Google to pay over $1 billion in France to settle fiscal fraud probe

Google, part of Alphabet, pays little tax in most European countries because it reports almost all sales in Ireland.
Google, part of Alphabet, pays little tax in most European countries because it reports almost all sales in Ireland.PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (REUTERS) - Google agreed to pay close to €1 billion (S$1.5 billion) to French authorities to settle a fiscal fraud probe that began four years ago in a deal that may create a legal precedent for other large tech companies present in the country.

French investigators have been seeking to establish whether Google, whose European headquarters are based in Dublin, failed to pay its dues to the state by avoiding to declare parts of its activities in the country.

The settlement comprises a fine of €500 million and additional taxes of €465 million, Google said in a statement.

Google, part of Alphabet, pays little tax in most European countries because it reports almost all sales in Ireland. This is possible thanks to a loophole in international tax law but it hinges on staff in Dublin concluding all sales contracts.

"(The agreement allows) to settle once for all these past disputes," said Antonin Levy, one of Google's lawyers, at a hearing in the Paris court.

The combined tax payment is less than the €1.6 billion the finance ministry had been seeking from Google after the company's Paris offices were raided in 2016. At the time, the ministry had ruled out settling with the company.

Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin told Le Figaro newspaper on Thursday the settlement would create a legal precedent and added that talks were under way with several other companies, big and small. He did not specify their names.

 
 
 

European countries have struggled to tax the profits of multinational tech companies derived in their jurisdictions.

France has pushed hard for a digital tax to cover European Union member states, but ran up against resistance from Ireland, Denmark, Sweden and Finland.

The French government has eventually imposed its own unilateral tax, prompting US President Donald Trump to brandish the menace of a retaliatory tax on French wine.

"We remain convinced that a coordinated reform of the international tax system is the best way to provide a clear framework for companies operating worldwide," Google said.