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Swiss vs Pharma Corp2

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