Ireland Can't Use Disputed Apple Tax For COVID-19, PM Says

Law360 (March 23, 2020, 6:32 PM EDT) -- Ireland's response to the coronavirus crisis can't use the ‎€14 billion ($15 billion) that the country was ordered to claw back from Apple after a state aid investigation, Ireland's prime minister said Monday, rebutting comments from an opposition leader.

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was responding to Mary Lou McDonald, leader of Sinn Féin, who said the money being held in escrow pending an appeal against a European Commission ruling could be used in the country's fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. That isn't the case and McDonald "should know better," Varadkar said, according to the Irish Mirror newspaper.

The ‎€14 billion was for tax breaks the commission said Ireland illegally granted to Apple. The funds are currently invested in low-risk, low-yield, euro-denominated bonds while the company and the Irish government await judgment from the European Court of Justice. No hearing date has been set.

"The European courts will decide whether that money either belongs to Apple or comes to the Irish Revenue Commissioners and then has to be distributed out among the countries of Europe," Varadkar said. "It's not ours to take, and it's now before the courts.”

The tax breaks were laid down in a 1991 agreement and a similar agreement issued in 2007, which allowed Apple to allocate most of the profits from a pair of Irish-headquartered business units to a head office that existed only on paper and was not taxed by any country, the ECJ heard in September.

This week the Irish government is due to announce its comprehensive fiscal response to the current pandemic. The country has already announced several tax measures to help deal with the crisis, including the delayed payment of local property taxes until May and a delay to a planned tax on credit cards among other nontax measures, among them the waiving of the six-day waiting period for illness welfare payments.

Apple, for its part, addressed the criticism that it was avoiding what the commission and tax justice advocates refer to as its “fair share” of tax, saying the company is the largest taxpayer in the world, and it believes its global effective tax rate over the period in question was 26%. Apple's corporation tax alone since 2008 has exceeded $100 billion, according to the company.

Neither Sinn Féin nor the Irish government immediately responded to requests for comment.

Apple didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

--Editing by Neil Cohen.

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