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back to article Schmidt: Don't like our tiny tax bills? Google this... 'Change the law'

Google chief Eric Schmidt has once more defended his advertising giant for its pitiful UK tax bills: the search supremo said his biz abides by the rules, and claims he can't wait for the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to reform those rules. Schmidt said in an op-ed for The Observer that Google "has always …

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Fair enough

If it's not breaking the law, it's not breaking the law. No use whining about it. Whereas it really does sounds as though Barney Jones has broken the law if he's kept all those emails...

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Re: Fair enough

"If it's not breaking the law, it's not breaking the law. No use whining about it. Whereas it really does sounds as though Barney Jones has broken the law if he's kept all those emails..."

Hmm, not really sure. I'm pretty sure that

1) Google is pursuing a tax strategy that is borderline evasion in the UK with this sales stuff, and

2) Barney Jones is probably protected as he is retaining prima facie evidence of wrongdoing.

Google looks to be pretty close to tax fraud here, if not in the territory itself.

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Mushroom

Re: Fair enough

It's all perfectly legal until it isn't. Please see Enron.

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Re: Fair enough

Aggressive tax avoidance is obviously immoral, as it breaks the intention of the law. In the same way, dissembling, while not actually lying, is really just lying. When the perp's slogan is "Don't be evil!", I think whining is in order.

The govt. bears part of the responsibility for enabling avoidance. But the gross avoider is guilty too. Partners in wrongdoing often blame each other.

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WTF?

Re: Fair enough

as it breaks the intention of the law.

So, now I not only have to follow the letter of the law, but I have to GUESS at the intent of some illiterate minister who couldn't be arsed to write something sensible? What's next, Ignorance of the unwritten intent being no excuse?!?

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Unhappy

Best analogy I've heard

Google and Amazon are like those people who turn up to a "bring a bottle" party with a litre of Aldi coke and then proceed to drink the Wyborowa vodka and Hendricks gin all night.

They may piss a lot of people right off, but, alas, they've technically not broken any rules.

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A better analogy is that they turn up for the party with some top notch booze that they got duty free on the flight to the party. However, you're miserable because you stood in the corner refusing to have the good stuff because of some confused moral reason.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Best analogy I've heard

A better analogy is that someone says they have been doing something that in fact they haven't. And there's hundreds of millions of pounds involved in the difference.

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Re: Best analogy I've heard

Often they have technically broken the rules, just the rules are not enforced. Those who's job it is to enforce the rules are instead cosying up to the perps. It's become the norm.

Britain has become something of a world centre for international tax avoidance activities. As president of the G8, Britain is about to lead the G8 2013 summit, where tax avoidance will be discussed as a major agenda item. I assume we will be showing all those other countries how to do it properly.

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No need

These companies are filing blatantly false claims, there's no need to change the law. The reason they're not getting prosecuted is that the Govt. is scared of taking unilateral action and is giving HMRC the nod to treat them differently from other taxpayers.

Try telling the taxman that you're actually providing a service for your cousin in Ireland and see how far you get with the "well, change the law, then" argument.

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FAIL

"These companies are filing blatantly false claims"

Comments from the super-lawyer. LMAO @ you.

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Anonymous Coward

Hmm...

Technically legal? Yes. following the spirit of the law? No.

Don't get on your moral high horse about it being government's fault that you avoid tax, in a way which was obviously never the intention of the law.

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Mushroom

Oh dear oh dear

Don't know about you, but I rather like the idea that the law is what it says it is, not what people think it says.

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Re: Hmm...

The law is the law - exactly as it is written, not any more and not any less.

The problem is that laws are written by a variety of people, changed over time and have various other laws superseding parts of them and all sorts of other issues.

Thus there is no 'the law' (and certainly no 'spirit of the law') but a succession of laws that are not free from errors and conflicts, and can thus be interpreted in a variety of ways.

Then you have international agreements to consider.

