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Ireland to crack down on stateless, tax dodging web firms

Google, Apple and Facebook likely to be affected
Wed Oct 16 2013, 14:23

THE IRISH GOVERNMENT is writing tax rules intended to whip away loopholes used by some high profile, low taxpaying companies.

We've seen the names before. Amazon, Google and Facebook have all redirected the taxman's attention like stage magicians, with winks to the politicians who write the tax laws, and are all the better off for it.

Not for much longer. At least not in Ireland, where Irish finance minister Michael Noonan said that a solution is on the way and that the plan is that no company that is registered in Ireland can be stateless for tax purposes.

The minister's announcement comes as part of a wider look at the Irish tax system, and according to a report at the Irish Independent, he wants to keep a tax system that still appeals.

"Over the last 12 months, the international rules for taxing multi-national companies have been a focus for much debate across the globe. Global challenges require global action. Countries are increasingly competing more and more aggressively for mobile foreign direct investment. I want Ireland to play fair - as we have always done - and I want Ireland to play to win," he said.

"That is why I will continue to examine ways in which Ireland can ensure that our corporate tax regime remains competitive."

The minister has not named the firms, but we know from experience that there are some information technology firms that pay exactly as much tax as the law dictates.

We have asked some of these for their most up to date tax stances and Apple pointed us to testimony given by CEO Tim Cook earlier this year before the US Senate.

There Cook waxed eloquent about the amount of tax that Apple pays in the US, after he reminded attendees that Apple is a proudly American company.

"We are proud to be an American company, and we are equally proud of our contributions to the US economy," he said. "[With] growth and investment, Apple has become - to the best of our knowledge - the largest corporate income taxpayer in the United States."

Cook listed a lot of things that Apple does not do, and most of them are the sort of tricks that we suppose you might expect to see from a tax avoider.

"We don't stash money on some Caribbean island," he said, "We pay all the taxes we owe - every single dollar. We not only comply with the laws, but we comply with the spirit of the laws."

Cook said that Apple pays the US Treasury $16m per day, but last year it was revealed that it paid just 1.9 percent corporate tax on its foreign profits.

During his testimony Cook told the Senate that 70 percent of its cash is kept abroad because the US tax system is out of date, adding that it would too much money to repatriate it.

"Under the current US corporate tax system, it would be very expensive to repatriate that cash. Unfortunately, the tax code has not kept up with the digital age," he said. "The tax system handicaps American corporations in relation to our foreign competitors who don't have such constraints on the free flow of capital."

Google and Facebook, and other companies such as Starbucks, have not immediately seized upon the opportunity to comment on their tax records.

Google has in the past though, and Eric Schmidt has said that he is happy with the situation. The situation being Google paying £6m in corporation tax on profits of £395m in the UK.

"Britain has been a very good market for us. We empower literally billions of pounds of start-ups through our advertising network and so forth. And we're a key part of the electronic commerce expansion of Britain, which is driving a lot of economic growth for the country," he said.

"I think the most important thing to say about our taxes is that we fully comply with the law and we'll obviously, should the law change, we'll comply with that as well." µ


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