In light of global trading of multinational corporations the tax offices are in constant pursuit of stronger international tax compliance. The German Federal Finance Ministry has now issued guidelines on coordinated external tax audits with foreign tax administrations. Continue reading
Tax & Legal
The time has come to say goodbye: Today UK Prime Minister Theresa May formally invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty thus initiating the formal negotiations for her country’s departure from the European Union. A PwC special report looks at the potential outcome with respect to tax, legal and people. Continue reading
A mere put option by the lessor at a favorable price does not necessarily lead to the attribution of economic ownership of the assets to the lessee. In its judgment the Supreme Tax Court once more confirms that economic ownership must be determined on a case-by-case basis. Continue reading
A successful conclusion of a long negotiating process: The TFA, short for Trade Facilitation Agreement, entered into force on 22 February 2017 and brings along a number of improvements mainly in trading with developing countries. It is hailed as the greatest success since the founding of the WTO, the World Trade Organization, and shows the commitment of the members for a multilateral trading System. Continue reading
Profits arising from the sale of an interest in a partnership are not to be included in the extended trade tax deduction for real estate enterprises.
According to Section 9 no. 1 2nd Sentence of the Trade Tax Act (TTA), in place of the deduction under Section 9 No. 1 1st Sentence TTA (lump sum deduction of 1.2% of the assessed value of the real estate), enterprises, which exclusively manage and use their own real estate, may make an application to make an (extended) deduction relating to the part of the trading income which relates to the management and use of their own real estate.
B AG (a company) was initially the sole limited partner in the A KG (a limited partnership). In 2004 B AG sold a number of interests in its limited partnership holding and subsequently held an interest of 6%. In that year (2004) A KG managed a single logistics property in Hamburg Harbour. In its trade tax return for the year it declared total income from a trade, including the gains on disposals of the partnership interests made by B AG. An application was made for an extended deduction in the sum of the whole trading income.
The tax office argued that Section 9 No. 1 6th Sentence TTA explicitly excluded the deduction of gains on disposals of this type. A KG countered this argument by contending that Section 9 No. 1 6th Sentence TTA was introduced through a change in the law on 9 December 2014 but that the disposals of the partnership interests had been completed before the law came into force; a retrospective application of the provision would be unconstitutional. The Supreme Tax Court did not consider this argumentation, but rather came straight to the conclusion that the extended deduction (Section 9 no. 1 2nd Sentence TTA) did not apply in the first place.
According to the Supreme Tax Court the extended deduction provision applied solely to untainted income arising from the actual management of real estate (i.e. actually carried out) and not to gains arising from the disposal of a share in a partnership interest. These were operating profits. The reasoning given for this view was that when a partnership interest was sold in an enterprise which managed real estate, the consideration received was not as a rule just fixed in relation to the proportional share in the real estate. Rather the consideration also took into account the forecasted earnings, the potential increases in value and the opportunities to make profits. Accordingly the partial sale of a partnership interest did not amount to the mere exploitation of real estate but rather went beyond the management and use of own real estate.
Supreme Tax Court decision of 8 December 2016 (IV R 14/13), published on 15 February 2017.
The tax authorities have now published the final Ministry of Finance circular answering questions in connection with the application of the exchange of financial information and the FACTA agreement. The draft versions of the circular had previously been released and these are now in a final version.
In the fight against cross-border tax evasion and other practices showing a lack of discipline for tax purposes, the OECD has developed a standard for the automatic exchange of information on financial accounts (CRS – Common Reporting Standard). On 29 October 2014 Germany committed itself – in conjunction with numerous other countries – to implement a system for exchange. The CRS obliges financial institutes to report to the German tax authorities information on financial assets, which are managed in participating countries on behalf of taxpayers. This information is exchanged between the tax authorities of participating states.
The conclusion of the so-called FACTA agreement between the USA and Germany on 31 May 2013 also introduced rules on the automatic exchange of tax relevant data from financial institutes. This was also intended to induce more honesty in tax matters cross-border.
The Ministry of Finance has now produced a 96 page document to clarify the various issues.
Ministry of Finance circular of 1 February 2017 (IV B 6 – S 1315/13/10021:044), published on the Ministry’s home page on 3 March 2017
Where a company, which has acquired investment units in US dollar denominated equity funds, writes down the value of the investment units to their fair market value following an unfavourable development in the foreign currency exchange rate, the company must add the write down back off-balance sheet.