What can be done? who knows - maybe corporations should not be taxed at all (maybe by not having profits - all income is spent on R&D and costs and then the leftovers split between employees... discuss!), and everyone earning more than 20k should be taxed at 40%, or whatever figures people can agree on - something a lot simpler and harder to evade/avoid.

ttfn

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Re: Hmm...

Sprit of the law? I assume you're referring to cricket here.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Oh dear oh dear

Ok, let me try to be clearer:

The law says I can avoid tax by having an ISA, Premium bonds etc: I do these things. They are advertised by government and we are encouraged to use these products.

The law doesn't say that I can't form a company in Amsterdam with no employees, through which I operate complex financial instruments used to move money to low-to-no tax regimes.

Now, if I were to do the latter, I wouldn't be getting on my high horse about how it's governments fault that I do this, because it would be a decision that I have taken with the specific intention of avoiding as much tax as I possibly can using a technicality of international tax law. I certainly wouldn't go on about how my company pays tax through the taxes its employees pay, because it sort of veers into justification at that point. If I was avoiding tax and I didn't feel that it was wrong, why would I keep justifying it in increasingly desperate ways?

He's wrong, the public (his customers) as a whole know he is, most major international development charities publicly speak out against the actions of these companies and the harm their tax avoidance does, and if he had a clear conscience he wouldn't need to continually justify the actions of his company.

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Re: Oh dear oh dear

"I rather like the idea that the law is what it says it is, not what people think it says."

Well, you better ask for all those judges to be sacked then. Oh, and the juries too.

The law has always been what people think it says. How could it be anything else?

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Holmes

"The law is what it says it is"

This, gentlemen, is the problem that scientists and technical people have with the legal system. They are so used to argue with pure logic that it is extremely hard for them to understand that there are grey areas in the way laws are interpreted and applied.

In the real world, you unfortunately sometimes need a lengthy trial and a lot of money spent on lawyers to figure out whether something is legal. And the outcome of the trial can actually depend on how good the lawyers are! From a scientist point of view, this is pure madness — they assume that the law is so clear that any intelligent person could determine infallibly whether something is legal after thinking for a few minutes. Would it be that simple…

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Oh dear oh dear

"if he had a clear conscience he wouldn't need to continually justify the actions of his company."

Yes, it must be his guilty conscience. There's no way his defending his company, could be a result of persistent bullying by MPs and the PAC.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Oh dear oh dear

Could be, but he has been doing before during and after and it's hardly bullying.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Oh dear oh dear

You're right. Bullying does not sufficiently describe the MP's and PAC's disgraceful behaviour. Perhaps persecuting would be a better word.

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Re: Hmm...

The other problem is that some people have access to lobbying efforts, designed to create the loopholes they then exploit.

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Re: Oh dear oh dear

Legal positivism (the doctrine that says "the law is what is written down") is the bane of civilisation, and leads to the triumph of legalism over justice. There must always be "wiggle room" in the application of the law. I used to be a legal positivist until I did my law degree and became a lecturer in law and ethics, and I can see why technically-minded people prefer the idea that the law should be a set of blueprints, but, seriously, you wouldn't want that. It is not possible to have a law that covers all situations.

Let me put it another way - do you want zero-tolerance on law-breaking for everything?

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Re: "The law is what it says it is"

Yeah, "scientists and technical people" simply understand black and white and there's never any debate. That's why we all understand and agree the same position on climate change, right?

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Anonymous Coward

So what blame is there for politicians and civil servants who formed today's laws? All those loopholes for their Cambridge buddies coming back to nibble them in the backside?

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there's no right or wrong here

yes the current tax rules may be stupid but google isn't breaking the law.

They have a choice to make about maximising revenues which may involve paying more tax than necessary to avoid negative PR, but that's a business decision. Companies are not moral agents.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: there's no right or wrong here

"but Google isn't breaking the law"

This is seriously uncertain - that's why Google people are being interrogated. If people close deals in the UK as appears to have been demonstrated, Google IS breaking the law. It then depends on how scared politicians are not to be found in Google searches anymore if they are prepared to act, or add the issue to that large lump under the carpet.

