I have been following the EU state aid cases with particular attention to Apple and its SEC disclosure involving its sweetheart deal in Ireland. A recent story in the Guardian suggests the amounts at stake could be significant, even if not by Apple's standards:
The European commission’s recent ruling against tax breaks for multinational corporations in Belgium strongly suggests that the tech behemoth could be subject to a hefty bill when the open investigation against its activities in Ireland concludes.
...The commission found that Starbucks owed Dutch authorities upwards of $22m, and a ruling from Belgium this week determined that 35 companies across the EU owe the equivalent of $760m in back taxes.
Apple has already said it would appeal against a ruling against the company; CEO Tim Cook called the investigation “political crap” in a recent 60 Minutes interview. “There is no truth behind it,” he said. “Apple pays every tax dollar we owe.”
This is not the first time Apple has been investigated for its accounting practices in Ireland. Executives including Cook appeared before the US Senate in 2013 to testify about whether it had renegotiated Ireland’s 12.5% corporate tax rate down to 2%. The company denied any wrongdoing. Matt Larson, litigation analyst for Bloomberg Intelligence, calculates that the company would owe $8.02bn at that rate....$8 billion sounds like a lot of money until considered in the reflection of its $200 Billion cash stash, which is being held offshore pending US international tax reform as openly advocated by Tim Cook.
Still, the figure is not nothing and it is pretty far off what Apple intimated to investors back in April of 2015:
As of March 28, 2015, the Company recorded gross unrecognized tax benefits of $4.6 billion, of which $1.6 billion, if recognized, would affect the Company’s effective tax rate. As of September 27, 2014, the total amount of gross unrecognized tax benefits was $4.0 billion, of which $1.4 billion, if recognized, would have affected the Company’s effective tax rate. The Company’s total gross unrecognized tax benefits are classified as other non-current liabilities in the Condensed Consolidated Balance Sheets. The Company had $844 million and $630 million of gross interest and penalties accrued as of March 28, 2015 and September 27, 2014, respectively, which are classified as other non-current liabilities in the Condensed Consolidated Balance Sheets. Management believes that an adequate provision has been made for any adjustments that may result from tax examinations. However, the outcome of tax audits cannot be predicted with certainty. If any issues addressed in the Company’s tax audits are resolved in a manner not consistent with management’s expectations, the Company could be required to adjust its provision for income taxes in the period such resolution occurs. Although timing of the resolution and/or closure of audits is not certain, the Company does not believe it is reasonably possible that its unrecognized tax benefits would materially change in the next 12 months. On June 11, 2014, the European Commission issued an opening decision initiating a formal investigation against Ireland for alleged state aid to the Company. The opening decision concerns the allocation of profits for taxation purposes of the Irish branches of two subsidiaries of the Company. The Company believes the European Commission’s assertions are without merit. If the European Commission were to conclude against Ireland, the European Commission could require Ireland to recover from the Company past taxes covering a period of up to 10 years reflective of the disallowed state aid. While such amount could be material, as of March 28, 2015 the Company is unable to estimate the impact.That language was new in the April 2015 filing, but the latest Apple filing reverts to the more general message found in prior filings:
The Company could be subject to changes in its tax rates, the adoption of new U.S. or international tax legislation or exposure to additional tax liabilities.
The Company is subject to taxes in the U.S. and numerous foreign jurisdictions, including Ireland, where a number of the Company’s subsidiaries are organized. Due to economic and political conditions, tax rates in various jurisdictions may be subject to significant change. The Company’s effective tax rates could be affected by changes in the mix of earnings in countries with differing statutory tax rates, changes in the valuation of deferred tax assets and liabilities, or changes in tax laws or their interpretation, including in the U.S. and Ireland. For example, in June 2014, the European Commission opened a formal investigation of Ireland to examine whether decisions by the tax authorities with regard to the corporate income tax to be paid by two of the Company’s Irish subsidiaries comply with European Union rules on state aid. If the European Commission were to conclude against Ireland, it could require Ireland to recover from the Company past taxes covering a period of up to 10 years reflective of the disallowed state aid, and such amount could be material.
The Company is also subject to the examination of its tax returns and other tax matters by the Internal Revenue Service and other tax authorities and governmental bodies. The Company regularly assesses the likelihood of an adverse outcome resulting from these examinations to determine the adequacy of its provision for taxes. There can be no assurance as to the outcome of these examinations. If the Company’s effective tax rates were to increase, particularly in the U.S. or Ireland, or if the ultimate determination of the Company’s taxes owed is for an amount in excess of amounts previously accrued, the Company’s financial condition, operating results and cash flows could be adversely affected.I continue to wonder whether there will be shareholder litigation (more than nuisance suits) in the event of a major clawback by the EU.