Italian Taxation of Companies and Businesses

Italian taxation of foreign investments in Italian real estate is complex.

Transfer taxes charged upon the acquisition of the real estate (alternatively, registration tax or VAT) vary depending on the nature and tax status of the buyer (foreign private individual, foreign company purchasing and owning the real estate directly, or foreign individual or corporate investor purchasing and owning the real estate through an Italian controlled entity), as well as the nature and tax status of the seller (private individual vs. unincorporated business or commercial company registered as a VAT taxpayer).

Income taxes charged on rental income derived from the operation of the real estate vary depending on the character of the real estate (residential vs. commercial).

Income taxes charged upon the sale of the real estate vary depending on whether the real estate is owned directly by a foreign individual or a foreign company without a permanent establishment in Italy, or by a foreign company with a permanent establishment in Italy through which the real estate is operated in the active conduct of a business or an Italian owned or controlled entity.

Finally, taxation on distribution of profits derived from the operation of the real estate vary depending on whether the real estate investment is held through an Italian corporate vehicle owned or controlled by an EU vs a non-EU holding company, an Italian partnership, or directly by a foreign company without permanent establishment in Italy.

I. Transfer Taxes Charged Upon the Acquisition of the Real Estate.

A. General Considerations.

The purchase of real estate in Italy may subject to, alternatively, registration tax or VAT and, in addition, cadastral and mortgage taxes.The buyer normally pays the transfer taxes, although the buyer and seller are jointly and severally liable for the payment of the taxes and for any assessment by the tax authorities. VAT is also paid by the buyer, but an Italian VAT registered entity that is subject to VAT on its sales to customers, can reclaim the VAT paid on the purchase of the real estate by offsetting it with the VAT due to the tax authorities against its output operations. In some circumstances, it can claim the amount of VAT as a refund. EU-resident entities may request a refund of VAT paid if certain conditions are met. A non-EU resident entity must register for VAT and appoints an Italian VAT representative in order to recover any VAT incurred on the purchase.

B. Residential Real Estate.

Sales of residential real estate are normally exempt from VAT. Residential sales are only subject to VAT if the seller is a construction company that has constructed or renovated the property less than five years before the sale, or after five years but has elected to in the deed of sale to subject there sale to VAT. VAT is charged at the rate of 10 percent (22 percent is the property is classified as a luxury dwelling on the real estate register).

The registration tax is charged at the rate of 9 percent on the assessed value of the property, if the buyer is a private individual, or on the actual amount of the purchase price as shown on the purchase deed, if the buyer is a unincorporated business or a (foreign or domestic) commercial entity.

C. Commercial Real Estate.

The sale of commercial real estate (i.e., offices, retail properties and hotels sold separately from any associated business) is subject to VAT at the rate of 22 percent (reduced to 10 percent in case of renovated properties) if the seller is a construction company that constructed or renovated the property less than five years before the sale, or (in any event) the seller is a construction company that elected to subject the sale to VAT in the deed of sale. The sale of commercial property, whether it is exempt from VAT or not, is also subject to cadastral tax at the rate of 1 percent and mortgage tax at the rate fo 3 percent.

D. Going Concern.

The sale of commercial property part of a business is subject to registration tax at the rate of 9 percent applied to the next value of the real estate and 3 percent applied on the net value of all other assets of the business.

E. Stock of an Italian Real Estate Company.

When real estate is acquired by way of purchase of the shares of the company owning it, the transaction is VAT exempt and subject tor registration tax at the fixed amount of 200 euros.

II. Taxation of Rental Income.

A. Operation Through an Italian Corporate Vehicle.

If the real estate is leased to tenants, the rental income generated from the leases is subject to corporate income tax (IRES) at the rate of 24 percent and regional tax (IRAP) at the rate of 3.9 percent.

