Wednesday 7 December 2016

Apple probe goes on as European Commission says Belgian scheme illegal

Sarah Collins in Brussels

Published 12/01/2016 | 02:30

A customer enters the new Apple store at Covent Garden in London
A customer enters the new Apple store at Covent Garden in London

The European Commission says a Belgian tax scheme for multinationals was illegal, but has not yet concluded the longer running probe into tax paid by Apple in Ireland.

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EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager announced yesterday that Belgium had granted "selective tax advantages" to at least 35 multinationals, the majority of them European, allowing them to underestimate their profits and save an estimated €700m on their tax bills over the last decade.

She refused to name the companies, but ordered the Belgian authorities to recover the money.

The ruling is significant because it targets an entire tax scheme rather than an individual company. The Commission says the scheme was "marketed" to multinationals, giving them an unfair advantage over smaller companies.

The Belgian finance ministry said that it suspended the scheme, sold under the banner 'Only in Belgium', in February last year.

Belgian finance minister, Johan Van Overtveldt, said in a statement that the scheme "has had its day" but that he doesn't rule out appealing the decision.

Meanwhile, the Commission has confirmed that a year-and-a-half long probe into Apple's tax affairs in Ireland is still ongoing and that a decision will be published "if and when" it is ready.

Margrethe Vestager denied any problems with the Apple investigation, but admitted it is taking longer than anticipated.

"No, there is not a problem with the investigation, the investigation takes time," Ms Vestager told reporters at a press conference in Brussels yesterday.

"Sometimes you think that a case is just on track and you can foresee a decision within a foreseeable amount of time, and then something happens - maybe more information is being given to you and you will have to assess that, maybe you yourself will have to ask more questions," she added.

"Sometimes it takes longer than you may have wanted things to take."

Minister for Finance Michael Noonan said last week that the decision was likely to come after the elections, rather than beforehand.

The Government has said that it will challenge the Commission in court if it rules that Ireland gave Apple an unfair tax advantage.

The Commission opened an investigation into Apple's tax affairs in Ireland in June 2014, alongside probes into Fiat in Luxembourg and Starbucks in The Netherlands.

Irish Independent

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