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Amazon told to repay €250m in 'unfair state aid' from Luxembourg

Anonymous Coward

Recommerndations

Recommended for you: People who dodged taxes in Luxembourg also dodged taxes in these other countries...

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Amazon said: "We believe..."

Well duh. What an indispensable statement. Really, I was on the verge of thinking that Amazon thought it didn't pay enough tax and was forced by Luxembourg to reduce the amount. Thank you for the clarification, Amazon.

This PR bullshit is really starting to get on my nerves. The fact that the state of Luxembourg says they believe Amazon did not benefit is actually news. The fact that Amazon thinks so is just obvious because they'd say so even if they knew it was not the case.

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Anonymous Coward

She does not crack whips

She cracks knitting needles.

Beware of the one knitting elephants in meetings. She seriously takes no prisoners.

Makes for a nice breath of fresh air after the Fast Tonies the previous commission which would have sold your mama for a few pennies (with a preference of few being a 7+ digit number paid by Goldman Sachs).

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Anonymous Coward

It's a good job nothing else is going on in the EU that needs attention.

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Anonymous Coward

From the European Commission's perspective, it's more like a very welcome distraction from their sitting on the fence over the Catalonia referendum and Spanish police brutality.

Then again, they've sidestepped similar failures of democracy in Hungary and Poland, they've let in countries like Bulgaria and Romania where only money and violence talk, not votes, and Junker's busy admitting Albania, where crime is the lifeblood of the economy....

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Anonymous Coward

To be fair they can't get involved as it sets a dangerous precedent of popular movement uprisings.

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Happy

"sitting on the fence over the Catalonia referendum".

This seems to be a popular topic right now, at least on the BBC. "Dear EU why don't you do something". Which I find a bit funny to say the least. Those same people complain about the EU having to much power in domestic politics but now suddenly demand more power.

Would they really like a EU wide referendum on say Scottish independence, Wales perhaps, or NI or the status of one cliff in Spain, of course. Or would it be enough if the EU parliament had a vote on it.

Dear Brexiteers it's never too late to think, provided the "hardware" is in shape for it.

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Anonymous Coward

The calls for the EU to get involved are because the brutality being handed out by Spain is beyond the pale, and the EU is supposed to be the final arbiter of human rights for the region (including rights to self-determination). It's a little disingenuous to suggest that EU involvement would lead to an EU-wide referendum, it's more that they should let Spain know that it isn't the 1930's any more and that sort of behaviour won't be tolerated. The contrasting example of how independence referenda should be done was the one in Scotland a few years back, which also only polled those people whose rights of self-determination were being determined. Whilst I'm sure people have their opinions on the outcome of the vote, and on what has been done since, I'm sure all can agree that it didn't end with a constitutional crisis like Catalonia.

The Spanish government would have been better off letting the vote happen and then saying "so what - the referendum was unconstitutional". Launching a crackdown like they did is just proving that Catalonia *is* being oppressed by the Spanish state, and gives credence to their demands for independence from it, regardless of what the Spanish constitution says on the matter.

You also seem to be implying that the BBC is a Brexit mouthpiece, which seems a little off. You hear plenty of both sides of that (ongoing) debate on the beeb, which befits it's status as a hotly contested subject with a bare majority of the vote in an advisory referendum. (Saying "it's over, we won" isn't compatible with democracy, regardless of how much the party in government appear to be toeing that line). The Catalonia situation has very little to do with Brexit, and whether you support Brexit or not it should be clear that the EU has a responsibility to Catalonians which they appear to be ducking away from.

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Anonymous Coward

Whoops, sorry, Catalans, not Catalonians. At least I didn't refer to the Scottish as "Scotch", eh?

By the way, for what it's worth Lars, I didn't downvote you.

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Dear Lars

Dear Brexiteers it's never too late to think,

I thought beforehand, I've continued to think.

Notwithstanding the embarrassing performance of the British government in the negotiations, I remain in favour of leaving the EU. Let's be clear, we're not "leaving Europe", we're simply saying that we don't want to be a member of the EU, which is a conveyor belt of ever closer integration. That has always been an obvious necessity, an end game of a single European federal state, with national assemblies reduced to insignificant theatres of parochiality. The current disputes over taxation, the widespread refusal to obey budgetary and financial rules, these all show the obvious fact that you can't have political union without some form of close fiscal union. You're welcome to that, personally I don't want to be governed by foreigners from Brussels, where local representatives of all political colours will be outnumbered 10:1, and where UK representation on the over-powerful, unaccountable Commission is 1:28.