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Re: there's no right or wrong here @ Tim 11

You are quite correct to say that companies are not moral agents. However, it therefore makes no sense to treat them as individuals in other respects.

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Megaphone

Politicians need to stop asking companies to pay more tax and start telling them!

Rather than faffing about asking Google "pretty please can you give us some more money?", decide how much tax they should be paying and change the law so thats what they actually pay!

Asking companies like Google and Amazon to pay "what they think is fair" is just a waste of time - Tax laws exist to define how much companies should pay.

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I agree. But if you want the business - and we do - then the rates have to be competitive in a global market. So that probably means scraping corporate tax altogether. At least then the small shops aren't paying taxes that the big boys aren't and also fewer accountants are employed to work out the best way to avoid paying tax.

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Anonymous Coward

"But if you want the business - and we do - then the rates have to be competitive in a global market"

Are you suggesting that Google will pull out of Europe if they get taxed too much? The largest economy in the world? Really?

No, they're just trying it on, they'll keep doing it until the EU bolt their tax law down and then they'll grumble a bit, but they certainly won't pull out of Europe.

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It's Ireland who get on my tits.

They harbour all these multi nationals with the their low rates of Corporation Tax then expect the rest of us to bail them out when they run out of cash.

We should have told them to piss right off.

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Is that the real reason they came last in the Eurovision?!

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Re: It's Ireland who get on my tits.

The level of Corporation Tax is only part of the problem; there are more than enough loopholes in the British tax system.

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WTF?

Re: It's Ireland who get on my tits.

Ha, well, at least our headline rate of 12.5% is more or less what is paid, unlike the rest of Europe where the headline rate can be 30+% and what's actually paid can be around 8%. You don't like it, change your tax laws.

The real problem is the ability to set up companies registered in Ireland tax resident elsewhere, and even that wouldn't be as large a problem without the Dutch, Swiss and Luxembourg rules allowing "sandwich" setup. It's the interaction of a number of different laws, in different jurisdictions.

Anyway, aren't all the tax-havens British Overseas Territories?

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Re: It's Ireland who get on my tits.

Our glorious Empire, alas, does not include Lichtenstein, or Switzerland, to name but a couple.

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Coat

Re: It's Ireland who get on my tits.

"Anyway, aren't all the tax-havens British Overseas Territories?"

Yes - like Ireland *runs away*

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The pot calling the kettle black

Some of tax havens worldwide: Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, the British Virgin Island, Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Turks and Caicos Islands....

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's Ireland who get on my tits.

That Jack, is highly offensive, and bang out of order.

Firstly Ireland's Corporation tax rate is no more "harbouring all these multi nationals", than Asda are harbouring all those British Customers with their 10% price promises, etc. It's called competition, and is one of the fundamental pillars of healthy economics.

Secondly attacking Ireland for competing economically for foreign investment is particularly rich coming from someone in Britain. Although Ireland caused enough economic self harm on it's own without Britains help, British post-war discrimination, and Beef Tariff's, etc rendered measures by Ireland to compete more strongly, including our 12.5% Corporation tax attracting foreign investment necessary to survive the British onslaught. At this point, we've as much right to our 12.5% corporation tax, as the British have to remain in Northern Ireland, or Gibraltar.

Finally, by attacking "Ireland", you're tarring both the people, and government of Ireland with the same brush. The Irish people ( as opposed to the Irish Government ) have no control over taxes. This has been clearly demonstrated over the past year or so, with the introduction of property tax, despite objection from the vast majority of the Irish population.

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Re: It's Ireland who get on my tits.

Love your forthright attitude JP. And while we're at it, lets flip off these other money grabbing tax havens:

Bermuda, Caymans, Gibralter, Anguilla, Montserrat, Caicos, Jersey, Guernsey, Isle of Man...

all of which are well known parts of a certain green and pleasant country in NW Europe.

