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Jul 15, 2020

Apple wins fight over US$14.9B tax bill in blow to EU

Tech rally pushes Apple closer to becoming world’s most valuable stock


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Apple Inc. won its court fight over a record 13 billion-euro (US$14.9 billion) Irish tax bill in a crushing blow to European Union antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager’s crackdown on preferential fiscal deals for companies.

The EU General Court sided with the iPhone maker, saying the European Commission failed to show Ireland’s tax arrangements with the company were illegal state aid. The decision can be appealed.

The court said the EU’s competition authority “did not succeed in showing to the requisite legal standard that there was an advantage.”

The Apple case is the hallmark of Vestager’s five-year campaign to get rid of allegedly unfair tax deals that some EU governments dole out to favored multinationals including the likes of Inc. Apple’s fury at its 2016 tax bill led Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook to blast the EU move as “total political crap.”

Apple welcomed Wednesday’s ruling, saying the case “was not about how much tax we pay, but where we are required to pay it.”

The company added that it “has paid more than $100 billion in corporate income taxes around the world in the last decade and tens of billions more in other taxes.”

The Irish finance ministry said the nation “has always been clear that there was no special treatment provided to the two Apple” units in the EU’s state-aid case.

The ruling comes as Apple is getting close to overtaking Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company in market valuation, a milestone that would make the technology giant the world’s largest company by that measure. Its shares have rallied about 30% this year on broad optimism about its businesses.

Apple’s huge sales -- like those of other U.S. tech giants -- have attracted particular scrutiny in Europe, focusing on complicated company structures for transferring profits generated from intellectual property.

Before today Vestager already had a mixed record in the court cases that followed her tax orders. She suffered a setback last year when judges faulted a decision targeting Starbucks Corp. over its tax deals with the Netherlands. But the tribunal upheld the EU’s decision concerning Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV’s tax affairs in Luxembourg.

In its challenge, Cupertino, California-based Apple claimed the EU wrongly targeted profits that should be taxed in the U.S. and “retroactively changed the rules” on how global authorities calculate what’s owed to them.

The cases are: T-778/16, Ireland v. Commission, T-892/16, Apple Sales International and Apple Operations Europe v. Commission.

--With assistance from Dara Doyle, Peter Flanagan and Natalia Drozdiak.