back to article Guess who doesn't have to pay $1.3bn in back taxes? Of course it's fscking Google

Google has narrowly avoided a massive €1.12bn ($1.28bn, £990m) back-tax bill for earnings in France, thanks to not setting up an office in Paris. The search engine giant underpaid taxes on its income in France for five years, according to the authorities who sued the American giant's European's subsidiary, based in Dublin, to …

Basic accountancy problem

The phrase

"For 2013, it paid just £20.4m on sales of £3.8bn – an effective tax rate of 0.5 per cent."

is totally meaningless, since in the UK you pay tax on profits, not revenue.

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Re: Basic accountancy problem

The profitability on being a broker for ads that someone else creates and are displayed by the millions using automated systems and rules with no human intervention is probably high.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Basic accountancy problem

All this does is illustrate the imperfections of the EU. Taxation is not standardised across the EU, so companies can exploit the differences. So Google, and Apple, and Amazon can arrange things so that the only subsidiary that earns a profit is based in Ireland. They do this with crazy things, like licensing their own brand name to themselves for an absurd fee, or lending themselves large sums of cash and charging themselves interest on the debt which can then be used to claim a tax rebate...

It's legal, but it does take huge sums of money out of the French, German, British, Italian economies, and doesn't put it back into the Irish economy. Instead it just sits still, doing nothing. It doesn't even go back into the American economy. That's economically unhealthy.

One day this will be too big a problem to ignore. States must have tax revenue, and increasingly the burden is falling on their own citizenry and less on large global corporations. The pressure to tax revenue will become higher and higher.

Of course, the alternative would be to sort out the whole international tax system to close off the loopholes. But given that not even the EU can agree on harmonising tax codes I think revenue taxation will become inevitable.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Basic accountancy problem

Was that the revenue generated IN FRANCE????

It wasn't. Essentially everyone wants a local slice of s global profit pie

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Re: Basic accountancy problem

Corporate (and to a large extent personal taxes such as VAT - hence the arguments about 'tampon tax') are standardised by the EU, but the rates at which they are charged are (within limits) still the decisions of individual countries. The EU has created competition between countries to keep a downward pressure on corporate taxes, partly because (economically speaking) these are a relatively inefficient means of raising government revenues.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The Need For Speed

"The search engine giant underpaid taxes on its income in France for five years"

I'd say yes, seeing as it says that pretty clearly in the article..

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Re: Basic accountancy problem

All this does is illustrate the imperfections of the EU. Taxation is not standardised across the EU, so companies can exploit the differences.

It's not an imperfection - the system was deliberately set up like this to apply a pressure for EU states to move their tax rates closer.

They do this with crazy things, like licensing their own brand name to themselves for an absurd fee

EU law says they must do things like licensing their brand - and it must be at market rates.

It's legal, but it does take huge sums of money out of the French, German, British, Italian economies, and doesn't put it back into the Irish economy. Instead it just sits still, doing nothing. It doesn't even go back into the American economy. That's economically unhealthy.

Money never just sits there. Even if it's just in a bank account it's being used constantly.

Of course, the alternative would be to sort out the whole international tax system to close off the loopholes.

What makes you think there are loopholes. International law says tax is due where the economic activity happens - for googles highly automated systems this is mostly in the US, so that is where the tax is due. Ironically the US is one of the few countries that taxes foreign profits, if google was a UK country it wouldn't have to keep profits offshore in a tax haven, because the UK would allow them to bring back all of those profits with no tax at all.

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Re: Basic accountancy problem

Revenue generated in France?

Let's see...

Sold by a French Ad salesman to a French company, marketing a French product, in French, at a French audience in France.

No - clearly that revenue was generated in <low tax region of choice>...

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Re: Basic accountancy problem

All this does is illustrate the imperfections of the EU.

Not really, the same effects can be viewed around the world. Some aspects may be easier in the EU because of the single market but the main problem is governments letting themselves be played off against each other by multinationals and the finance industry. Slowly the member states in the EU are coming round to the idea of closing some of the loopholes, though the pressure not to do so is immense as was clear in the hearings this week in the European parliament.

