U.K. Government Targets Tech Giants Like Apple and Amazon Over Tax Payments

The U.K. government announced in Wednesday's annual budget that it plans to clamp down on tax avoidance by increasing the tax it collects from online giants such as Apple and Amazon.

In his Treasury speech to the Commons, Chancellor Philip Hammond said income tax would be charged on royalties relating to U.K. sales, even when they are paid to a low-tax jurisdiction and would not normally be taxed in the UK under current rules.


The new rules are due to come into effect from April next year, and estimates suggest they will raise approximately 800 million pounds ($1.07 billion) in extra tax over the next five years. However, Hammond admitted they would only go some way to balancing out the taxation treatment of digital firms, and that more would have to be done to tackle tax avoidance.
Multinational digital businesses pay billions of pounds in royalties to jurisdictions where they are not taxed and some of those relate to UK sales.

This does not solve the problem, but it does send a signal of our determination and we will continue work in the international arena to find a sustainable and fair long-term solution that properly taxes the digital businesses that operate in our cyberspace.
Apple recently came in for criticism when the so-called Paradise Papers revealed that the company sidestepped a 2013 crackdown on its controversial Irish tax structure by moving the majority of its offshore cash holdings to the small island of Jersey, a self-governed territory with loose ties to the United Kingdom.

The papers showed that Apple's two key Irish subsidiaries were managed from the Jersey offices of offshore tax law firm Appleby from 2015 until early 2016. Apple reportedly chose Jersey after exploring several potential tax havens, such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.

Apple apparently turned to Jersey after European officials began to crack down on the so-called "Double Irish" tax structure it had exploited. The loophole allows for multinational corporations to funnel revenue through an Irish subsidiary, which in turn sends that money to another Irish subsidiary that has residency in a tax haven. The practice has enabled Apple to save billions of dollars in taxes globally.

Apple responded to the revelations contained in the Paradise Papers by saying that it made regulators in the U.S. and Ireland, and the European Commission, aware about the reorganization of its Irish subsidiaries, and added that the changes haven't reduced its tax bill.

Last year, the European Commission ordered Ireland to collect $14.5 billion in back taxes from Apple, after it concluded that the country's tax agreements with the tech giant represented "illegal state aid". Both Apple and the Irish government are currently appealing the ruling.

Apple has repeatedly highlighted its position as the largest taxpayer in the world and reiterated the fact that it holds overseas cash because that's where the majority of its products are sold. Apple CEO Tim Cook has said that Apple is willing to repatriate some of its offshore cash holdings into the U.S., but he also recently said that tax reform is "sorely needed" first.

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Apple Reportedly Shifted Billions of Dollars to Small Island of Jersey Amid Tax Crackdown

Apple sidestepped a 2013 crackdown on its controversial Irish tax structure by moving the majority of its offshore cash holdings to the small island of Jersey, a self-governed territory with loose ties to the United Kingdom, according to leaked financial documents obtained by The New York Times and BBC.

The island of A photo Jersey via its Chamber of Commerce

The so-called Paradise Papers, primarily sourced from offshore tax law firm Appleby, reveal that Apple's two key Irish subsidiaries were managed from Appleby's office in Jersey from 2015 until early 2016. Apple chose Jersey after exploring several potential tax havens, such as Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.

Apple said it made regulators in the United States and Ireland, and the European Commission, aware about the reorganization of its Irish subsidiaries, and added that the changes haven't reduced its tax bill.

"The changes we made did not reduce our tax payments in any country," an Apple spokesperson told The New York Times. "At Apple we follow the laws, and if the system changes we will comply. We strongly support efforts from the global community toward comprehensive international tax reform and a far simpler system."

Apple turned to Jersey after European officials began to crack down on the so-called "Double Irish" tax structure Apple had exploited.

The "Double Irish" tax loophole allows for multinational corporations to funnel revenue through an Irish subsidiary, which in turn sends that money to another Irish subsidiary that has residency in a tax haven. In a nutshell, the practice has enabled Apple to save billions of dollars in taxes around the world.

The European Commission found Apple paid between 0.005 percent and 1 percent in taxes in Ireland from 2003 through 2014, compared to the country's headline 12.5 percent corporate tax rate. Cook said the European Commission's ruling against Apple was "total political crap" and that the tax rates were a "false number."

When questioned by the United States Senate investigative subcommittee in 2013, Apple CEO Tim Cook said "we pay all the taxes we owe." He added that Apple doesn't "stash money on some Caribbean island."

