It’s a tax demand for the ages. The European Commission has ordered Apple to pay Ireland €13bn (£11bn) in back taxes after ruling that a so called 'sweetheart deal' struck between the two was illegal.
But the move could spark a damaging international trade spat. Here’s your cut out and keep guide to what could become a very taxing story...
Why has the Commission ruled in this way?
The European authorities accused Ireland of helping Apple to avoid tax by means of a sweetheart deal that is in breach of EU rules. Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, who oversees competition policy, said this allowed Apple to pay an effective corporate tax rate of 1 per cent on its European profits in 2003, falling to just 0.005 per cent in 2014.
How will the money be repaid?
That’s up to Ireland. It is in charge of recovering the money the EU says is due as a result of the deal breaking rules banning state aid to industry. It looks a bit like asking convicts to guard their own prison, but that’s the way these things are structured.
So Ireland will get a big bung?
Not just yet. Apple and Ireland have hotly denied the charges, and there will be appeal. This isn’t over, not by a long shot.
How does this compare to other rulings?
The EC has become much more aggressive in its approach to the agreements struck between multi national companies and EU member states. Previously it ordered the Dutch authorities to recover €30m (£26m) from Starbucks with a similar amount due to Luxembourg from Fiat Chrysler.
Both companies and countries have appealed. The Apple ruling dwarfs the biggest bill so far levied, which is €300m (£256m) that Swedish engineer Atlas Copco has been told to pay Belgium. It is not quite as much as the $19bn (£15bn) that had been predicted, but it’s fair to say this is a game changer.
Are there any more cases due?
Amazon and McDonald's are in the frame over deals struck with Luxembourg. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to see further probes opened if the EU finds anything it doesn’t like. Look for the bloc to seek out non US based companies in the future, to avoid accusations of unfairly targeting American businesses.
Can Apple afford such a thumping bill?
Are you kidding? This is one of the world’s richest companies. Apple reported it had cash equivalents (cash!) and marketable securities of a staggering $231.5bn (£176.7bn) in June. Some 92.8 percent of that enormous cash pile – $214.9bn (£164bn) – is parked in foreign subsidiaries doing nothing much more than earning a pitiful rate of interest.
Why is that?
US corporation tax is charged at a headline rate of 35 per cent and Apple has no interested in paying up. While few companies pay that rate – it can be chipped away at through allowances and other accounting wheezes – it is still far ahead of what most developed nations charge. The headline rate in the UK, by comparison, is just 20 per cent.
How will the US react to this?
Not well. America’s Treasury secretary Jack Lew last week accused the EU of trying to become a “supra-national tax authority”. He claimed US companies were being treated unfairly and that the EU was potentially undermining efforts to reform international tax rules so companies pay their share. He’s also worried that Apple will offset this bill against its US bill, potentially resulting in a huge transfer from US taxpayers to Irish taxpayers.
Hang on, didn’t the US criticise Apple’s avoiding tax at home?
Indeed so. A US congressional committee has previously accused Apple of using “sham” subsidiaries and “convoluted strategies to shift profits offshore”. There was bipartisan criticism of the company at a Senate committee hearing back in 2013 with Democrat Carl Levin, who chaired a grilling of Apple CEO Tim Cook, and Republican John McCain both weighing in. But at the same time, Tea Party poster boy Rand Paul accused the committee of “bullying” one of “America’s greatest success stories”.
So what is the politics this time around?
The Republican presidential candidate is Donald Trump, a bellicose nationalist who has aggressively advocated an “America First” trade policy. Mr Lew stepping up to the plate for Apple and other US companies in the EU’s cross hairs could be seen as an attempt by the Obama administration to shore up the flanks of Hillary Clinton and other Democrats against any potential charges of weakness by their opponents in the midst of a hotly contested election.
Biggest business scandals in pictures
Biggest business scandals in pictures
1/20 UK to crack down on bank money laundering after reports of £65bn Russian scam, City minister says - Tuesday March 21
The Economic Secretary to the Treasury has vowed that the Government will crack down on money laundering practices, after several of the UK's biggest banks were accused of processing money from a Russian scam, believed to involve up to $80bn (£65bn).