You even get tax arbitrage in the US because sales tax is charged by the states. Amazon has been using this wheeze for years to undercut bricks and mortar shops.

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Re: Basic accountancy problem

Sold by a French Ad salesman to a French company, marketing a French product, in French, at a French audience in France. But the actual ad serving happens in a Google-owned data centre in Ireland and the reason the company is profitable is technology and a brand developed in the USA. The French ad salesman is managed by a local boss, who has bosses in Ireland who in turn are managed by bosses in the USA. The servers are managed by Google's global ops team. Google also has a huge international communications network that is essential to its success. The servers and some of the networking hardware were custom made in the Far East to designs developed in China and the USA.

So at least SOME of the money Google makes in France should be treated as profit in the USA, and some should probably count as profit in Ireland. How much... that's something the lawyers will love to argue over for as long as possible, there's no obvious way to choose a "right" answer.

Note that the sales in France are subject to French VAT, payable to the French government. And the employees in France are subject to French income & payroll taxes. So perhaps we ought to just give up on taxing company profit, and slightly raise VAT & payroll taxes to compensate?

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Re: Basic accountancy problem

>So perhaps we ought to just give up on taxing company profit, and slightly raise VAT & payroll taxes to compensate?<

So you want to move the tax burden even further from the corporates onto our own shoulders? That doesn't sound like a very good idea...

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Re: Basic accountancy problem

So you want to move the tax burden even further from the corporates onto our own shoulders? That doesn't sound like a very good idea...

The incidence of corporation tax (and employers' NI here in the UK) falls mostly on the workers (and customers) anyway, that's standard economics(*). Abolishing corporation tax totally would be more honest about the realities of taxation, but completely unacceptable politically, because most people don't understand the difference between statutory and actual incidence of tax.

(*) In the UK & the EU. In the US more of the incidence is on the shareholders as US capital cannot be off-shored in the same way, because the US claims the right to tax foreign earnings before repatriation of the money. That's why Google, Apple, etc have off shore subsidiaries that "earn" the money for accounting purposes.

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Re: Basic accountancy problem

"Corporate taxes ... are standardised by the EU." Err... wronger than the wronged wife of a Labour Party Director of Communications.

Corporate taxes (laws and rates) are set by individuual EU countries. Issues between states on the taxation of income are largely resolved by double-taxation treaties. Modern tax treaties largely conform to a model treaty established by the OECD (not the EU), but many tax treaties predate the model agreement or are non-compliant. The EU has a general principle that member states should not withhold taxes on payments to other member states, but that principle is still enforced by bilateral tax treaties, which were in place between west European countries before the EU started. The EU also dislikes overt tax competition between member states (read that as Germany and France among others don't like seeing their corporate tax base eroded). Any dislike of a countyry's tax policy is met with threats about anti-competitiveness, but the EU commission has no direct say in individual counties' tax policies.

Frankly this case was always likely to end up like this. As is often the case it is simply a matter of waiting until the case appears before a court of sufficient competence to make the correct decsion. The facts of the case is that the advertising agreements were entered into by Google Ireland which clearly had the power and competence to do so. Furthermore while nobody disputes that there is a French subsidiary that is trading in France, the court has accepted that the French employees were not involved in activities in connction with the advertising business that under the Irish-French double taxation treaty would allow the French authorities to deem the French operation as a permanent establishment of the Irish company. Hence the sales income all gets to be taxable in ireland not France, even though Google outside France may be covering the costs of the French operations for service they provide that are preparatory to or ancillary to the advertising sale.

That is exactly how international trade works for other companies. The facts are a bit different with tinternet sales, but the law and treaties haven't caught up yet.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Basic accountancy problem

@Jon 37 "So perhaps we ought to just give up on taxing company profit...."

Whilst that suggestion does seem fundamentally wrong it is a pragmatic solution.