The question before the tax courts was whether foreign currency exchange losses arising from the valuation of investment units could be recognised in calculating the income for corporation tax purposes. The plaintiff (a German limited company – GmbH) had valued the investment units at their lower fair market value as at the balance sheet dates. (This was a permissible treatment.) The company sold the investment units and made a profit in US dollar terms. However, due to the fall in the foreign currency exchange rate, a loss was incurred in Euro terms. The tax office recognised the loss as such, but added it back off-balance sheet according to Section 8b (3) 3rd Sentence Corporation Tax Act. This treatment was confirmed by both the tax court and the Supreme Tax Court.
Reduction of profits arising from write-downs to fair market value are to be neutralised off-balance sheet.
According to Section 8 (2) of the Investment Tax Act the investor’s gain arising from the shares during the time of ownership (i.e. the difference between the gain on the shares as at the valuation date and the gain as at the date of acquisition – “pro rata temporis gain”) is relevant for the determination of the level of the off-balance sheet add-back. According to the Supreme Tax Court such pro rata temporis loss had been incurred on the shares. Such a reduction in value does not only occur where the stock market price of the shares held by the investment fund goes down, but also where the value of the shares at the balance sheet date has sunk because of a fall in the foreign currency exchange rate. For tax purposes no differentiation is to be made between losses incurred through changes in the stock market price and losses incurred through changes in the foreign currency exchange rates. According to the Supreme Tax Court the purpose of the Investment Tax Act is – following the so-called investment tax law transparency principle – to put investors in funds on a par with direct investors. This should also apply to investments in equity funds. Thus an off-balance sheet add back is also required where the investor decides to write down the value of a fund unit due to a foreign currency exchange loss to ensure an equal tax treatment with direct investors.
Existing symmetry of the rules excludes a breach of EU law
The Supreme Tax Court took the view that the off balance sheet add-back did not amount to a restriction of the EU basic freedoms. The add-back did indeed mean that, ultimately, the foreign currency exchange rate loss was not recognised for tax purposes. However, in the opposite case of an exchange rate gain, which is reflected through a pro rata temporis gain, the law provides for a tax exemption (Section 8 (1) and (3) of the Investment Tax Act and Section 8b (2) Corporation Tax Act).
Supreme Tax Court decision ( I R 63/15) of 21 September 2016, published on 15 February 2017
The federal government and federal states have agreed unanimously upon the criteria for a revision of the tax treatment of existing cum/cum structures. The tax authorities of the federal states could then – according to comprehensive and standardised criteria – attack cum/cum transactions, which were executed before the change in the law as at 31 December 2015.
The agreement was reached when the heads of the tax departments of the respective federal and states Ministries of Finance met in Berlin between 1 and 3 March 2017. A new Ministry of Finance circular will be prepared to implement the decision. The existing Ministry of Finance circular of 11 November 2016 will continue to apply to the beneficial attribution of securities transactions.
On 22 February 2017 the federal government approved a draft bill to implement both the fourth EU money laundering directive and the EU regulation on the transfer of funds as well as to reorganise the Central Financial Transactions Investigation Agency. The intention is to up-date and strengthen measures developed to prevent money laundering and the financing of terrorism.
The Central Financial Transactions Investigation Agency (“Zentralstelle für Finanztransaktionsuntersuchungen” – “FIU”) will be restructured and will obtain more staff
Previously the FIU was known as the Central Authority for Suspect Reporting (“Zentralamt für Verdachtsmeldungen”) at the Federal Police Department within the Ministry of the Interior. It will now be transferred to the General Customs Directorate, i.e. within the Ministry of Finance. Furthermore its responsibilities and competencies will be revised according to the provisions of the fourth EU directive on money laundering. One area of focus will lie in operative and strategic analysis.
In addition the FIU should, for the first time, have a filter function, the aim of which is to reduce the burden on the prosecution authorities. In future only credible suspicions should be passed on to the prosecutor.
Draft bill lays the foundations for a central electronic transparency register
This is intended to disclose information on the beneficial owners of an enterprise. The aim being more transparency and thus to hinder the abusive use of companies and trusts for the purpose of money laundering and offences underlying it, such as tax evasion and the financing of terrorism. The bureaucracy for businesses should however be kept at a minimum by the utilising information on any interests held already available in existing registers, such as the commercial register.
Penalty levels to be significantly increased
Penalties for serious, repeated and systematic offending are to be significantly increased to secure compliance with the money laundering regulations. Furthermore, in future the authorities will publish all penalty notices, which can no longer be disputed, on their website.
In a decision published in March 2017 the Supreme Tax Court held that – in the case of a two-tier partnership structure – the interest expense of the Dutch partner holding only an indirect share in a German limited partnership is nevertheless tax deductible when computing his limited German tax liability resulting from his investment in the German partnership. Continue reading