Paradise Papers: EU could open tax cases

BRUSSELS • The European Union is examining the prospect of opening tax cases after being blindsided by the release of the "Paradise Papers", a trove of leaked documents about offshore investments that revealed loopholes used by business titans, royals and pop stars to allegedly dodge their liabilities.

EU regulators have asked iPhone-maker Apple for details of its recent tax structure following last year's order to pay back taxes of up to €13 billion (S$20.5 billion) to Ireland, Europe's anti-trust chief said on Tuesday. However, European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who issued the record back-tax bill against Apple in August 2016, said her request preceded reports based on the Paradise Papers, which showed that Apple shifted key parts of its business to Jersey as an offshore tax haven in a move to maintain a low tax rate, reported Reuters.

"I have been asking for an update on the arrangement made by Apple, the recent way they have been organised, in order to get the feeling whether or not this is in accordance with our European rules but that remains to be seen," Ms Vestager told a news briefing at an international tech summit in Lisbon. "We are looking into this, of course, without any kind of prejudice, just to get the information," she added.

Nevertheless, Ms Vestager also said it was too early to say whether the latest leaks on tax arrangements by companies would lead to any general investigations. "That remains to be seen if we will open more cases after the Paradise Papers."

Meanwhile, the Netherlands will review 4,000 corporate tax deals made between the government and companies from 2012 to 2016 to determine if they were properly issued, its Finance Ministry said yesterday. The Paradise Papers shed light on a deal made in 2008, which gave American consumer goods giant Proctor & Gamblean estimated tax break of US$169 million (S$230 million).

It showed that the deal was signed off by just one official from the Dutch tax authority, where at least two signatures were required. The agreement also did not pass the special commission for international tax rulings, Dutch newspapers Trouw and Het Financieele Dagblad reported. Another report in French newspaper Le Monde said sportswear giant Nike used a Dutch loophole in 2014 to reduce its tax on profits to 2 per cent, down from the 25 per cent average for European companies.

European Union regulators have asked iPhone-maker Apple for details of its recent tax structure following last year's order to pay back taxes of up to €13 billion to Ireland, Europe's anti-trust chief said on Tuesday.

Dutch lawmakers demanded a debate on the secret rulings, which specify individual tax breaks for international companies in the Netherlands. They also called for a full inquiry into all tax arrangements with multinationals.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that Britain's Prince Charles campaigned to alter climate change pacts without disclosing he has shares in a Bermuda-registered forestry company.

He bought shares worth US$113,500 in 2007 in Sustainable Forestry Management (SFM), where his close friend is a director, the BBC reported, citing leaked documents from offshore law firm Appleby.

Prince Charles began campaigning for changes to two important environmental agreements weeks after SFM sent his office lobbying documents, said the report. In just over a year, his estate almost tripled its money, but it is not clear what caused the rise in the share value. The BBC cited a Clarence House spokesman as saying the Prince of Wales had "certainly never chosen to speak out on a topic simply because of a company that it may have invested in".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 09, 2017, with the headline 'Paradise Papers: EU could open tax cases'. Print Edition | Subscribe