I'd be the first to agree that UK politicians are venal, hypocritical, self interested, incompetent fuckwits. But the EU politicians appear to be equally as bad and in some cases worse. Faced with the choice of being governed by a smaller number of home-grown fuckwits all of whom are locally elected, or being governed by a hodge podge of un-elected fuckwit commissioners, and a rabble of fuckwit Euro MPs the overwhelming majority of whom this country has no influence upon, I'll take the former.

And here's a thought for you: If Britain is such a poor European, and its government needs that soothing micromanagement from Brussels, why is half of Eastern Europe beating a trail here? It would appear that the European project has failed to revitalise their economies, and in practice used them as means of importing cheap labour elsewhere in Europe? Is that the best that Europe can offer new members?

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@ AC

"The Spanish government would have been better off letting the vote happen and then saying "so what - the referendum was unconstitutional".

I fully agree with that, and I am fully confident the British government would react like that should the Scots come up with something similar.

Personally I would hope Spain would suggest something similar to the autonomy the Åland Islands have with the rest of Finland. Works well for all involved.

But I did write about "power" and the EC or EU has no such power and they have expressed their opinion about the situation.

About a year ago I claimed the EU would become the source of all evil during the referendum which was understandable of course.

What is happening now, after the Brexit party is over and the hangover has started those same Brexit people have started to confirm their belief again blaming the EU, first claiming they have too much power but now about their lack of power to intervene in Spain.

When you write "seem to be implying that the BBC is a Brexit mouthpiece" you have indeed understood me very wrongly, reading comments on the BBC I think there are more of those claiming it's too pro EU. With both claims it's probably as it should be, and something to be proud about. While I am no expert I believe I can spot the rubbish press, "Enemy of the people" and such shit. I wonder i it is true that one of those twats admitted that it's a lot easier to control the British government when outside the EU than within, which of course is true.

Disturbing, also from a Nordic view as we have not yet gone that far down.

From here I feel I am looking at a car crash in slow motion.

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Anyone care to do the sums?

For 8 years, 3/4 of Amazon income was untaxed and that results in a €250m fine.

What was the actual 8 year profit on which this figure was based and at what tax rate? Seems a fleetingly small sum to me ...

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Re: Anyone care to do the sums?

To be moderately fair to Amazon, I believe their profits are relatively low as they're still reinvesting in the company, e.g. making TV shows to stream on Prime, setting up drone delivery services, etc. etc. all of which can be written off against tax. Unlike Apple who basically leave it under a mattress in Ireland.

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Re: Anyone care to do the sums?

"Unlike Apple who basically leave it under a mattress in Ireland"

No they don't leave it under a mattress in Ireland. If they did, then they would have to pay tax on it there. They merely use Ireland as a conduit to get the money out of the EU tax free to another offshore location.

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But this brings up the critical question

HOW do you calculate profit? If Amazon is buying stuff for 10x and selling it for 11x in the EU, that's a profit of x. If they're investing to set up a streaming service in the US, should that really be taken against their EU profits since it has nothing to do with the EU? Also consider that capital costs like building a new warehouse are not charged against taxes, at least not in the US, but rather are depreciated over a period of years...typically 39 years for a building. Not sure how that works in the EU, and it may be different for different countries.

Apple on the other hand is making stuff for 10x, and people are buying it for 30x. So 20x is their profit, right? Not so fast, you have to account for all their development costs but how should those be apportioned? If they have extra costs to handle various languages in the EU, that share may be greater than in the UK where there's less difference between American English and British English versus say Swiss or Czech language. Most of their employees are in the US, so should all that cost be taken only in the US or should it be allocated throughout the world?

Further, Apple has a known wholesale cost, so they can't play any transfer pricing games a company with $0 "manufacturing" cost like Microsoft or Google can play. If a Tesco or whatever in the UK wants to sell iPhones, they'll buy them from Apple at wholesale, let's say 27x, and sell them for 30x, for a profit to Tesco of 3x. So why should Apple be calculating profit based on 20x, when an arms length transaction from Apple, Inc. to Apple UK would sell those iPhones to Apple UK at 27x netting a profit of 3x for Apple UK just like Tesco?

