If you’re going to get hammered for back taxes, it’s best to do it with a bit of panache. I think that being found owing £11 billion definitely shows panache. That’s not like a waiter or cabbie not declaring all his tips and getting nabbed by HMRC or the IRS, is it? It’s a swaggery sum of money, a proper grownup amount of illicit dosh.
Starbucks are currently wrangling about a back tax demand of £26M in Holland, and Fiat Chrysler have been shivved between the ribs for a similar amount by Luxembourg. Gorgeous George made a craven ‘deal’ with Google for £130M, a paltry sum compared with the French’s valiant planned effort to try to cane the company for one and a half billion. All of those monies could be found down the back of the corporate sofa. Meanwhile Amazon and Maccie D’s are also in the frame for a Luxembourg blag.
To date, the biggest demand had been a reasonably substantial £250M owed by Atlas Copco to Belgium. However, in this Olympic year, Apple have taken the motto of ‘Faster, higher, stronger,’ and applied it to their tax fiddling. Now they’ve been stuck for the 11 billion smackeroos.
Now you may well ask how they could have miscalculated their liabilities to this extent, and this is the point at which it all looks a bit iffy. All their EU profits are funnelled through a subsidiary in Ireland. This subsidiary, by the way, has no employees and no physical premises.
The company struck a deal with the Irish government, which was eager for the business, and applied some very modest corporation tax rates as a sweetener. Or bribe, depending on your semantic approach to such things. Apple paid a mere 1% tax for much of the period 2003 onwards, and this came down to 0.005% in 2014. The standard rate of tax in Ireland is 12.5%.
The European Commission is the EU’s enforcer on all matters Euro, and in this case they took a dim view of things and became the masked man with the gun demanding all your cash from the ATM. Not surprisingly, Apple are appealing the case. Much more surprisingly, so is the Irish government. They’re effectively said, ‘Hey, no sweat, we don’t want it. You can keep it.’ I suspect skulduggery. Especially since this princely sum is the equivalent of Ireland’s annual healthcare costs, or would enable property tax to be suspended for the next 25 years.
Anyway, it’s not as if Apple can’t afford it. They have a cash pile of £176.6 billion. That’s a pretty big night out by anybody’s reckoning.