Ireland will shut Apple’s tax “holy grail” – but leave loopholes wide open

Magician, tricks

In a speech setting out Ireland’s annual budget, Finance Minister Michael Noonan declared an end to “ghost companies” — a reference to a notorious Apple subsidiary created in the 1970’s that has no declared residency for tax purposes anywhere in the world.

In the speech, reported by the BBC and other outlets, Noonan declared that his country wants to play fair but “play to win” in the competition for international investment. He also rebuffed demands to raise Ireland’s 12.5% corporate tax rate, which has been an irritant to Germany and other EU countries.

The end to the Apple loophole is an apparent sop to the United States where Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich) has railed that Apple has found “the holy grail of tax avoidance.” In reality, though, the gesture is unlikely to make a lick of difference.

As analysts point out, Noonan also declared that foreign countries can declare residency wherever they like, including havens like Bermuda which are a key element of “Double Irish with a Dutch Sandwich” tax strategy employed by tech firms like Apple and Google (Quartz has a good summary here). The upshot is that Apple can simply move the assets now flowing through its “holy grail” ghost company into another vehicle with a fixed Caribbean address.

The SEC recently concluded that Apple’s loop hole is perfectly legal, leading the Wall Street Journal to scold Levin for his theatrics, and claim that America should instead worry about reforming its own tax code so that firms like Google and Apple can repatriate their overseas income without a sky-high penalty.

Ireland, meanwhile, is trying to prove that its tech industry is composed of more than just accountants; the country, which is preparing to go without EU bailout loans in 2014, has attracted prominent CEOs and VCs to attend its two-day Web Summit in Dublin later this month.

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