This is why international taxation is HARD. If it was just "revenue - cost = profit" there would be no argument, but determining what 'cost' is ain't so easy.

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Re: But this brings up the critical question

Also consider that capital costs like building a new warehouse are not charged against taxes, at least not in the US, but rather are depreciated over a period of years...

Are you sure? Depreciation is an accounting convention. Tax doesn't rely on the full conventions of accounting. So normal practice is that you depreciate a warehouse from your balance sheet against your profit and loss account at the rate you assume for depreciation, that gets you your ACCOUNTING profit that you report to shareholders. But for tax purposes, depreciation is ignored, and in the company tax computation you get a state-selected depreciation allowance, of (say) 4% before you reach your TAXABLE profit. That's then added in as a cost (or credit) below your pre-tax profit.

So an asset gets both depreciation allowances, AND tax allowances, just not in the same context. The purpose of this is simply to stop companies using false depreciation rates to lower their tax costs.

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Re: But this brings up the critical question

Oops. Clarification.

Once the accountants have established the taxable profit, the relevant rate of corporation tax is applied to the taxable profit, and then that TAX CHARGE is added in as a cost (or credit).

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Re: But this brings up the critical question

"lso consider that capital costs like building a new warehouse are not charged against taxes, at least not in the US, but rather are depreciated over a period of years...typically 39 years for a building. Not sure how that works in the EU, and it may be different for different countries."

In the UK, you don't get any allowance at all for the cost of a basic warehouse, but you will get allowances for certain things in the warehouse. For example you can get Energy Saving Enhanced Capital Allowances on the lighting if it meets Energy Trust requirements, and you will get Plant & Machinery allowances on fire protection stuff, conveyor belts and so on.

You are more likely to have to pay Capital Gains Tax at some point in the future on the building.

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@Ledswinger

Yes, I'm sure, at least where the US is concerned. Buy a commercial building for $1 million and you'll find you don't get to deduct $1 million from your business taxes, but only 1/39th of that million because it is depreciated over 39 years on your tax forms. Buy an apartment building and it is 27.5 years.

During the stimulus back in 2010, one of the things done was to allow 100% so-called "bonus" depreciation of certain capital expenses, rather than deducting them from your taxes over time. That was to encourage businesses to spend more in the near term and help boost the economy, in return for being able to take the full writeoff at that time instead of over the normal depreciation cycle for the "qualified property".

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Re: Anyone care to do the sums?

The profit is low because they reinvest in R&D. It's irked the AMZN shareholders for the last two decades (I should know, I've tracked and interacted with Amazon since '97). Bezos only started paying a nominal positive dividend because Wall Street complained bitterly.

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Re: But this brings up the critical question

Tax has it's own depreciation rules, and although there are minor regional variations, the general principle and level are much the same. It would make little sense for accounting conventions to be seriously out of kilter with tax rules.

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Re: But this brings up the critical question

> the accountants have established the taxable profit

Well, in fact that is usually agreed between the tax authority and the accountants, often by the simple expedient of the accountants following the relevant tax rules. Accountants - and the companies that employ them - are simply not allowed to make this stuff up, despite what many tabloids (are surprisingly many commentards) would have you believe.

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Re: But this brings up the critical question

"Accountants - and the companies that employ them - are simply not allowed to make this stuff up, despite what many tabloids (are surprisingly many commentards) would have you believe."

On the other hand, the revolving door between tax authorities, Treasury and "Big Accountancy" is kept well oiled through frequent use, the same "Big Accountancy" that is sought for advice by tax authorities and Treasury.

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Meh

Just out of interest...

assuming this actually ends up being payable (after several rounds of Appeal / knock back / appeal natch) to whom is it payable?

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Re: Just out of interest...

Luxemburg government - which will in a small way change their GDP and so eventually their Eu payment/rebate

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Anonymous Coward

and ebay?

ebay

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TVU
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"and ebay?"

The whole lot of them, Ebay, Amazon, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and the rest, are rampant tax avoiders and they really need to uniformly penalised with forms of sales and turnover taxes so that they pay their due bit for the upkeep of the infrastructure in the countries that they successfully trade in.

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re: are rampant tax avoiders and they really need to uniformly penalised

No. Tax EVASION is wrong, and should be prosecuted, but tax AVOIDANCE is not only legal and ethical, in most cases companies are required by law to engage in it because they have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize value for their stockholders.

The problem isn't the companies, the problem is the tax law. Fix the tax law, and you have solved the problem.