Taxable income for IRES purposes is the net revenue after the deductions of costs as shown in the company’s annual profit and loss account. In general, all costs relating to the activities of the company can be deducted, including net interest expenses, meaning interest payable minus interest receivable, up to an amount equal to 30 percent of EBITDA. Any excess interest expense can be carried over and deducted in any future year in which the EBITDA exceeds the net interest expense for the year. Interest due on loans secured by a mortgage over the rental property is not subject to the 30 percent limitation and is therefore fully deductible. Depreciation of property is deductible to the extent allowed by tax law. Property tax (IMU) is not deductible for IRES purposes. 10 percent of IRAP paid and IRAP due on cost of employees is deductible for IRES purposes.

In case of lease of residential real estate, gross rents are taxed without any deduction for costs, except for ordinary maintenance expenses not exceeding 15 percent of the amount of gross rents. Interest due on loans used to finance the acquisition of the real estate is deductible within the limit of 30 percent of EBITDA, while interest due on loans secured by a mortgage on the residential rental property is not subject to the 30 percent limitation and therefore is fully deductible.

The taxable income subject to IRAP is the amount of revenue after the deduction of costs as shown in the annual profit and loss account. However, not all costs relating to the company’s activities can be deducted. In particular, interest payments, cost of employees, IMU and IRES payments are not deductible.

B. Operation Through an Italian Partnership.

An Italian partnership is a transparent entity for incomer tax purposes. As a result, its income is taxed directly to its partners. In case of foreign partners, the income is taxed at the corporate rate of 24 percent plus IRAP rate of 3.9 percent. Interest is entirely deductible for purpose of computing the taxable income of the partnership, taxable to its partners, without the 30 percent EBITDA limitation.

C. Direct Operation By A Foreign Entity Without a Permanent Establishment in Italy.

Renting real estate does not automatically arise to an active trade or business, When a foreign entity operates an Italian rental property outside of the conduct of an active trade of business, gross rental income derived from the rental of the property is subject to corporate tax at the rate fo 24 percent, with no deduction of depreciation or other costs incurred in connection with the rebate of the property, expect for ordinary maintenance expenses not exceeding 15 percent of the amount of gross rents. Interest on loans obtained to finance the acquisition of the property for secured by a mortgage on the property is not deductible for corporate tax purposes.

III. Taxation of Profit Distributions.

A. Investment Through an Italian Corporate Vehicle.

Generally, distribution of profits to foreign shareholders is subject to a 26 perdent withholding tax. However, dividends paid to EU-based corporate shareholders are subject to a reduced 1.20 percent withholding tax. Dividends distributed to EU-based parent companies which qualify for the benefits of the EU parent-subsidiary directive are totally exempt from withholding tax. Italian dividend withholding tax may also be reduced by way of a tax treaty between Italy and the investor’s home country.

B. Investment Through an Italian Partnership.

Non-resident partners are subject to tax in Italy on their share of the partnership’s income, and not withholding tax applies on distributions of profits from the partnership to its partners.

C. Direct Investment By A Foreign Entity With No Permanent Establishment in Italy.

Once rental income has been taxed in Italy it can be repatriated to the foreign company without any further Italian tax.

IV. Taxation At Exit.

A. Investment Through an Italian Corporate Vehicle.

Gains derived from the sale of the real estate are subject to corporate tax (IRES) at the rate of 24 percent regardless of how much time has elapsed since its acquisition. The taxable gain is the difference between the adjusted tax basis of the property at the time of the sale (i.e., purchase price minus the depreciation deductions) and the sale price.The gain is also generally subject to IRAP at thew rate of 3.9 percent. However, if the property is sold as part of a going concern, IRAP does not apply.

Any gain derived from the sale of the stock of the Italian corporate vehicle would be fully taxable. The taxable amount of the gain would be the difference between the adjusted tax basis of the shares in the Italian vehicle and the sale price. Participation exemption rules do not apply.

In case of liquidation of the Italian vehicle owning the real estate, the Italian company would recognized a gain equal to the difference between its adjusted tax basis in the property (equal to the purchase price minus depreciation deductions) and the fair market value of the property at the time of the liquidation. Then, distributions to shareholders upon liquidation would be treated as dividends, to the extent that they come out of the profits of the Italian corporate vehicle, subject to dividend withholding tax. The execs would be taxable as a gain.

