Leak shows scale of Luxembourg’s sweet tax deals
Leak shows scale of Luxembourg’s sweet tax deals
The government defended itself saying it had done nothing illegal in its deals with corporations like Pepsi and IKEA. But other European nations, including neighbor France, criticized the tiny country’s tax practices — particularly when they have to impose austerity cuts on their citizens to make ends meet.
“Tax ‘optimization’ — companies that legally find solutions to pay little or no taxes — that is no longer acceptable for any country,” said French Finance Minister Michel Sapin. “I wish that in a few years we never have to talk about something like this again.”
Luxembourg’s other neighbors, Belgium and Germany, and the Netherlands were equally quick to condemn the practice, which gained center stage on Thursday when a group of investigative reporters produced documents allegedly showing that scores of major multinational companies have won such advantageous deals.
The practice can include offering low corporate tax rates to companies that have their European Union headquarters in Luxembourg, a nation of 520,000 that otherwise doesn’t have a big economy.
But Luxembourg is not alone in being aggressively competitive in attracting companies. Ireland and the Netherlands itself are being investigated by the European Union executive for their tax practices. The issue has come to the fore since the financial crisis saw governments scrounge for money to refill their coffers — and tolerance for such practices waned.
Luxembourg Finance Minister Pierre Gramegna insisted his country had not broken any law. “What has happened here is totally legal,” he said.
He said Luxembourg would cooperate with others to make sure tax standards are better coordinated on a global level as soon as possible. “The moment the rules change globally, it is evident that Luxembourg will apply them quickly,” Gramegna said.
The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists said the practice in Luxembourg was widespread after it pored through some 28,000 pages of confidential documents covering some 340 businesses that could be linked to the Grand Duchy for special tax deals.
European Parliament President Martin Schulz said that what was most worrying was that nations could simply come out and say it was all perfectly legal.
“This reality means that we need to urge the (EU) member states to work with us to end systematic tax evasion practices in Europe, be it in Luxemburg or any other country,” he said.
The EU has already broadened its crackdown on multinationals’ tax avoidance schemes, with a probe against Amazon’s practices launched last month. The ICIJ allegations now add many more high-profile names, including FedEx, Pepsi and IKEA.
The European Commission said that it was specifically targeting any deal that would sidestep market conditions and give an unfair edge to one company over others.
At a time of stringent austerity cuts, the tax advantages for multinationals and the wealthy are seen as evidence of an unfair society punishing the poor and rewarding the rich.
At a protest march of 100,000 workers against further austerity in Brussels, the issue of Luxembourg’s tax deals was raised time and again.
Socialist trade union leader Rudy De Leeuw said it amounted to “stealing from the common man while at the same time capitalists take their money to Luxembourg. This is unacceptable.”
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Siemens CEO pushes plans to boost Iraqi power infrastructure
FRANKFURT: Siemens said its boss Joe Kaeser met Iraq’s prime minister on Sunday to discuss a proposal by the German company to expand the Middle East nation’s power production.
The German engineering group said it was proposing a deal to add 11 gigawatt (GW) of capacity over four years, saying this would boost the country’s capacity by nearly 50 percent.
It did not give a value, but such a contract would be worth several billion euros based on previous comparable deals.
Iraq has a wide gap between electricity consumption and supply. Peak demand in the summer, when people turn on air conditioners due to high temperatures, is about 21 GW, far exceeding the 13 GW the grid is currently provides, experts say.
Kaeser said in a statement after meeting Prime Minister Al-Abadi that they had “discussed the comprehensive Siemens roadmap to build a better future for the Iraqi people.”
“In Egypt, we have done the same and successfully built up the power infrastructure in record time with the highest efficiency,” he said.
In 2015, Siemens signed an 8 billion euro ($9.4 billion) deal with Egypt to supply gas and wind power plants to add 16.4 gigawatts of capacity to the country’s power grid, marking the group’s single biggest order.
The proposal for Iraq, first pitched in February, would include cutting Iraq’s energy losses, introducing smart grids, expanding transmission grids, upgrading existing plants and adding new capacity.
The group would also help the government secure funding from international commercial banks and export credit agencies with German government support, creating thousands of jobs in Iraq.
Siemens would donate a $60 million grant for software for Iraqi universities, it said.