Having worked for a very powerful multinational and chatted with the head of tax for UK and Europe about how he dealt with HRMC I understand how easy it is to make proffit appear in low tax zones. It all comes down to entity companies some of which you need to satisfy local regulatory reasons. The price at which one entity in a company charges another for services is very very difficult to challenge. Charge a high price and the supplier makes profit and charge a low price and the consumer company entity makes the profit. Spread across multiple jurisdictions it's impossible for any local tax officer to work out if the transfer price is fair.

If the multinational really wants to take the piss they get their finance entity in Luxembourg to lend money for "business development" to an entity in another country at a ruinously high interest rate thus making all the profit appear in a Lux with a 1% tax rate. A tax officer inquiring why they borrow money at such poor interest rates gets the answer "Corporate policy only permits us to borrow money from them".

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Re: Basic accountancy problem

"But the actual ad serving happens in a Google-owned data centre in Ireland and the reason the company is profitable is technology and a brand developed in the USA"

Absolutely - there is some value generated elsewhere, but I suspect it's not the proportion implied by their tax arrangements.

Of course you could reasonably suggest that the cost of running a search engine/mail system/... that people want to use (i.e. providing the market for the ad) should be included in that cost...

And that's fine - but the distribution does look rather extremely skewed away from the actual revenue and usage.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Basic accountancy problem

"it does take huge sums of money out of the French, German, British, Italian economies"

So?

How about those nations start to innovate and someone there get up off their duff and create a competitor?

NO one is forced to use Googles products....but the EU nations are super quick to try to benefit financially from someone else's work.

So tired of the whiners.

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Paris Hilton

Re: Basic accountancy problem

The French Ad Salesman employed in France WILL pay income tax....thanks to the FACT that Google employs French citizens. If it were not for Google, that person would be doing what?

Think about that.

EU always wanting other peoples money, but they can't seem to innovate to save their lives.

Don't like using products of a successful American company...you are FREE to use someone else's or develop a competitor.

Margaret Thatcher was spot on when she said.

“The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money.”

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Facepalm

Re: Basic accountancy problem

"NO one is forced to use Googles products..."

As I've said before to the sheeple-bleating of the Google faithful - find me reliable sites which fulfil my needs and do not use analytics, maps, search or any other API that Google offers, and I will use them.

Also, maybe you haven't been paying attention recently, but Google just got hit with a record fine for anticompetitive behaviour. If you think for a minute that Google will not use every trick in their book to strangle such a competitor at birth, I'm afraid you are deluded.

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WTF?

700 employees in France but Google does not have an office in France.

Hmmm.

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Re: 700 employees in France but Google does not have an office in France.

Doesn't sound quite right; more likely is Google Ireland handles as much as possible so the final payments are made to them with most of the profits accruing there. Google France would be billed by Google Ireland for various services that Google France can not do. This is a fairly common occurrence with multinationals to show how the money got to Ireland (or any other country). The only real issue is the reasonableness of the internal charges for the services render, e.g., some of the money and profits have to stay in France. The reasonableness of the charges is at best a murky issue but France would have to prove that the services were done in France by Google France or the charges were excessive. If Google does what most multinationals do, the internal charges are at discount on the full price but high enough to get most of the money to desired location.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: 700 employees in France but Google does not have an office in France.

They do have an office in France. It was raided by police on May 24:

https://qz.com/691327/googles-chic-paris-office-was-the-site-of-a-massive-dawn-raid-by-french-authorities/

And yet somehow the Parisian court says this doesn't count because the advertising contracts were sold through Google Ireland.

Welcome to the world of corporate courts, where word definitions are made up and the laws don't matter. And who cares anyway, it's not like consumers themselves get a slice of the massive fines.

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Re: 700 employees in France but Google does not have an office in France.

Welcome to the world of corporate courts, where word definitions are made up and the laws don't matter.

No, quite obviously laws DO matter and hang on word definitions as defined (if defined) by the legislators who wrote the law and as interpreted by the judge who decides the case.