B. Direct Investment By A Foreign Entity With No Permanent Establishment in Italy.

Gains derived from the sale of the real estate are not subject to corporate tax (IRES) of the property is sold more than five years after its acquisition. If the property is sold within five years of its acquisition, IRES applies at the rate of 24 percent. Sicne decoration is not deductible, the amount of taxable gain is the difference between the purchase price and the sale price.

C. Investment Through a Partnership.

Gains derived from the sale of the real estate owned through an Italian partnership are taxed at the level of partners.

In a future post we will deal with the tax planning aspects of investing in Italian real estate through an Italian real estate investment fund or an Italian real estate investment company (RE SICAV).

With its Ruling n. 4091 of June 12, 2017, the Eighth Department of Tax Commission (District Tax Court) of Milan, Italy ruled that upon the cancellation of an inter company loan from a Dutch parent company to its Italian subsidiary, the interest accrued on the loan and deducted by the Italian subsidiary on an accrual basis, during the course of the loan, is deemed “constructively received” by the foreign parent, and is potentially subject to the Italian interest withholding tax (at the rate of 20 percent, pursuant to article 26, paragraph 5 of Presidential Decree n. 600 of 1973, recently increased to 26 percent).

However, the Tax Court also ruled that the Dutch parent company qualified as “beneficial owner” of the interest, and was eligible for the withholding tax exemption granted under article 26-quater of Presidential Decree n. 600 of 1973, which implemented the EU Directive n. 2003/49/CE (so called interest and royalties directive).

Under the facts of the case, a Dutch company extended a loan to its Italian subsidiary, after taking a loan from a Dutch subsidiary, which in turned had obtained a loan from a third party bank. After a number of years, the Dutch parent decided to unilaterally cancel the loan to its Italian subsidiary. Under Italian law, the cancellation of a shareholder’s loan does not give rise to taxable income in the hands of the borrower; rather, it is treated as a contribution to the capital of the borrower, thereby increasing the adjusted tax basis of the shareholder in its stock of the borrowing company.

The Italian Tax Agency took the position that, upon the cancellation of the loan, the interest from the loan, which had accrued and had been deducted by the Italian subsidiary during the course of the loan, was constructively received by Dutch parent and reinvested into the subsidiary, with the consequence that it was subject to the Italian interest withholding tax.

The theory of the constructive receipt of the interest, in the hands of the lender, upon cancellation of a shareholder loan, is based on a circular of the Ministry of Finance issued on May 27, 1994 with number 73/E.

Furthermore, the Tax Agency denied the benefit of the exemption from the withholding tax for interest paid between affiliated companies established in a EU jurisdiction, granted under the EU interest and royalties directive (Directive 2003/49/CE), as implemented in Italy by way of article 26-quater of Presidential Decree n. 600 of 1973. According to the Tax Agency, the strict interconnection and similarity of the terms of the back-to-back loans from the Dutch subsidiary to its Dutch parent and from the Dutch parent to its Italian subsidiary, and the lack of organizational structure at the level of the Dutch parent, excluded that the Dutch parent could qualify as beneficial owner of the interest for the purpose of the exemption.

The Tax Court sided with the Italian Tax Agency on the first issue, concerning the application of the withholding tax, and ruled that the interest was “constructively received” by the Dutch parent at the time of the cancellation of the loan, and thereby it was subject to the Italian withholding tax. The rational of the ruling is that the deduction of the interest in the hands of the Italian subsidiary, at the time of the accrual of the interest during the life of the inter company loan, must necessarily correspond to the actual receipt of the interest, in the hands of the shareholder-lender, either at the time of the actual payment of the interest, or at the time of the cancellation of the loan, whichever is earlier. Otherwise, there would be “loss” of tax along way, with the benefit of the deduction of the interest reducing the Italian tax on the subsidiary, upon accrual of the interest, on one side, without the Italian withholding tax on the interest at the time of the cancellation of the loan, on the other side.