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Anonymous Coward

parlimentary grilling

I came across a session on the bbc parliament tv channel, when "this woman",(Hodge?) chaired a session that demonstrated how TOTALLY clueless she is on the whole subject of tax avoidance and evasion. I never thought I'd have any sympathy for the Google-body and a Ernst & young bloke being grilled, but... it was just so embarrassing to watch that MP making completely unsupported claims and then, interrupting when those two people, who clearly knew their business, tried to correct her (and no, I'm not a google fan).

And then, another thing, a FANTASTIC performance from a woman from the HMRC, also called and blamed why the HMRC don't "do more". She kept her calm, managed to stand her ground, and despite being constantly interrupted, put the message across, loud and clear: You, the politicians, made those (...) laws, and we're doing the best we can to follow them.

I must say, these hearings should be MANDATORY for anybody over the voting age :)))

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Re: parlimentary grilling

I'm a regular viewer of BBC Parliament; and it's a real eye opener to see these people in action. It has to be said that it can vary; I've seen some MPs show a really good understanding of key issues; but equally, their lack of basic knowledge can be a bit disconcerting at times.

There is also a considerable amount of posturing going on; that's bad enough, but they also rely on parliamentary privelege to make accusations that they would otherwise not be allowed.

It's also worth reading the Wikipedia page for Margaret Hodge MP; some really interesting comments on her past and the way that she operates.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Hodge

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Re: parlimentary grilling

Hodges answer on the C4 news about her assets being held in trust was funny and showed she understood tax avoidance perfectly.

She managed to make herself look even stupider by pretending not to understand that there is no benefit gained with inheritance avoidance until the person is dead.

It would be interesting to see how shes voted for the various tax changes?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: parlimentary grilling

I'm not surprised, that the MPs are clueless on various matters, but I was, probably naively, expecting that the panel would be made up of those, who have some expertise in the area. And if "expertise" is too much too ask, at least, SOME degree of familiarity with the problem. There was actually one bloke on that panel, who appeared to listen to what the "guests" had to say, and ask them questions based on their answers, also trying to actually take things forward in this whole sorry affair. But Hodge was totally pathetic and without merit - and she was the chair. It really was both depressing and embarrassing to watch this non-performance :(

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Re: parlimentary grilling

"It would be interesting to see how shes voted for the various tax changes?"

Here you go, knock yourself out:

Voting record here

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Happy

Re: parlimentary grilling

After posting yesterday I had a shufty, it appears she voted in favour of the tax changes she didn't want.

But then she's loyal to the party rather than constituent so she'd vote anyway she's told without a first thought.

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Re: parlimentary grilling

"But then she's loyal to the party rather than constituent so she'd vote anyway she's told without a first thought."

That's my impression too; career politician with nothing useful to offer.

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Thumb Up

Gotta admire the chutzpah

I just love that all these companies go with the "we're just following the law" part without mentioning all the money they dump into making sure the laws are set up to their advantage.

Also, I have always wondered how much they truly save after taking into account the lawyers, creative accountants and lobbyist.

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Megaphone

Rank hypocrisy

Oh no... can't... must... resist...

It's in their interest to pay as little tax as is allowable by law. Just as it's in my interest to pay as little as is allowable by law. Just as it's in the interests of every single MP to do the same. I bet there are very few people who voluntarily pay more tax than they are legally bound to and I bet they are not politicians!

Calling it morally repugnant and attempting to guilt-trip people into making additional contributions, while failing to make additional contributions themselves is what disgusts me. Since when is it the job of politicians to cast moral judgements? That's not their job. The fact that any politician can believe they are morally superior to anyone or anything is exasperating, by definition that is impossible.

It's morally repugnant to constantly whinge about people/companies that haven't broken any actual laws, while they themselves pay as little tax as possible, and fail to actually change the rules which they themselves are supposed to be responsible for.

This is not a new problem!

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Facepalm

Irony

"Hodge is a supporter of homoeopathy, having signed an early day motion in support of its continued funding on the National Health Service"

Ironic that this ‘inquiry’ is pretty much going to have the same results as diluted flower water has on AIDs…

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