The problem is that companies like Google, Apple and Facebook can afford lawyers who find the loopholes. It seems like Google set up their structure quite deliberately with the intention of avoiding taxes in France. Similar to how Apple set up that whole Irish deal, and Facebook has set up its affairs, and so on.

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Re: 700 employees in France but Google does not have an office in France.

"They do have an office in France.

....

And yet somehow the Parisian court says this doesn't count because the advertising contracts were sold through Google Ireland."

Although I'm not familiar with French taxation law, this is far from surprising. The writer of the headpiece likely forgot to include the word "Registered" before the word "Office". Rarely will the offices occupied by the workers be the same place as the headquarters of the law firm retained by the company providing the Registered Office address.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: 700 employees in France but Google does not have an office in France.

I would stop registering country domains to companies that don't have a stable organization in the country...

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Re: 700 employees in France but Google does not have an office in France.

Pretty common. I once worked for company A who made pcs. They were owned by company B who sold PCs via company C. Company C lived in ireland. Company A manufacturered PCs and ran at a loss. Company B made no sales and no profits due to the losses of A. I imagine they paid little tax.

Oddly enough one of the executives was Paddy Ashdown.

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Re: 700 employees in France but Google does not have an office in France.

And can you blame them?

The problem is not with Google, Apple et al but with the laws setup by governments.

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Re: 700 employees in France but Google does not have an office in France.

Google doesn't have an office in France. Google France does. Different companies under law, as are Google Ireland, Google UK, etc. That's the way national and international law is set up, and of course multinationals use that to best effect. If you want multinationals to pay more tax, then international law has to be changed. Satan will be on his third pair of ice skates when that happens.

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Paris Hilton

Re: 700 employees in France but Google does not have an office in France.

"700 employees in France"

700 people paying income tax in France.

Would you like Google to move those jobs to another country?

Call centers can be relocated quite easily.

Think about THAT.

“The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money.”

--Margaret Thatcher

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Pirate

In other news...

Jacques DuQoq, recently retired member of the French tax tribunal, drove his brand-new Tesla today to his new 20 room house on the Riviera.

Government of the corporations, by the corporations and of the corporations.

plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

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Re: In other news...

Why we would be volunteering for employees, your pension and consumers to pick up this so-called "tab" that the French think they are owed is question I believe too few are asking.

From what I can see, profit taxes like corporation tax are primarily designed to ensure the 1 or 2 man contractor outfits actually pay taxes if they decide to draw no income and have their company pay for their lifestyle (house, car, utilities, food - everything the rest of us pay out of taxed income). They fall down flat when applied to a multinational - the incidence of corporation taxes fall in some split between the employees of that company, shareholders i.e. your pension fund (who give up [taxable] income) and consumers, who are indirectly paying more for their products. A corporation cannot ever have the incidence of tax, because only flesh and blood people pay taxes.

I know it's fashionable to hurr durr blame the evil corporations, but surely anyone can follow the logic that taxing their profits only makes sense if you think that government can spend that money in a way that benefits society more than said corporation. Which we see time and time again, they don't - they just hire diversity talent manglers and give Atos another trillion pound IT contract to spaff everyone's medical records over the internet. I'd choose another Google labs product over an extra 10 government employed telephone sanitisers, or the employment of an additional tax tribunal member, any day of the week.

Happy for someone to explain to me how I have this all wrong.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: In other news...

weirdly I can't find any reference to this so I guess its hyperbole, share the sentiment that globally tax systems have been bought and paid for though..

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Paris Hilton

So..

Does that mean they're finally going to fix all the loopholes in European cross-border taxation that everybody and their Liechtensteinian coffee supplier are running container ships of cash through?

Google are really going to have to learn how Politics works.

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Re: So..

Saving over 1 billion AND setting precident seems to show they do know what they are doing.

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Re: So..

No. Not least because it's not an exclusive European problem: Singapore, Delaware, the British Virgin Islands, Panama, etc.

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Re: So..

Google are really going to have to learn how Politics works.

I suspect they do. They also know very well how international tax law works, which is more important in this case.