It is worth noting that the new paragraph 4-bis of article 88 of the Italian Tax Code, enacted by way of the Legislative Decree n. n.147 of September 14, 2015, the cancellation of an inter company loan is treated as taxable income, in the hands of the borrower, to the extent that the amount of cancelled debt exceeds the adjusted tax basis of the debt (i.e. the principal amount of the loan). The result is that the borrower recognizes taxable income for the amount of of interest accrued, and not paid, under the loan. Under this new provision, the rational for the application of the outbound interest withholding tax on cancellation of an inter-company loan seems to lose value.

Instead, the Tax Court sided with the taxpayer on the issue of the Dutch parent’s eligibility for the interest withholding tax exemption under the EU interest directive. According to the Tax Court, the terms of the two back-to-back loans where sufficiently different, and the Dutch parent had the legal and economic dominion and control over the interest from the loan, thereby qualifying as beneficial owner of the interest for the purposes of the withholding tax exemption. The Tax Court noted that the interest rate under the Dutch subsidiary loan was different from the interest rate under the Italian subsidiary loan, living a margin of profits in the hands of the Dutch subsidiary, that the Italian subsidiary loan did not contain any provision requiring the Italian subsidiary to repay the loan, in the event the Dutch parent had to repay the loan to the Dutch subsidiary, and that the Dutch parent had the unconditioned right to waive its credit for the principal and interest of the loan towards the Italian subsidiary, as it actually did.

For the interpretation of the meaning of the term beneficial owner, the Tax Court referred to the OECD Commentary to the OECD Model Income Tax Treaty. Curiously, the Court did not refer to the definition of the term beneficial owner which is set forth in the EU Directive (at article 1, paragraph 4), according to which beneficial owner of the interest is the person which has the legal dominion and control over the interest and derives a direct economic benefit from it.

The decision provides some useful guidance on the tax treatment of interest arising from related party back-to-back loans, and illustrates some of the features of those loans that may be relevant in order to recognize the status of beneficial owner to the immediate recipient of the interest, to the extent that it is required to preserve certain tax benefits such as an interest withholding reduction or exemption.

With ist ruling n. 27113/2016 issued on December 28, 2016, the Italian Supreme Court interpreted and applied the beneficial ownership provision of article 10 of the tax treaty between Italy and France, for the purpose of determining whether a French holding company, wholly owned by a U.S. corporation, was entitled to the imputed credit granted under that treaty in respect of dividends received from an Italian subsidiary.

The Italian Supreme Court held that the beneficial ownership provision of the Italy-France treaty requires that the recipient of the dividends has full dominion and control over the dividend, meaning, that it enjoys the right to receive and keep dividends, unconstrained by any legal or contractual obligation to pass the dividends on to its parent, and actually enjoys the economic benefit of the dividend, which it treats and reports as its own income on its accounting books and can dispose of without legal or contractual constraints. 

According to the Supreme Court, the fact that the French holding company did not have staff, offices and other significant sources of income, except for the dividends it received from time to time from its subsidiaries, and did not engage in any other activities except for holding the legal title to the shares of its subsidiaries, is consistent with a holding company’s typical functions and role, and does not negate the status of beneficial owner and eligibility to the tax treaty benefits.

The ruling is consistent with a previous decision of the Supreme Court, which we reported in the past on our blog, holding that beneficial owner is the person who has the legal control and economic enjoyment of the dividend (we refer to the Supreme Court’s ruling n. 10792  issued on May 25, 2016).

The interpretation of the term ‘beneficial owner’ as the person having the legal and economic dominion and control over the dividend, followed by the Supreme Court in ruling n. 27113/2016,  is also consistent with the clarification set forth at paragraph 12.4 of the 2014 Commentary to article 10 of the  OECD Model Income Tax Convention, according to which ‘beneficial owner’ is the person who has the full right to use and enjoy the dividend, unconstrained by a contractual or legal obligation to pass on the payment received to another person.

 The Supreme Court expressly rejected the notion that, in order to qualify as a beneficial owner of the dividend, the holding company is required to have a minimum level of organization, including employees and offices, and to engage in business activities generating operating receivables, aside from holding the legal title to the shares of its subsidiaries and receiving dividends therefrom.     

