Google’s $3b tax haven loophole probed (Sydney Morning Herald):
The US Internal Revenue Service is auditing how Google avoided federal income taxes by shifting profit into offshore subsidiaries, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
The agency is bringing more than typical scrutiny to how the company valued software rights and other intellectual property it licensed abroad, said the person, who requested anonymity because the audit isn’t public. The IRS has requested information from Google about its offshore deals after three acquisitions, including its $US1.65 billion purchase of YouTube, the person said. The transfer overseas of these kinds of rights rights has enabled Google to attribute earnings to foreign units that pay lower taxes, Bloomberg News reported a year ago.
Last year Bloomberg said Google had cut its taxes by $US3.1 billion ($3 billion) in the three years prior using a technique that moves most of its foreign profits through Ireland and the Netherlands to Bermuda.
While Google’s potential liability isn’t clear, similar deals between companies and offshore arms are often the subject of disputes over hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes, said Daniel Frisch, an economist at Horst Frisch, which advises businesses on transfer pricing — the allocation of income between units in different countries. In 2006, the IRS settled a case with drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline for $US3.4 billion.
US companies are sitting on at least $US1.375 trillion in earnings in their foreign subsidiaries on which they have paid no federal income taxes, according to a May report by JPMorgan Chase & Co. Companies including Google, Cisco, Pfizer, Apple and Microsoft are lobbying the US Congress for a tax holiday on bringing home those profits, which would otherwise be subject to US income tax at the 35 per cent corporate rate with a credit for foreign taxes already paid.
The French tax authority also began reviewing Google’s income shifting in December, examining transactions between the company’s French and Irish subsidiaries, according to two people with knowledge of the probe. The French inquiry was prompted by the October 2010 Bloomberg article on the company’s tax-cutting strategy, the people said.
A spokesman for the French budget ministry, which oversees the tax authority, declined to comment, saying the agency cannot discuss individual cases.
Google 2.4% Rate Shows How $60 Billion Lost to Tax Loopholes — October 21, 2010 (Bloomberg):
Google Inc. cut its taxes by $3.1 billion in the last three years using a technique that moves most of its foreign profits through Ireland and the Netherlands to Bermuda.
Google’s income shifting — involving strategies known to lawyers as the “Double Irish” and the “Dutch Sandwich” — helped reduce its overseas tax rate to 2.4 percent, the lowest of the top five U.S. technology companies by market capitalization, according to regulatory filings in six countries.
“It’s remarkable that Google’s effective rate is that low,” said Martin A. Sullivan, a tax economist who formerly worked for the U.S. Treasury Department. “We know this company operates throughout the world mostly in high-tax countries where the average corporate rate is well over 20 percent.”
Facebook, the world’s biggest social network, is preparing a structure similar to Google’s that will send earnings from Ireland to the Cayman Islands, according to the company’s filings in Ireland and the Caymans and to a person familiar with its plans. A spokesman for the Palo Alto, California-based company declined to comment.
The tactics of Google and Facebook depend on “transfer pricing,” paper transactions among corporate subsidiaries that allow for allocating income to tax havens while attributing expenses to higher-tax countries. Such income shifting costs the U.S. government as much as $60 billion in annual revenue, according to Kimberly A. Clausing, an economics professor at Reed College in Portland, Oregon.
U.S. Representative Dave Camp of Michigan, the ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, and other politicians say the 35 percent U.S. statutory rate is too high relative to foreign countries. International income-shifting, which helped cut Google’s overall effective tax rate to 22.2 percent last year, shows one way that loopholes undermine that top U.S. rate.
Two thousand U.S. companies paid a median effective cash rate of 28.3 percent in federal, state and foreign income taxes in a 2005 study by academics at the University of Michigan and the University of North Carolina. The combined national-local statutory rate is 34.4 percent in France, 30.2 percent in Germany and 39.5 percent in Japan, according to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.