Tax avoidance is merely playing by the government's rules. If the government doesn't like the results, then they need to change the rules so that they get the results that they want, not penalize people and companies that followed the rules.

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Re: re: are rampant tax avoiders and they really need to uniformly penalised

"but tax AVOIDANCE is not only legal and ethical, in most cases companies are required by law to engage in it because they have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize value for their stockholders."

I would actually like to see a proper citation of those laws, because nobody I have asked has yet come up with anything convincing.

One simple reason is that there is no credible definition of "maximise value for stockholders." Over what timescale? Dividends or share price? Reliable return? Political donations? Arms manufacturers spending money to encourage foreign wars? Entertaining potential buyers with hookers and blow? Industrial espionage?

Tax avoidance is legal, but ethical? Only if your company makes no call whatsoever on the resources of the society that hosts you.

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Happy

Re: re: are rampant tax avoiders and they really need to uniformly penalised

"Fix the tax law, and you have solved the problem.".

Yes you got it, and I think the dear lady is actually trying to do just that including forcing available laws. Some, like I, like it, some will oppose it, and then there are all the moaners.

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Tax avoidance is what everyone does. Examples:

Bought from Play.com before the VAT loophole was closed? You were a tax avoider.

Bought from outside the EU and were pleased when duties and VAT on value wasn't charged (or you asked that the value be under-declared)? You were a tax avoider.

Bought from another country inside the EU and got it for cheaper than in the UK? Tax avoider!

Contractor and using service company, paying yourself your salary in dividends with minimum salary? TAX AVOIDER!

What goes for the goose goes for the gander, my friend. Amazon et al scale up with the same taxes, loopholes, concessions etc that you as an individual have access to. Just because you don't have an accountant who can read through the reams of British tax laws to pretty much squeeze your tax bill until the pips squeak does not mean you're less of a tax avoider than any large business doing same.

Of course, if you personally pay every penny you are told to pay by HMRC and don't question it, good for you. You're clearly more ethical than anyone I know (myself included).

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Re: re: are rampant tax avoiders and they really need to uniformly penalised

Lars, actually no. She is trying to retroactively apply a penalty on the basis that Amazon 'got a sweetheart deal from Luxembourg'. Ditto for Apple's massive 'back tax penalty'.

The EC has always known about Apple's deal with Ireland (and Ireland when they joined the EC made it clear that those deals couldn't change upon accession), and while Amazon's deal was confidential and only became public during the leaks in the new millennium, it is up to LUXEMBOURG to decide that the deal is no longer appropriate, NOT the EC.

What the EC *should* do is declare such sweetheart deals illegal and declare that any profits forthwith would be chargeable at the publicly available rate or whatever. Ditto for Apple. And if the EC does have a problem with Luxembourg and Ireland on that basis, fine the country, tell the country to change things.

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'Tax avoidance is what everyone does. Examples:'

Further example:

Have an ISA? You are a tax avoider, you could have put the money in your current account and contributed more to HMRC.

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Re: re: are rampant tax avoiders and they really need to uniformly penalised

"If the government doesn't like the results, then they need to change the rules so that they get the results that they want, not penalize people and companies that followed the rules."

How do you change the rules when the coffee shop pays huge money to a foreign parent company for the right to use the name over the door then pays a premium to source it's coffee from that well known coffee growing nation of Switzerland such that the local coffee shop claims to have mode no profit to tax?

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Possibilities for embarassment here

Given that one Jean Claude Juncker was Prime Minister and Finance Minister of Luxembourg for most of that period.

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TVU
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Re: Possibilities for embarassment here

"Given that one Jean Claude Juncker was Prime Minister and Finance Minister of Luxembourg for most of that period".

As Mr C of The Shamen said on the Ebeneezer Goode track, "Naughty, naughty, very naughty!"

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Possibilities for embarassment here

Alas not, he's a politician.

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Rule of Law

I am not doubting the findings that Ireland and Luxemburg granted excessive tax reductions to Amazon and Apple.

However, I am disturbed by this idea that a commission can just retroactively impose taxes, even if the bills are being given to companies who can afford it.

If you paid your taxes in year X and the government you paid them to agreed that you had paid in full then it should require a trial where the taxpayer is found guilty of having deliberately misled the government in some way.