2/20 Former HBOS bankers convicted of bribery and fraud over £245m loan scam - February 2017
Two former HBOS bankers were among six people found guilty of bribery and fraud that cost customers and shareholders hundreds of millions of pounds, the BBC reports. Lynden Scourfield, 54, a manager at HBOS, forced struggling clients to use the services of his friends David Mills, 60, and Michael Bancroft, 73. In return, the two businessmen arranged sex parties, cash and lavish gifts. On Monday, the three were convicted at Southwark Crown Court on accounts including bribery, fraud and money laundering. Mark Dobson, another manager at HBOS, Alison Mills, and John Cartwright were also convicted.
3/20 Former Reckitt Benckiser executive linked to death of 100 people in South Korea jailed for seven years - Friday January 6
A former South Korean executive of UK-based Reckitt Benckiser has been jailed for seven years over the sale of a humidifier disinfectant that killed about 100 people and left hundreds with permanent lung damage. Shin Hyun-woo, head of Reckitt Benkiser’s Oxy subsidiary from 1991 to 2005, was found guilty of accidental homicide and falsely advertising the deadly product as being safe even for children. The consumer product disaster affected many families in South Korea, where children and pregnant women often battle dry winter seasons with humidifiers. Other retailers such as Lotte Mart and Homeplus were also found guilty of selling the deadly product.
4/20 Rogue trader
A French court cut the damages owed by rogue trader Jerome Kerviel from €4.9bn (£4.2bn) to just €1m (£860,000). The court ruled on that Kerviel was “partly responsible” for massive losses suffered in 2008 by his former employer Societe Generale through his reckless trades. Kerviel has consistently maintained that bosses at the French bank knew what he was doing all along.
5/20 Lloyds chief apologises for damage caused by affair allegations - August 2016
Antonio Horta-Osorio, the chief executive of Lloyds Bank, has broken his silence over allegations about his private life admitting he regrets any "damage done to the group's reputation". In a message sent to the bank's 75,000 employees, the banker said that anyone can make mistakes while insisting that staff had to maintain the highest professional standards.
6/20 Christine Lagarde faces court over £340m Bernard Tapie payment - July 2016
The head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde, must stand trial in France over a payment of €403 million (now £340m, then £290m) to tycoon Bernard Tapie, a France's highest appeals court has ruled. The court rejected Ms Lagarde's appeal against a judge's order in December for her to stand trial over allegations of negligence in her handling of the affair. Ms Lagarde could risk a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a fine of €15,000 euros if convicted.
7/20 HSBC senior manager arrested in FX rigging investigation at JFK airport in New York - July 2016
A senior executive at HSBC has been arrested at New York's JFK airport for his alleged involvement in a conspiracy to rig currency benchmarks, according to reports. Mark Johnson, global head of foreign exchange cash trading in London, was reportedly arrested on Tuesday. He will appear before a federal court in Brooklyn on Wednesday charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, Bloomberg said.
8/20 Former PwC employees found guilty in 'Luxleaks' tax scandal - June 2016
Two ex- PricewaterhouseCoopers staffers were found guilty in Luxembourg of stealing confidential tax files that helped unleash a global scandal over generous fiscal deals for hundreds of international companies. Antoine Deltour and Raphael Halet face suspended sentences of 12 months and 9 months and were ordered to pay fines of €1,500 (£1,230) and €1,000 (£822) for their role in the so-called LuxLeaks scandal. Despite the minimal sentences, the ruling was described by Deltour’s lawyer as “shocking” and “a terrible anomaly.” The ruling “puts on guard future whistle-blowers,” Deltour told reporters.The LuxLeaks revelations sped beyond Luxembourg, causing European Union regulators to expand a tax-subsidy probe and propose new laws to fight corporate tax dodging, while EU lawmakers created a special committee to probe fiscal deals across the 28-nation bloc.
9/20 Goldman Sachs dealmakers lavished Libyan officials with prostitutes to win contract - June 2016
A former Goldman Sachs dealmaker trying to persuade Gadaffi-era Libya to invest $1 billion with the investment bank procured prostitutes and invited Libyan officials to lavish parties in the hope of winning the business, the High Court heard on Monday June 13.The Libyan Investment Authority sovereign wealth fund is suing Goldman Sachs for inappropriately coercing its naïve staff into giving its sovereign wealth fund cash to the bank to invest in products they did not understand. The products were designed to generate big profits for Goldman, the LIA claims.Goldman denies wrongdoing and says the LIA was treated as an arms-length customer
10/20 Former boss of BHS said his life was threatened - June 2016
Darren Topp, the former boss of BHS, has said former owner Dominic Chappell threatened to kill him when he challenged him over a £1.5 million transfer out of the business. MPs on the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee asked Mr Topp about a £1.5 million transfer Mr Chappell made from BHS to a company called BHS Sweden.