 

 

     

 

 

 

 

 

Continue Reading Italian Supreme Court Rules on Beneficial Ownership and Holding Companies

The EU Directive n. 2015/849 (the “IV Directive”) on anti money laundering sets forth new provisions requiring financial institutions and professional individuals to verify their customers or clients by identifying the ultimate “beneficial owner” of an entity, legal arrangement or financial transaction; obtaining and conserving information about their customers and the ultimate beneficial owners, as defined in the Directive, and reporting an extensive amount of information about trusts, foundations and other similar arrangements in a central register held by each Member State. EU Member States have time until June 26, 2017 to traspose the provisions of the Directive into their national laws.

Unlike EU Regulations that are enacted by the EU Council of Ministers, which have automatically the full force and effect of EU prevail over any non conforming national law regulating the same area, EU Directives proposed by the EU Commission are not self executing. EU Members States are left with some leeway to decide which provisions are to be adopted. EU Directives are usually adopted through a number of legislative procedures depending on the different subject matters. As a result, while the deadline to implement the Directive is still pending, and until a country enacts domestic legislation actually implementing the Directive, the Directive has no immediate effect and cannot be directly applied. 

In Italy, the Italian Parliament by way of Act n. 170 of August 12, 2016 granted legislative authority to the Italian Government to implement the provisions of the IV Directive. Now the Government is working at adopting one or more legislative decrees containing the specific provisions that will traspose the IV Directive into Italy’s national law. The legislative decrees to be issued pursuant to the grant of authority provided by the Parliament need not be approved by the Parliament. Rather, they become law as soon as they are adopted by the Government. 

In light of the above, we can safely say that Italy is well on track to implement the Directive within the June 26, 2017 deadline. If that should not be the case, at that point the Directive would become self executing and could still be applied, for those provisions that are sufficiently detailed and need not be specified or modified by way of national implementing legislation.     

Law n. 170 refers to the definition of beneficial owner that is set forth in the IV Directive. 

The definition of “beneficial owner” in the IV Directive, for corporate entities, is the following (article 3, paragraph 6, letter a)):

(6) ‘beneficial owner’ means any natural person(s) who ultimately owns or controls the customer and/or the natural person(s) on whose behalf a transaction or activity is being conducted and includes at least:

(a) in the case of corporate entities:

(i) the natural person(s) who ultimately owns or controls a legal entity through direct or indirect ownership of a sufficient percentage of the shares or voting rights or ownership interest in that entity, including through bearer shareholdings, or through control via other means, other than a company listed on a regulated market that is subject to disclosure requirements consistent with Union law or subject to equivalent international standards which ensure adequate transparency of ownership information. A shareholding of 25 % plus one share or an ownership interest of more than 25 % in the customer held by a natural person shall be an indication of direct ownershipA shareholding of 25 % plus one share or an ownership interest of more than 25 % in the customer held by a corporate entity, which is under the control of a natural person(s), or by multiple corporate entities, which are under the control of the same natural person(s), shall be an indication of indirect ownership. This applies without prejudice to the right of Member States to decide that a lower percentage may be an indication of ownership or control. Control through other means may be determined, inter alia, in accordance with the criteria in Article 22(1) to (5) of Directive 2013/34/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council (3);

(ii) if, after having exhausted all possible means and provided there are no grounds for suspicion, no person under point (i) is identified, or if there is any doubt that the person(s) identified are the beneficial owner(s), the natural person(s) who hold the position of senior managing official(s), the obliged entities shall keep records of the actions taken in order to identify the beneficial ownership under point (i) and this point.  

Under the definition set forth here above, the beneficial owner is the natural person who ultimately owns or control the tested corporate entity (defined as “customer” in the Directive). 

For the purpose of identifying the natural person who ultimately owns or controls the tested corporate entity, the Directive adopts the “more than 25% shareholding or ownership interest” test, as an indication or presumption of beneficial ownership, and uses both a direct and indirect ownership test. 

