Apple accused of tax evasion in Britain, again

Karen Haslam
6 November, 2012
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Apple paid less than 2 percent tax on its overseas profits in the past twelve months.

The claims are based on figures revealed in Apple’s Form 10-K, filed with US regulator last week. That filing shows that Apple paid just US$713m in overseas corporation tax on its foreign profits of US$38.87bn in the past 12 months.

That’s 1.9 percent tax on foreign earnings that were up 53 percent compared to fiscal 2011. In 2011 Apple earned US$24 billion outside the US and paid income tax of 2.5 percent on it, according to the Associated Press.

Not only is the company paying less in overseas tax than the previous financial year, the amount it does pay doesn’t compare very favourably to the corporation tax in many of the countries where Apple operates. For example, in the US the headline corporation tax rate is 35 percent, in the UK it is 24 percent, while Ireland charges 12.5 percent.

This isn’t the first time Apple has been criticised for its overseas tax practices. A report back April 2012 accused Apple of tax dodging in Britain. The Telegraph claimed that in the tax year ending September 25 2010, Apple paid just £10.3 million in corporation tax. At the time it was thought that Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs would investigate Apple’s financial situation. Also, in the Budget on March 21, the Chancellor said that the Government would be paying much closer attention to “morally repugnant” tax dodging.

Indeed, it’s not just Apple’s tax practices in the UK that are being criticised. Google, Amazon and Starbucks were to be hauled in front of a Commons committee today and asked to explain why they pay so little tax here.

Those three are said to have avoided paying nearly £900m of tax in the UK, according to The Guardian.

However, some reports suggest that what Apple, and the other companies are doing is not illegal. None of these low-tax-paying companies have broken any laws. In addition, all of the companies pay considerable amounts of other taxes in the UK, such as National Insurance, and raise large sums of VAT, notes the BBC.

In addition, Apple differs from other companies in that it sets aside a portion of the foreign profits, marking them as subject to US taxes sometime in the future, notes The Associated Press.

Nevertheless, the claims have reignited the debate about how much tax Apple, and other companies, should pay, at home as well as abroad.

A New York Times report in April this year claimed that Apple was tax dodging. That report pointed to Apple’s subsidiaries in Luxembourg, Ireland and the British Virgin Islands, and claimed that some are “some little more than a letterbox or an anonymous office – that help cut the taxes it pays around the world.”

The New York Times quoted former executives who claimed Apple had designated overseas salespeople in high-tax countries in a manner that allowed them to sell on behalf of low-tax subsidiaries on other continents, sidestepping income taxes.

“Apple was a pioneer of an accounting technique known as the ‘Double Irish With a Dutch Sandwich,’ which reduces taxes by routing profits through Irish subsidiaries and the Netherlands and then to the Caribbean,” claimed that report, a practice that is imitated by a number of companies, according to that report.

The practice lets Apple keep its taxes low by stashing cash offshore at subsidiaries in countries with low corporate taxes.

Back in April, Apple released a statement in response to the New York Times report claiming that is “among the top payers of US income tax” and also that it is among the top creators of American jobs.

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