EU Set to Order Luxembourg to Recoup Allegedly Unpaid Taxes From Amazon -- 2nd Update

By Natalia Drozdiak and Sam Schechner Features Dow Jones Newswires

The European Union's antitrust regulator is set to order Luxembourg to retrieve roughly several hundreds of millions of euros in allegedly unpaid taxes from Amazon.com Inc. as soon as Wednesday, according to people familiar with the matter.

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The decision would come amid a renewed crackdown by the EU, which has promised to scrutinize tax arrangements between its various member states and big multinationals operating in Europe.

Regulators in Brussels have homed in on sweetheart tax deals governments have issued to large multinationals in allegedly illegal state aid. Last August, the European Commission ordered Apple Inc. to repay Ireland EUR13 billion ($15 billion) in what it said was uncollected taxes, a ruling both Apple and Ireland are contesting.

Luxembourg's tax practices in particular came under the spotlight after leaked documents revealed details of hundreds of highly favorable deals it has granted to companies including PepsiCo Inc. and FedEx Corp.

Since the Apple decision, Amazon has stood out as one of the largest targets that have been under investigation by the EU. The commission is also continuing to investigate Luxembourg's tax treatment of McDonald's Corp. and Engie SA.

The commission first opened its formal probe into Amazon's tax arrangements with Luxembourg in October 2014, arguing that a 2003 tax deal granted to Amazon in Luxembourg effectively caps the U.S. company's tax payments in the Grand Duchy.

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Central to the case is a royalty fee, estimated at about EUR500 million annually, which Amazon's European head office, Amazon EU Sarl, pays to another Luxembourg subsidiary. The royalty, for use of the group's intellectual property rights, reduces Amazon's tax bill in Luxembourg because the second subsidiary isn't subject to local corporate tax.

The commission at the time said it questioned the methodology used to calculate that royalty, which it described as "cosmetic," and said Luxembourg's tax calculations didn't appear to comply with international guidelines. Luxembourg's authorities may not have properly assessed the 2003 deal given they approved it within "a very short period" of 11 working days, the regulator said at the time.

Luxembourg has previously said the allegations of state aid in this case are unsubstantiated, while Amazon has said it received no special tax treatment from Luxembourg.

The regulator's move comes as France, Germany, Italy and Spain are seeking to convince the bloc's executive body to establish an "equalization tax" on revenue generated in Europe by digital companies. It is aimed at reflecting what they believe companies should be paying in corporate tax.

The Financial Times first reported that the EU is expected to lodge its decision against Amazon on Wednesday.

Write to Natalia Drozdiak at natalia.drozdiak@wsj.com and Sam Schechner at sam.schechner@wsj.com

BRUSSELS -- The European Union's antitrust regulator is set to order Luxembourg to retrieve roughly several hundreds of millions of euros in allegedly unpaid taxes from Amazon.com Inc. as soon as Wednesday, according to people familiar with the matter.

The decision would come amid a renewed crackdown by the EU, which has promised to scrutinize tax arrangements between its various member states and big multinationals operating in Europe.

Regulators in Brussels have homed in on sweetheart tax deals that governments have issued to large multinationals in allegedly illegal state aid. Last August, the European Commission ordered Apple Inc. to repay Ireland EUR13 billion ($15 billion) in what it said was uncollected taxes, a ruling both Apple and Ireland are contesting.

U.S. officials under former President Barack Obama sharply criticized the EU's so-called state-aid investigations, arguing the moves undermine international tax norms. The EU's latest decision would come as Republicans are working on U.S. rules that would prevent companies from pushing more profits abroad, which can be relatively easy for technology and pharmaceutical companies to do by putting intangible assets in low-tax countries.

For the EU, Luxembourg's tax practices in particular came under the spotlight after leaked documents revealed details of hundreds of highly favorable deals it has granted to companies including PepsiCo Inc. and FedEx Corp.

Since the Apple decision, Amazon has stood out as one of the largest targets under investigation by the EU.

The commission is also continuing to investigate Luxembourg's tax treatment of McDonald's Corp. and Engie SA.

The commission first opened its formal probe into Amazon's tax arrangements with Luxembourg in October 2014, arguing that a 2003 deal between the two effectively caps the U.S. company's tax payments in the Grand Duchy. The deal was part of a series of transactions known at Amazon as Project Goldcrest.

Central to the case is a royalty fee, estimated at about EUR500 million annually, which Amazon EU Sarl -- Amazon's European operating headquarters at the time of the case -- paid to a Luxembourg parent company. The royalty, for use of the group's intellectual property rights, reduced Amazon's tax bill in the country because the Luxembourg parent is a partnership that wasn't subject to local corporate tax.

Between 2006 and 2013, the years that specific structure was in operation, the untaxed Luxembourg parent collected EUR3.39 billion ($3.98 billion) in income "related to royalties from affiliated undertakings," or "based on agreements with affiliated companies," and reported EUR1.89 billion in untaxed profit, according to company filings in Luxembourg. That could translate into hundreds of millions of euros in tax liability, according to experts in European state-aid cases, The Wall Street Journal reported last year.

When the commission filed its formal probe in 2014. it questioned the methodology used to calculate that royalty, which it described as "cosmetic," and said Luxembourg's tax calculations didn't appear to comply with international guidelines. Luxembourg's authorities may not have properly assessed the 2003 deal given they approved it within "a very short period" of 11 working days, the regulator said at the time.

Amazon and Luxembourg's government say the company received no special treatment. Luxembourg has argued that the Amazon royalty payments it approved correspond to international norms. Amazon has said it "pays all the taxes we are required to pay" and that "our profits have remained low" because of big investments it has made in Europe.

The regulator's move comes as France, Germany, Italy and Spain are seeking to convince the bloc's executive body to establish an "equalization tax" on revenue generated in Europe by digital companies. It is aimed at reflecting what they believe companies should be paying in corporate tax.

The Financial Times earlier reported that the EU is expected to lodge its decision against Amazon on Wednesday.

Congress and President Donald Trump are trying to push through a tax plan this year that would create a so-called territorial tax system in the U.S., in which U.S.-based companies could bring back future foreign profits tax-free. Under current law, U.S. companies owe the full 35% corporate tax on their world-wide profits but can defer that second tax until they bring the money home.

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Richard Rubin contributed to this article.

Write to Natalia Drozdiak at natalia.drozdiak@wsj.com and Sam Schechner at sam.schechner@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 03, 2017 15:06 ET (19:06 GMT)