Under the direct ownership test, if a natural person directly owns more than 25% of a shareholding or ownership interest in the “tested” corporate entity, that person is presumed to be the beneficial owners of that entity. In case of direct ownership, the analysis stops at the natural person who owns the relevant shareholding interest in the tested corporate entity. Under the indirect ownership rule, a shareholding or ownership interest (of any size) in the “tested” corporate entity, owned by another legal entity (such as another corporate entity, trust, foundation, etc.), is attributed to the beneficial owner(s) of such other legal entity, to determine the ultimate beneficial owner of the “tested” corporate entity.

In case of trust or other similar legal arrangements, “beneficial owner” is defined as follows (article 3, paragraph 6, letter b)):

(6) ‘beneficial owner’ means any natural person(s) who ultimately owns or controls the customer and/or the natural person(s) on whose behalf a transaction or activity is being conducted and includes at least:

(b) in the case of trusts:

(i) the settlor;

(ii) the trustee(s);

(iii) the protector, if any;

(iv) the beneficiaries, or where the individuals benefiting from the legal arrangement or entity have yet to be determined, the class of persons in whose main interest the legal arrangement or entity is set up or operates;

(v) any other natural person exercising ultimate control over the trust by means of direct or indirect ownership or by other means.  

If interpreted literally, the definition of “beneficial owner” in case of trusts, foundations and other similar fiduciary arrangements is extremely broad, and would automatically require to verify and disclose each one of the settlor, trustees, beneficiaries or protectors of a trust, regardless of whether any one of them  actually owns an interest in the trust’s income or property or has any meaningful power with respect to the administration of the trust. Also, the literal definition of “beneficial owner” used in the IV Directive in case of trusts does not make any distinction between an interest in the income of the trust, as opposed to an interest in the corpus of the trust, and does not refer to any minimum ownership requirement such as the 25 percent ownership threshold that applies in case of corporate entities.  

An over broad interpretation of the term “beneficial owner” in case of trusts would put banks, financial institutions, professional individuals and their customers under extreme pressure, potentially dramatically extending the amount of information to collect and creating a friction between the need of a thorough verification of the customer for anti money laundering purposes, and the right to privacy for all individuals involved who do not own any ownership interest of power of administration with respect to the trust.

It would seem more reasonable to limit the definition of “beneficial owner” of a trust, to those individuals or entities, among the settlor, trustee(s) or beneficiaries, who actually have a meaningful interest in corpus of the trust or real powers with respect to the administration of the trust.   

Arguably, sub paragraphs 6(a) and 6(b) of article 3 should apply separately, depending on whether the “customer” to be tested is a corporate entity (in which case, the test of sub paragraph a) should apply) or a trust or other similar arrangement (in which case the test of sub paragraph b) should apply).

However, there is a potential argument for a concurrent application of the two sets of rules, whenever a shareholding or ownership interests in a corporate entity is held through a trust, foundation or other similar legal arrangement. In that case, under the “indirect ownership” rule requiring to find the natural person that ultimately owns the corporate entity, it may be reasonably be argued that the “beneficial owner” of the trust should be verified under the separate rules of sub paragraph b), and he or she would be deemed to indirectly and ultimately own the shareholding or ownership interest which the trust owns in the tested corporate entity.

Under a different interpretation, in the event that a shareholding or ownership interest in a corporate entity is owned through a trust, the analysis should stop at the person or persons who control the entity, under the rules of sub paragraph a), thereby limiting the know your customer verification to the person or persons who act as trustee or trustees for the trust.

In light of all the potential interpretative challenges, briefly mentioned above, it is important to see how the provisions of the IV Directive are going to be incorporated into the national legislation that will be enacted to transpose the Directive into Italy’s internal law. 

As for the scope of the disclosure mandated by the Directive, it is carried out at two levels. At one level, a bank, financial institution or professional individual that does business with an Italian entity or trust is required to conduct proper customer due diligence, which under article 13, paragraph 1, letter (b) of the Directive, including the following:

(b) identifying the beneficial owner and taking reasonable measures to verify that person’s identity so that the obliged entity is satisfied that it knows who the beneficial owner is, including, as regards legal persons, trusts, companies, foundations and similar legal arrangements, taking reasonable measures to understand the ownership and control structure of the customer;

At another level, under article 30, paragraph 1 of the Directive, the companies themselves are required to obtain and hold  adequate, accurate and current information on their beneficial ownership, including the details of the beneficial interests held.

