Switzerland vs Swiss Investment AG, February 2020, Administrative Court Zurich, Case No SB.2018.00094 and SB.2018.00095

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Two Swiss investors had established a structure for the management of a private equity fund in the form of a Swiss “Investment Advisor” AG and a Jersey “Investment Mananger” Ltd. They each held 50% of the shares in the Swiss AG and 50% of the shares in the Jersey Ltd. Swiss AG and Jersey Ltd then entered an investment advisory agreement whereby the Swiss AG carried out all advisory activities on behalf of Jersey Ltd and Jersey Ltd assumed all the risk of the investments. Both investors were employed by Swiss AG and Jersey Ltd had no employees execpt two directors who each received a yearly payment of CFH 15,000.

According to the investment advisory agreement Jersey Ltd would remunerate the Swiss AG with 66% of the gross fee income. The Swiss AG would carry out all relevant functions related to investment advisory and recommend to Jersey Ltd acquisition targets which the latter would then evaluate and subsequently decides on and assume the risk of.

For provision of the advisory functions two-thirds of the total fees (of 2.25% on Assets under Management) would go to the Swiss AG, and the remaining one-third would go to the Jersey Ltd. The Swiss AG had prepared a benchmarking analysis confirming that independent private equity fund of funds (Dachfonds) earned management fees of between 0.75% and 1% on Assets under Management, which was in line with the 0.75% attributed to the Jersey Ltd.

The Swiss Tax Authorities regarded the two Swiss investors employed by the Swiss AG as the only two entrepreneurs in the structure that could have possibly taken any significant decisions. On that basis the tax authorities claimed that the 66/34 profit sharing was artificial and inconsistent with the substance of the arrangements. They argued that the Jersey Ltd should only be remunerated with a cost plus 10%.

This assessment was brought to the first instance of the tax appelant court and then to the administrative court. Both courts ruled that the set-up was artificial and not in line with OECD standards, after applying a substance-over-form approach.

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