Big reveal shows low cost of tax-cheating
Insiders have leaked a huge tranche of Luxembourg tax deals, exposing the schemes and scams used by Australian and international companies to pay virtually no tax.
The Future Fund, Lend Lease, AMP and Macquarie Group were just of few of the dozens of Australian companies whose tax trickery has been revealed.
Around 28,000 pages of leaked documents have been analysed by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
Fairfax Media’s Australian Financial Review has broken down the situation around Australian companies, in a deep and long-running investigation.
The headline-grabbing find was that the Australian arm of mass retailer IKEA paid less than 1 per cent tax over the past 12 years, the AFR reports.
IKEA Australia turned over $4.76 billion across its stores between 2002 and 2013.
$2.67 billion of this went to “supply fees” for an independent IKEA entity, while a further $904 million was paid to other IKEA adjuncts in Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
The arrangement meant IKEA declared a pre-tax profit of just $103 million, paying just $31 million in tax while sales surged 500 per cent.
On the local front, the files reveal the details of a buyout deal negotiated for Lend Lease in 2003, brokered by the accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
The deal saw Lend Lease bought out of the business by Macquarie Group, which then sold its 56 per cent stake to American funds manager BlackRock in 2013.
The deal saw lucrative management fees routed from Luxembourg through Bermuda before being subcontracted back to Europe.
The move cutt the tax rate on the payments to less than 3 per cent.
Both Australian companies said they comply with domestic and international tax laws.
The revelation have spooked the companies involved, with an American lawyer for PwC Luxembourg saying in a statement to International Consortium of Investigative Journalists members on Tuesday, that further publication of the information would “violate money laundering, detention and concealment laws in Luxembourg”.
AMP Capital Investors was exposed for a deal in 2009, in which it allocated $1 billion to invest in Babcock & Brown and Macquarie projects Kemble Water, MGN Gas, Angel Trains, Thames Water and others.
The complex structure of AMP’s Luxembourg branch was split into two different chains – one series of companies were funded by profit-participating loans (PPLs), which received interest of just more than 1 per cent.
The PPLs let AMP profit tax-free in Luxembourg, and its interest-bearing loans left a tiny margin of just 0.0625 per cent of the total.
This figure became the taxable income for Luxembourg, at 29 per cent.
The arrangement means that AMP pay about $190 a year for every $1 million invested.
The documents detailing extensive use of shell companies, ‘hybrid debt structures’, internal loans and dodgy royalty payments, are available on the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists’ website.