If the EU wants to find Luxembourg guilty and asses Luxenbourg for the taxes that should have been collected, that would make sense. But this is telling all companies doing business in the EU that they

can never know what their true tax rate is, the EU can change the rules ex post facto.

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Re: Rule of Law

I think the problem is the commission is running out of money and needs to get more from what may, at a superficial glance, be on the surface legal.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Rule of Law

The entire point of the Apple and Amazon cases is that these two companies got special treatment.

The EU is not changing the law post fact, they're enforcing laws which the nation states and companies purposefully sidestepped.

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Re: Rule of Law

"If you paid your taxes in year X and the government you paid them to agreed that you had paid in full then it should require a trial where the taxpayer is found guilty of having deliberately misled the government in some way."

There was a trial, and they were found guilty of passing brown envelopes to the Luxembourg government in order to get a favourable tax deal that wasn't available to local companies.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Rule of Law

Exactly. The point is they didn't pay their taxes, when all the other companies did.

It's corruption, plain and simple.

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Re: Rule of Law

"I am not doubting the findings that Ireland and Luxemburg granted excessive tax reductions to Amazon and Apple."

That's pretty much the remit of the EC. Trying to prevent anti-competitive behavior by large market players, since the small ones already have it covered by various other agencies.

Giving state aid, and exactly what qualifies as state aid or not has been clarified for a number of years. Getting round to doing things is what takes some time.

The EC ruled on Apple's taxes in Ireland, that by allowing Apple to not pay them it was engaging in illegal state aid, and said "sort it out" to Ireland. Now a year deadline has passed with no action, the EC goes after the Irish government for not enforcing the ruling.

We'll see what happens, but I presume the hope for Apple is the Donald can at least get a bill for a once in a dogs lifetime low tax rate for foreign earnings for US companies through congress, and pay 8-12% on their stash, while stalling the EC until then.

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Re: Rule of Law

> laws which the nation states and companies purposefully sidestepped

No, the companies didn't, the nations may have, depending what the precise details of the deal were and how those details comply with the EU laws (which the *nation* was subject to) at the time.

Without knowing all of that information in all necessary detail, commenting is (as they say) pissing in the wind.

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Re: Rule of Law

"We'll see what happens, but I presume the hope for Apple is the Donald can at least get a bill for a once in a dogs lifetime low tax rate for foreign earnings for US companies through congress, and pay 8-12% on their stash, while stalling the EC until then."

If the Apple bill is enforced after all appeal routes but after moving the money back to the US via a tax holiday, Apple will still have to pay. If the money isn't available, the bailiffs might be sent in to take possession of £13billion worth of assets.

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Re: Rule of Law

"However, I am disturbed by this idea that a commission can just retroactively impose taxes, even if the bills are being given to companies who can afford it."

No, the EC is saying the law was broken and the correct payments now need to be made. From Apples or Amazons point of view, it's a bit like buying a stolen car "in good faith". Tough. The buyer still has the car taken off them to return it to the original owner. The Luxembourg and Irish governments "stole" money from the rest of the tax payers by "giving" it to Apple/Amazon in sweetheart deals. Now those "stolen goods" must be returned.

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TVU
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"However, I am disturbed by this idea that a commission can just retroactively impose taxes, even if the bills are being given to companies who can afford it."

If the company concerned is a wealthy industrial-scale tax avoider and they've been doing it it for years, I frankly don't care how retrospective the EU Commission gets. These tax avoiding scallies deserve everything that gets thrown at them because of the huge negative consequences that results from their behaviour, e.g. countries have less income to spend on necessary services and infrastructure maintenance and upgrading.

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TVU -Have you ever taken tax into consideration when making a purchase or investment? Have you ever NOT bought something because you didn't want to pay the tax on it? If so, then you are a tax avoider.

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Also, the Commission is not "retroactively imposing taxes". There are treaties, which Luxembourg signed and agreed to, which state that you can't give preferential tax treatment to specific companies. Which means that this isn't a case of somebody making up a new tax and applying it retroactively; this is a case of someone *breaking the law* and getting punished for it. Which sounds absolutely fine to me.

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TVU
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"TVU -Have you ever taken tax into consideration when making a purchase or investment? Have you ever NOT bought something because you didn't want to pay the tax on it? If so, then you are a tax avoider"

1. Not playing that pathetic troll game of yours.

2. I do try and do all investments, etc. ethically.

3. Tax avoidance and evasion are serious issues with serious consequences.

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