While that was true at the time, it's clear Apple was exploring similar options as part of its tax minimization efforts.

"This is how it usually works: You close one tax shelter, and something else opens up," said Reuven Avi-Yonah, director of the international tax program at the University of Michigan Law School. "It just goes on endlessly."

Cook has made it clear that Apple is willing to repatriate some of its offshore cash holdings into the United States, but he recently said tax reform is "sorely needed" first. U.S. President Donald Trump has proposed lowering the headline corporate tax rate to 20 percent, down from 35 percent currently.

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E.U. to Take Ireland to Court For Failing to Claim Apple Tax

The European Commission said on Wednesday it will take Ireland to court for its failure to recover up to 13 billion euros ($15.3 billion) of tax due from Apple (via Reuters). Apple was ordered to pay the unpaid taxes in August 2016 after the Commission ruled that the company had received illegal state aid.

The Commission argued that Irish revenue commissioners gave Apple unfair advantage between 1991 and 2007 by allowing the company to move income from the European market through two "non-resident" head office subsidiaries based in Ireland. Ireland vowed to appeal the ruling.
“More than one year after the Commission adopted this decision, Ireland has still not recovered the money,” EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said, adding that Dublin had not even sought a portion of the sum.

“We of course understand that recovery in certain cases may be more complex than in others, and we are always ready to assist. But member states need to make sufficient progress to restore competition,” she added.

The Commission said the deadline for Ireland to implement its decision had been Jan. 3 this year and that, until the aid was recovered, the company continued to benefit from an illegal advantage.
Ireland's finance ministry said it had never accepted the Commission's analysis in the Apple state aid decision, but would collect the money due pending Dublin's own appeal of the ruling.

"It is extremely regrettable that the Commission has taken this action, especially in relation to a case with such a large scale recovery amount," the ministry said in a statement.

Apple claimed earlier this year that the Commission made "fundamental errors" when it ruled that the company owed Ireland the unpaid taxes plus interest, and argued that the profits to those activities were attributable to the United States.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has called the EC's ruling "total political crap" and described the lower end 0.005 percent tax rate Apple is accused of paying as a "false number". The Apple CEO has previously said he believes the decision will be reversed.

In addition, Vestager announced a demand for Amazon to pay around 250 million euros in taxes to Luxembourg. Amazon denied it owed any back tax, and claimed it had not received any "special treatment" from Luxembourg.

"We will study the Commission's ruling and consider our legal options, including an appeal," an Amazon spokesperson said.

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Apple Raises $7 Billion in Debt Ahead of Trump’s Proposed Tax Holiday

Apple has raised $7 billion in debt in a six-part bond sale, according the company's final pricing term sheet filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission today. The fixed and floating notes mature between 2020 and 2027.

Apple said it entered 2017 with $256.8 billion in cash and marketable securities, but approximately 93 percent of that amount is held outside of the United States. Those foreign reserves would be subject to up to a 35 percent corporate tax rate if repatriated, so Apple turns to the debt markets to raise money at a cheaper cost.

Apple will use the $7 billion raised to continue funding dividend payments and share buybacks. Apple expanded its share repurchase authorization by an additional $50 billion this week, and the company says it expects to spend a total $300 billion in cash under its capital return program through March 2019.

Apple also typically puts the money towards operational expenses, repayment of earlier debt, and acquisitions of other companies.

Apple may not have to raise as much through debt markets in the future, as U.S. President Donald Trump has expressed his desire for a tax holiday that would allow domestic companies to repatriate foreign cash at a discounted tax rate. Reports have suggested the rate could be as low as 10 percent.

Interestingly, unlike many of Apple's recent bond offerings, today's sale does not include any notes with 30-year maturities. Some analysts believe Apple may be avoiding long-term bonds given the possibility of a tax holiday.

Peter Tchir of Brean Capital in a note to clients obtained by Barron's:
This is the 7th time Apple has come to market with a big slate of bonds. They started in 2013 with no debt and should be at about $100 billion by the end of today. In each of those prior deals they issued 30 year bonds - but not this time. Is it uncertainty over taxes? Talk about an ultra-bond on treasury side? Repatriation? Maybe it means nothing, but I think it is at least mildly curious that they aren't doing a new long bond here.
Apple's financial chief Luca Maestri this week acknowledged "there is a lot that still needs to happen there," in regards to the Trump administration's tax plans. "The program we're announcing today reflects the current tax legislation in this country," he said. "Obviously we will reassess our situation if things change."