11/20 Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley admits paying workers below the minimum wage - June 2016
Mike Ashley admitted paying Sports Direct employees below the minimum wage at a hearing in front of MPs. The company founder said that workers were paid less than the statutory minimum because of bottlenecks at security in an admission that could result in sanctions from HMRC.
12/20 Mitsubishi admits ‘improper’ fuel tests - April 2016
Mitsubishi has admitted to using false fuel methods dating back to 1991. The scale of the scandal is only just coming to light after it was revealed in April that data was falsified in the testing of four types of cars, including two Nissan cars.
13/20 Panama Papers: Millions of leaked documents expose how world’s rich and powerful hid money - April 2016
Millions of confidential documents have been leaked from one of the world’s most secretive law firms, exposing how the rich and powerful have hidden their money. Dictators and other heads of state have been accused of laundering money, avoiding sanctions and evading tax, according to the unprecedented cache of papers that show the inner workings of the law firm Mossack Fonseca, which is based in Panama.
14/20 Google's tax avoidance
Google reached a deal with the HM Revenue and Customs to pay back £130 million in so-called “back-taxes” that have been due since 2005. George Osborne championed the deal as a “major success”. But European MEPs have since called for the Chancellor to appear in front of the committee on tax rulings to explain the tax deal.
15/20 Turing Pharmaceuticals and Martin Shkreli
Martin Shkreli became known as the “most hated man in the world” after his drug company, Turing, increased the price of a 62-year-old drug that treated HIV patients by 5,000% to $750 a pill. He was charged with illegally taking stock from Retrophin, a biotechnology firm he started in 2011, and using it pay off debts from unrelated business dealings. Shkreli, who maintains he is innocent, and says there is little evidence of fraud because his investors didn't lose money.
16/20 Volkswagen emissions scandal
VW admitted to rigging its US emission tests so that diesel-powered cars would looks like they were emitting less nitrous oxide, which can damage the ozone layer and contribute to respiratory diseases. Around 11 million cars worldwide were affected.
17/20 Quindell, the scandal-ridden insurance firm
Quindell was once a darling of AIM but its share price fell in April 2014 when its accounting practices were attacked in a stinging research note by US short seller Gotham City. In August the group was forced to disclose that the £107 million pre-tax profit it had reported for 2013 was incorrect, and it had in fact suffered a £64million loss.
18/20 Toshiba Accounting Scandal
The boss of Toshiba, the Japanese technology giant, resigned in disgrace in the wake of one of the country’s biggest ever accounting scandals. His exit came two months after the company revealed that it was investigating accounting irregularities. An independent investigatory panel said that Toshiba’s management had inflated its reported profits by up to 152 billion yen (£780m) between 2008 and 2014.
19/20 FIFA Corruption Scandal
Fifa, football's world governing body, has been engulfed by claims of widespread corruption since the summer of 2015, when the US Department of Justice indicted several top executives. It has now claimed the careers of two of the most powerful men in football, Fifa President Sepp Blatter and Uefa President Michel Platini, after they were banned for eight years from all football-related activities by Fifa's ethics committee. A Swiss criminal investigation into the pair is ongoing.
20/20 Libor fraudster
City trader Tom Hayes, 35, has become the first person to be convicted of rigging Libor rates following a trial at London's Southwark Crown Court. Hayes worked as a trader in yen derivatives at UBS before joining the American bank Citigroup in Tokyo. He was fired from Citigroup following an investigation into his trading methods. He returned to the UK in December 2012 and was arrested following a two-and-a-half year criminal investigation by the SFO.
Does this mean Apple will quit Ireland?
There’s not much chance of that happening. Even if the EU manages to stamp out future deals like the one between Ireland and Apple, the Republic’s headline rate of corporation tax is still only 12.5 per cent. And as one loophole closes you can be sure clever accountants (mostly based in London) will be hard at work on finding others to exploit
How will this affect Britain?
To all intents and purposes Britain is a bystander. However, it would be playing a dangerous game were it to try to replicate Ireland’s tactics post Brexit. A trade war with the EU over future British tax policy might make The Sun happy, but the reality is that it is a battle Britain couldn’t win and would harm both sides.