Article 30, paragraph 2 requires that the information of the companies’ beneficial ownership and beneficial interests be held in a way that it is accessible in a timely manner to the tax and financial authorities. 

In addition to the above, article 30, paragraph 4 of the Directive provides that the information on the companies’ beneficial ownership and beneficial interests shall also be held in a central register accessible in all cases to the tax and financial authorities, banks and financial institutions and any other person or organization that can demonstrate a legitimate interest to 

Finally, under the Directive, a separate and independent disclosure regime may apply to trusts. Indeed, article 31, paragraph 1 provides that:

1.Member States shall require that trustees of any express trust governed under their law obtain and hold adequate, accurate and up-to-date information on beneficial ownership regarding the trust. That information shall include the identity of: (a) the settlor; (b) the trustee(s); (c) the protector (if any); (d) the beneficiaries or class of beneficiaries; and (e) any other natural person exercising effective control over the trust.    

Italy does not have any law governing trusts (except that it applies its owns tax rules for the taxation of trusts both for income and gist and estate tax purposes). Trusts are usually established under foreign law, and recognized and enforced in Italy, if necessary, under the Hague Convention on Trusts which has been ratified in Italy by way of Law n. 364 of 1989. Law n. 171 refers is to “trusts governed under law n. 364 of October 16, 1089”, which includes any trust established under foreign law, which is recognized and enforced in Italy pursuant to the Trust Convention.

Furthermore, article 31, paragraph 4 of the Directive provides that

4.Member States shall require that the information referred to in paragraph 1 is held in a central register when the trust generates tax consequences. The central register shall ensure timely and unrestricted access by competent authorities and FIUs, without alerting the parties to the trust concerned. It may also allow timely access by obliged entities, within the framework of customer due diligence in accordance with Chapter II. Member States shall notify to the Commission the characteristics of those national mechanisms.

The separate disclosure for trusts seems to be triggered whenever a trust is recognized and made effective in Italy pursuant Law n. 389 and the Hague Convention, and when the trust generates tax consequences in Italy.

Finally, it should be noted that on July 5, 2016, the European Commission adopted a proposal to amend the IV Directive on anti money laundering, which would reduce the shareholding test from 25% to 10%. 

Until the IV Directive is actually transposed into Italian law,  the provisions of legislative decree n. 231 of November 21, 2007 still apply.  

Legislative Decree n. 231 treats as “beneficial owner” the natural person or persons who ultimately own or control an entity, by directly or indirectly owing or controlling an adequate shareholding, voting or ownership interest in the entity, with the understanding that a (direct or indirect) shareholding or ownership interest of more than 25% of the entity is sufficient to satisfy the definition of beneficial owner. 

In case of trusts, beneficial owner is any identified beneficiary of the trust, who owns a qualified interest in more than 25% of the trust’s assets. 

The disclosure under Legislative Decree n. 231 is much more limited and restricted, given the narrower definition of beneficial owner that applies when a corporate entity is owned indirectly through a trust. Unlike the IV Directive, which mentions each of the trust’s settler, trustees and beneficiaries as beneficial owners of the trust, and as owning indirectly indirectly any shareholding or ownership interest that the trust holds in the tested entry, the legislative decree n. 231 refers solely to the trust’s identified beneficiaries owning an interest in at least 25% of the trust’s assets. 

In the course of our practice, we have been involved in situations in which banks and other financial  institutions or professional firms adopt a stricter and more balanced approach, by referring to the 25 percent ownership test and, for trusts, by limiting their investigations to beneficiaries holding an interest on more than 25 percent of trust’s assets and trustees holding effective power of administration of the trust. In other situations, however, we noted that other banks may want to anticipate the application for the new provisions of the IV Directive, even before its entry into force, and conduct a 360 degree investigation on trusts, requesting information about all of the trust’s settlor, trustees and beneficiaries (both actual and contingent) of wither income or corpus of the trust, regardless of the existence of an actual interest in, or power of administration with respect to, the assets of the trust.
In those cases, we have experienced that clients are willing to discuss the matter with their banks to make sure that their legitimate privacy rights are respected, and that anti money laundering, know your client verifications do not go beyond their legitimate, reasonable needs and become unmanageable or drain excessive resources.
In anticipation of the implementation of the IV Directive, clients should make the effort to review their structures, and put together a standard package that should be used with all of the banks, financial intermediaries and professional firms with whom they do business, and who will require information pursuant to anti money laundering legislation, to achieve efficiency and stay in compliance in such a challenging area clearly destined to draw more scrutiny and attention.

