RYANAIR boss Michael O’Leary has weighed into the tax dispute between Apple and the European Union, saying the government should write a letter to the EU telling them to “f*** off”.
“Frankly the Irish government should turn around – they shouldn’t even appeal the decision – they should just write a letter to Europe and tell them politely to f**k off.
“The idea that you have the state aid mob – who’ve had more court verdicts overturned than any other department in Europe in the last 20 years – come along 10 years after the fact and say, ‘no we didn’t like that, we think you should have done something else’, is frankly bizarre.”
The European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager’s landmark ruling into the iPad and iPhone maker’s tax affairs found it paid just 1pc tax on its European profits in 2003 and 0.005pc in 2014.
Two years ago that worked out at €50 on every million in profit, she said, ordering that €13bn be handed over to Ireland in unpaid taxes.
Apple is set to challenge the decision, and Mr O’Leary added: “I think there’s no chance of this surviving a court ruling in Europe. There’s certain things that Europe has no competence in.”
Mr O’Leary went on to claim that Ryanair was “one of the most compliant taxpayers in Ireland”, having paid a tax rate of about 11.9% on profits last year.
On Brexit, the chief executive, who backed the Remain campaign during the EU referendum, expects the UK to suffer “significant economic damage” as a result of its decision to quit the single-bloc. However, he added that it is too soon to revise the company’s financial guidance.
Speaking on RTE Radio, Eamonn O’Dea, head of Revenue’s International Division, confirmed that the final bill for the technology giant will be closer to €19bn when interest is included.
“Yes indeed, in a state aid case there will be interest on top of that [€13bn],” Mr O’Dea told ‘Morning Ireland’, and he agreed the final figure could be up to €19bn.
“The amount that will go into an escrow account – and will be potentially subject to appeal depending on a government decision and depending on all the claims that might emerge from the US or other EU countries at the instigation or prompting of Commissioner Vestager – could be at that figure at max,” he said.
“But who knows what is going to transpire over the coming years?”
Apple is set to work out a payment mechanism to Revenue for the money – and it is expected that both Apple and the Irish Government will appeal the ruling by the European Commission.
However, a former IMF deputy director has said that the Irish government should think deeply about whether an appeal is the right option.
“I think they should hold the horses and reflect on this for a number of reasons,” Donal O’Donovan said on the Sean O’Rourke show on RTE
“First of all, what grounds do they have for thinking that they will win the appeal?
“The Commission, on this highly controversial subject, presumably thought long and hard before it came out with its ruling, and it must be fairly confident that it can withstand this and win in a European court. Otherwise, the damage to the commission would be enormous in terms of credibility and they wouldn’t want to take that risk.
“It is not impossible that there could be a deal out of this, if we worked on it, that might allow us to spend some part, perhaps a good part, of the €13-19bn on infrastructure: schools, hospitals… I just wouldn’t rule that out,” he added.
Earlier, Mr O’Dea was adamant that Revenue collected the full amount of tax due from Apple in accordance with Irish tax law.
“If the two Apple companies concerned had been resident in Ireland of course there would be a basis for having charged the amounts mentioned or alleged by the Commission,” he said.
“However, the two companies concerned were not resident companies in Ireland for tax purposes. So they were not chargeable on the worldwide profits, they were actually chargeable on their branches here in the state…
He agreed that “while somebody may be owed €13bn, Ireland isn’t owed it”.
“I’m not here to defend the international tax planning by multinationals, but I am here to reassure listeners that Revenue gave no deviation from the law, gave no preference to this company and collected the full tax due,” he added.
Finance Minister Michael Noonan has said that it was necessary to fight the verdict in the courts “to defend the integrity of our tax system, to provide tax certainty to business, and to challenge the encroachment of EU state aid rules into the sovereign member state competence of taxation”.
The unprecedented ruling from Brussels found officials in Dublin gave assurances to Apple in 1991 and 2007 that it was abiding by law in the manner it structured its affairs, recorded profits and made payments to its California offices.
The Commissioner said the treatment of Apple amounted to illegal state aid.
The inquiry found that Ireland’s treatment of Apple allowed the global brand to avoid taxation on almost all profits generated by sales in the entire European single market.
It said this was because Apple recorded all its sales in Ireland rather than in the countries where the products were sold.
The company has had a base in Ireland since 1980 and now employs 6,000 people.
Speaking on RTE, Mr O’Dea admitted concerns with the international tax system.
But he strongly denied that Ireland had done anything wrong.
“We all are certainly concerned that a very large part of the profits of a very wealthy cooperation go untaxed…,” he said.
“It happens through the interaction of the laws of two countries, there is a mismatch between the laws of two countries. What Ireland objects to, or what we should object to, is the EU Commission putting the entire blame of a mismatch to one country. It takes two to tango. You can’t allocate the entire responsibility of this to Ireland.
“As a general principle I think a multinational corporation should pay tax on their full profits. I do not think Ireland should be trying to tax 60pc of the global profits of this particular multinational corporation based on their branch in Cork.
“We have applied the law fully in Revenue… It should not be put at Ireland’s door or Revenue’s door,” he added.
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