Delta Beverages Ltd, a subsidiary of Delta Corporation, had been issued a tax assessment for FY 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014 where various fees for service, technology license of trademarks, technology and know-how paid to a group company in the Netherlands (SAB Miller Management BV) had been disallowed by the tax authorities (Zimra) of Zimbabwe resulting in additional taxes of US$42 million which was later reduced to US$30 million.
An appeal was filed with the Special Court (for Income Tax Appeals) where, in a judgment dated 11 October 2019, parts of the assessment was set aside.
Not satisfied with the result, an appeal (Delta Beverages) and cross-appeal (tax authorities) was filed with the Supreme Court.
Judgement of the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court set aside the judgement of the Special Court (for Income Tax Appeals) and remanded the case for reconsiderations in relation to the issue of tax avoidance.
Excerpts from the Supreme Court judgement regarding deductions for royalties paid for trademarks:
“I respectfully agree with the reasoning of the court a quo. A product’s standing and marketability is enhanced by its trademark which has acquired a reputation and become desirable on the market. The trademarks in issue are of international repute. They in my view add value to the main appellant’s beverages and make it possible for the appellant to make an income from the trademarked products. It is apparent from the various agreements entered into between the franchisors and the holding company that what was being sought was to benefit from the reputation of the international brands and trademarks.”
“In respect of the royalties the issue is whether or not the main appellant was a party to the agreements on the royalties, which were to be paid for or had ratified the agreements entitling it to claim its payments for them as deductions in its tax returns. A reading of the record establishes that the agreements in terms of which royalties were payable were entered into by Delta Corporation or its predecessors in title and there is no specific mention of the appellant. There is however mention of Delta Corporation’s subsidiaries. It is common cause that the main appellant is a subsidiary of Delta Corporation (Private) Limited.”
“In any event, evidence on record establishes that the cross appellant’s main challenge cannot prevail because the Exchange Control Authority granted authority for the payment of those royalties. The record proves that on 19 August 2011, the exchange control authority granted authority to the holding company to pay royalties of up to 5 percent to the Dutch Company less withholding tax.”
“Once it is established that the main appellant is the one which operated the beverages business and benefited from the contract between the Dutch company and the holding company, it follows that it lawfully deducted the royalties it paid to the Dutch company.”
Excerpts from the Supreme Court judgement regarding deductions for technical services (calculated based on turnover) – tax avoidance:
In determining this issue the court [Special Court (for Income Tax Appeals)] a quo commented on its perception that there might have been tax avoidance in the manner in which the technical services agreement was concluded between the parties. It commented that if the Commissioner had attacked the deduction of these services from the main appellant’s taxable income it would have been fatal to the main appellant’s claim.
“The witness failed to explain why the Dutch company paid the South African entity that supplied the technical services to the appellant on its behalf on a cost plus mark-up basis but charged the local holding company on a percentage of turnover basis. Such a failure may have been fatal to the appellant’s case had the Commissioner disallowed the technical fees in terms of s 98 the Income Tax Act.”
“It is apparent from the court a quo’s comments that it perceived that there might have been a case of tax avoidance by the main appellant’s holding company and the Dutch company. It is also apparent that it took no further steps to inquire into that possibility but proceeded to determine the appeal on other factors not connected to tax avoidance as if the appeal before it was an appeal in the strict sense. It thus left the issue of tax avoidance hanging as no further inquiry into it was made, nor did it make a decision on the issue.”
“It is clear from the underlined part of the quotation that the issue of avoidance should be determined to enable the Commissioner or as in this case the Special Court to determine how the tax payer should be taxed.
The determination of tax issues require clarity and incisiveness in decision making. This is because the law requires that those who should pay tax should do so and those who fall outside that requirement should not be taxed. There should be no room for those within the group which should be taxed escaping through failure by the Commissioner to net them in and if he fails the Special Court in the exercise of its full jurisdiction should net them in.
It is therefore my view that once the court a quo realised that there might be tax avoidance it should have exhaustively inquired into and made a determination on it. It should have sought to determine the correct position of the law instead of identifying a possible error by the Commissioner and allowing it to pass. Taxation is by the law and not official errors or laxity.
…where a tax matter has been placed before the Special Court for adjudication a taxpayer should not escape liability simply because the Commissioner failed to invoke the appropriate taxing provision. In casu the omission by the court a quo to determine the issue of tax avoidance will have the effect of allowing the main appellant to get away with tax avoidance, if that can be proved on inquiry. That view is strengthened by the court a quo’s view that the failure by the main appellant’s witness to explain the noted anomaly would have been fatal to its case if the Commissioner had taken into consideration the issue of tax avoidance.
I am therefore satisfied that the decision of the court a quo on this issue should be set aside and the case be referred back to it, for it to inquire into and determine whether or not the agreements between the Dutch company, Delta Corporation (Private) Limited and the main appellant do not constitute tax avoidance.”