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Who would like a nice tasty sandwich? With 2 layers of course

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I see lots of french offices being reshuffled or shut now...

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Change the law, then

There are good reasons why a small company based in Ireland can sell services in other European countries without going to the trouble of declaring and paying tax in multiple places. This is an obvious way to make the economy more efficient. It makes sense even when there are third-parties in each country who help sell those products.

But the way it is now, nothing stops Google from having 700 employees in France who act like travel agents and help the French choose which contract they want to sign with Google Ireland. And the 700 travel agents receive a small compensation for their work, for which they duly pay tax.

I'm pretty certain that the UK saw nothing wrong with the whole idea, and in fact thought they would profit a lot, having relatively low corporate taxes. They just never saw Ireland coming from behind.

Now, if we want to change the situation, we need to change the law. Maybe something like "if the company controls a subsidiary with a significant number of employees in the country, then the revenue must be declared in that country". Lawmakers should stop complaining, and act.

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Slx
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Re: Change the law, then

The UK does profit enormously from it, just in other areas : see: City of London. It's largely successful because it's a regulatory haven of sorts with pretty flexible attitudes to many things.

From what I can see, the UK seems to also want to continue to have access to selling and processing EU financial services into the EU while not being a member.

Of any country in Europe, the UK certainly is not in a position to hold any moral high ground over Ireland on taxation or regulation.

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Re: Change the law, then

Can't change the law. It's not their law that matters.

Effectively the French court has pointed out that the French government cannot do anything about it. They cannot even make a law change that will have any effect. The relevant legal / tax jurisdiction is Ireland, and France's impotence in the matter is a consequence of the EU treaties that France is a signatory to.

The only change France can definitely make that allows them to redress the imbalance is to prevent free trade of services and goods, AKA FREXIT.

Of course, they could try and renegotiate the whole of the EU trade arrangements, but that'd be very difficult.

If we think BREXIT is dramatic, we've not seen anything yet. The spectre of protectionism in Europe and across the world is looming. Some people will be better off for it. Most won't be.

The idea behind free trade is to spread the cash round, bring everyone up to a similar level. It doesn't work if mega corporations simply accumulate cash, taking it out of the world economy altogether (Apple's cash pile, etc). Free trade is being allowed to become socially useless.

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Re: Change the law, then

France can change the law by ruling what they consider is taxable. The eu law says sales cannot be taxed twice. If they rule thete is one contract with ireland and one with france then they cantax each service once. I.e a contract with google france who purchase from google Ireland.

Treat the two as separate companies. You then shift the business model and problem to the starbucks mmethod.

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Re: Change the law, then

"if the company controls a subsidiary with a significant number of employees in the country, then the revenue must be declared in that country"

Then they'll move to a franchise model where each small independent "google dealer" has to manage on its own.

The more complex tax law becomes, the more loopholes there will be and the more incentive there is to find them. Unfortunately bureacrats and politicians see complexity as a solution, they've never heard of the KISS principle, so this will only get worse.

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Re: Change the law, then

France can change the law by ruling what they consider is taxable. The eu law says sales cannot be taxed twice. If they rule there is one contract with ireland and one with france then they can tax each service once.

They might rule that, but there is no actual contract made with Google France. That's effectively what the French court ruled.

It would be pretty difficult for French law to say there is a contract in France when no agreement is made in France. There wouldn't be a piece of paper with Google.fr on it to point at. There wouldn't be a financial transaction in France to point at. It would be a stupid law that says something exists when it plainly doesn't. What would the law do, magic such a piece of paper into existing?

The only thing that does exist is a flow of cash moving from French bank accounts to an Irish company. That could be taxed.

But to tax that flow is the imposition of a services trade barrier with Ireland, something no EU member nation can do according to the treaties they've signed. France could withdraw from the treaty if they want, but that is FREXIT.

Or they could persuade the Irish to not tax it, but that doesn't sound like a good idea for the Irish balance of payments. Can't see that happening.

