The European Commission have responded to the recent interventions by the US Treasury into the tax related state-aid investigations with this letter from Margrethe Vestager to Jack Lew.
On one of the issues raised by the US Treasury the response is as would be expected:
I also hope we agree that the taxation systems of EU Member States entitle them to tax the profits generated by companies operating in their territory, including US companies. The Commission has the duty to ensure that these rules are applied in a non-discriminatory manner by excluding preferential treatment in any form that constitutes incompatible State aid. This does not put into question the US taxation system or go against double taxation treaties concluded by EU Member States.
So we await whether DG Comp are going to conclude that the estimated $120 billion of profits earned by Apple Sales International between 2004 and 2013 were generated in Ireland and so should be taxable in Ireland as opposed to only those profits earned by ASI’s branch in Ireland. The Commission could also conclude that the allocation of profit to ASI’s Irish branch was “wrong” but if that was to be the case then this ongoing exchange of letters would have been wholly disproportionate.
The Commission are also investigating Apple Operations Europe (AOE). AOE also has an Irish branch which undertakes manufacturing of a specialised range of computers. However, ASI is the global hoover of Apple’s profits – it contracts with third-party manufacturers in China (with all agreements signed in the US) and sells on the products to Apple distributors at an “arm’s length price”. The difference between the fee paid to the manufacturer and the price charged to the distributor is considerable. Hence, the estimated $120 billion of profits earned by ASI between 2004 and 2013, with 90 per cent of that occurring in the final four years of the period.
ASI is a subsidiary of AOE so it is possible that the Commission could rule that the profits are taxable in Ireland when they are distributed as a dividend by ASI to AOE. This could potentially bring our 25 per cent Corporation Tax rate into the equation. But that seems very unlikely. The focus will probably be on the trading profits earned by ASI, though if it ends up being a dispute over the profit allocated to ASI’s Irish branch we really will be left wondering what all the excitement was about.
How long more will they keep us waiting? And if a decision is published by DG Comp is there a timeframe within which an appeal to the CJEU must be made?