The debt raised may also fund Apple's $1 billion advanced manufacturing fund announced by CEO Tim Cook earlier this week.

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Apple: European Commission Made ‘Fundamental Errors’ in Irish Tax Ruling

Apple has claimed that the European Commission made "fundamental errors" when it ruled last year that the company owed Ireland 13 billion euros ($13.7 billion) in unpaid taxes plus interest.

Apple appealed the commission's decision in December, but on Monday the company published a piece in the Official Journal of the European Union detailing 14 pleas in law to support its action, according to The Irish Times.

The European Commission argues that Irish revenue commissioners gave Apple unfair advantage between 1991 and 2007 by allowing the company to move income from the European market through two "non-resident" head office subsidiaries based in Ireland.

Apple and the Irish government, which has also appealed the commission's decision, argue that the bulk of those profits are due in the U.S.
"The Commission made fundamental errors by failing to recognize that the applicants' profit-driving activities, in particular the development and commercialization of the intellectual property (Apple IP), were controlled and managed in the United States," Apple said, according to the Official Journal. "The profits from those activities are attributable to the United States, not Ireland."

Apple maintained that the commission had "failed to recognize that the Irish branches carried out only routine functions and were not involved in the development and commercialization of Apple IP, which drove profits".

Cupertino also said that the commission failed to conduct a diligent and impartial investigation, and "exceeded its competence" as it relates to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, by "attempting to redesign Ireland's corporate tax system".

Apple CEO Tim Cook has called the EC's ruling "total political crap" and described the lower end 0.005% tax rate as a "false number." Ultimately, the Apple CEO believes that the decision will be reversed.

Appeals by Apple and the Irish government have been made to the European Union's General Court, where proceedings may take up to two years to complete, after which the case is likely to go all the way to the European Court of Justice.

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Apple Set to Appeal EU Tax Ruling This Week

EU-apple-taxApple is set to appeal this week against the European Commission's ruling that it must pay up to 13 billion euros ($13.8 billion) to Ireland in back taxes (via Reuters).

EU regulators concluded in August that Apple had received undue tax benefits from Ireland – where the company's European headquarters are located – which allowed it to pay substantially less than other companies.

Apple CEO Tim Cook vowed to appeal the ruling at the time, calling the back tax calculation a "false number" and the EU's judgement "total political crap". The Irish government also rejected the conclusion and said it would fight to reverse it.

On Monday, Apple's General Counsel Bruce Sewell told Reuters that the company's imminent legal challenge will be based on its belief that EU regulators willfully ignored tax experts to come to its conclusions.
"The Irish put in an expert opinion from an incredibly well-respected Irish tax lawyer. The Commission not only didn't attack that - didn't argue with it, as far as we know - they probably didn't even read it. Because there is no reference (in the EU decision) whatsoever."
Sewell also said Apple intends to challenge the EU's basis for its penalty judgement, and will argue that a "crazy notion of non-residency" was chosen on purpose to produce a punitive amount, when other legitimate tax law arguments could have been used that would "produce much lower numbers". As to why the EU had gone down its chosen route, Sewell said he believed regulators had singled out the company because of its success.
"Apple is not an outlier in any sense that matters to the law. Apple is a convenient target because it generates lots of headlines. It allows the commissioner to become Dane of the year for 2016," he said, referring to the title accorded by Danish newspaper Berlingske last month.
Ireland also issued a statement on Monday, saying that the EU commission had "misunderstood the relevant facts and Irish law".
"Ireland did not give favourable tax treatment to Apple - the full amount of tax was paid in this case and no state aid was provided," it said. "Ireland does not do deals with taxpayers."
In addition, Apple says it plans to tell the court that the Commission erred when it ruled that Ireland-based Apple Sales International (ASI) and Apple Operations Europe existed only on paper, with no justification for the billions of euros it posted in untaxed profits. Sewell said that just because a holding company has no employees on its books doesn't mean it is inactive, since it could be actively managed by employees of its parent company:
"When Tim Cook, who is the CEO of our company, makes decisions that impact ASI, the Commission says we don't care because he is not an ASI employee, he is an Apple Inc employee. But to say that somehow Tim Cook can't make decisions for ASI is a complete mis-statement of corporate law, it's a misunderstanding of how corporations operate."
The strongly worded statements from Apple and the Irish government form a two-pronged attack on the European Commission as it readies a more detailed version of its ruling for publication in relation to the coming court case.

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