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Re: Change the law, then

Well, the French can't change the law by themselves, but they might manage to convince Germany that the European law should have an exception for multi-national corporations that have a presence in the country.

It would be a huge burden for small companies to have to declare taxes in every country, and that is why the treaties were written as they were. But companies like Google already have a presence in every country and are paying taxes on that. For them, it would be absolutely not difficult at all to declare in each country what they earn there. The reason they don't do it is not that it would be a huge operational burden, it's really only because they would pay more tax.

In a sense, my suggestion is a bit similar to the presence laws created in the US to force Amazon to collect sales tax. It used to be Amazon did not collect sales tax in most states, because sales tax on interstate transactions is supposed to be paid by the buyer. Then laws were written to say that if the company had any presence whatsoever in the state, even just a warehouse, then it shouldn't count as an interstate transaction, and the company had to collect sales tax. In the beginning, Amazon tried to only have a presence in a small number of states, but now they gave in and are collecting sales tax everywhere.

Forcing companies to declare revenue earned in the country, in each country where they have a presence, would not affect small companies; but it would prevent large corporations from shopping around for the best tax deal.

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WTF?

Nowadays, they don't even pretend

It's amazing what the big corporations get away with. When I were a nipper, corporations at least PRETENDED to follow the law, and the laws seemed reasonable. This is not to say that a lot of nonsense wasn't going on, but it was hidden.

Nowadays, it's right out in front, and they seem to make no bones about it. Besides this amazing "why should you pay any tax, Google?", look at the Waymo / Uber suit. How could anyone at Uber imagine that a former Waymo employee's "own ideas" were worth paying $600+ million for after just a few months? <sarcasm>I'm sure it NEVER entered their heads that this guy was bringing over Waymo trade secrets.</sarcasm>

It's amazing and disgusting, watching these corporations. But I guess it's sort of entertaining, in a horrible way, watching society in a slow motion train wreck.

Of course, none of us had better owe $10 to the IRS or 10 quid to the HMRC (etc.), or they WILL get us for every penny and more.

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Re: Nowadays, they don't even pretend

HMRC owed me ten quid. They sent me a cheque :-)

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I can't blame Google, the EU specifically structured its corporation tax laws to encourage tax competition between member states by allowing companies to funnel revenues in this way. The only way to solve it is for the politicians to stop generating hot air and get on with actually doing something about it.

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Anonymous Coward

The politicians of the member nations couldn't quite bring themselves to cede all sovereignty to the EU. If you give up control of taxation you stop being an independent state. Doing so reduces the job of national prime minister to something more like a local councillor; your budget is fixed by someone else (some functionaries in Brussels).

It would be like turkeys voting for Christmas.

It would be very risky too; would Germany have let Ireland have enough cash to run itself and improve itself in the way they have done? Ireland has used EU very effectively over the past decades, and it's not certain that this would have happened had all political power been ceded to a United States of Europe (aka the German Empire).

So I don't think anything is going to happen soon. This invites political disaster. Countries cannot afford to have many hundreds of billions taken out of circulation in their economies. And it's not re-entering circulation anywhere, which is even worse.

Free Trade

This particular case is interesting. The court decided that the profit wasn't earned in France because the transaction wasn't in France. That means the revenue stream isn't in France either. Essentially there is nothing whatsoever about it that the French can tax. So unless it is physically paid for person to person in France, companies can off shore their entire revenue stream. That's not good for France.

It does beg the question as to whether a totally open no limits free trade zone is really a good idea.

I wonder how long it'll take Macron to become less keen on the EU? After all its structure is making his job harder.

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Calling Dr Laffer

Of course, if the french dropped their tax rate to match the Irish rate they would get more money.

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Anonymous Coward

This has been going on for decades...

The warnings were legendary..... So what did our esteemed politicians and legislators do about it? Sod All Nothing! Love the way Tax bodies like HMRC / IRS etc, hound the small businesses to death but do nothing to go after criminal mega-corps. All thanks to lobbyists and jobs for the lads etc...

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