The Italian Supreme Court with its ruling n. 10792 of May 25, 2016 held that the 5 percent reduced dividend withholding tax provided for under article 10 of UK-Italy Tax Treaty does not apply, when the company that receives the dividends does not prove that it is the "beneficial owner" of the dividend as required under the relevant provision of the applicable tax treaty. For that purpose, according to the Court, the recipient of the dividends must prove that it has the legal and economic control of the dividend. As a result, in the absence of such proof, the Court held that the dividend was subject to the full 27 percent withholding tax rate provided for under Italy’s internal tax legislation. 

Under the facts of the case, an Italian company distributed dividends to a UK company, which was  ultimately owned or controlled by a US corporation. At the time of the distribution of the dividend, the Italian company applied the 27 percent withholding tax provided for under article 27 of Presidential Decree n. 600 of 1973. The UK company then filed a request of refund of the difference between the 27 percent dividend withholding tax applied by the payer of the dividend, and the 5 percent reduced dividend withholding tax provided for under article 10 of UK-Italy tax Treaty.

In support of its request of refund, the taxpayer submitted a certificate of tax residency issued by UK taxing authorities, and evidence that the UK company that received the dividends duly reported the dividends as its own income on its income tax returns filed in the UK.

The Tax Court ruled in favor of the taxpayer, and the Regional Tax Court affirmed the Tax Court’s ruling. According to the lower courts, "beneficial owner" means the person to whom the payment is attributed for tax purposes, and which reports the payment on its income tax return in its country of residence.

The Supreme Court disagreed, and held that "beneficial ownership" requires that the recipient of the income demonstrate that it has the economic and legal control of the dividend, namely that it receives the dividend for its own economic benefit, and without any legal obligation to pass it on to another person.

According to the Court, the beneficial ownership provision of tax treaties, as it evolved since it first appeared in the 1977 OECD Model Tax Convention, constitutes a general anti treaty shopping clause, which must be given a substantial meaning independent from and going beyond the tax residency requirement, based on an analysis of the facts and circumstances of each case showing that the recipient of the income derives a direct economic benefit from, and has the full dominion and control of, the income subject to withholding tax.

In contrast, the term "beneficial ownership" cannot be interpreted in a formalistic way, according to which beneficial owner is the person who receives the income and reflects it on its income tax return, because in that case it would just overlap with the tax residency requirement and would no longer serve its purpose of stopping treaty abuse.          

The decision is consistent with Italian Supreme Court’s case law and provides additional certainty in a complex area of international tax law.

The Italian Supreme Court, with its ruling n. 8196 of April 22, 2015 held that a NY corporation, wholly owned by an Italian company, and effectively managed and controlled by its Italian shareholders and directors in Italy, had to be treated as an Italian resident company for Italian tax purposes, and was subject to corporate income tax in Italy on all of its profits, inclusive those arising from sales to US customers in the United States. Unlike the United States, which classifies a corporation as domestic or foreign based on whether it is incorporated in the United States or abroad, Italy applies the "place of administration" test and treats a company as Italian resident whenever it is administered in Italy. The other two tests to determine corporate tax residency are the place of incorporation test and the principle place of business test. The Court concluded that the NY corporation was administered in Italy because the manager was domiciled in Italy, and the corporation’s accounting books, commercial contracts, and minutes of meetings of shareholders and directors were all located in Italy. In an additional blow to the taxpayer, the Court ruled that no foreign tax credit for the taxes paid by the NY corporation in the United States could be granted in Italy, because the corporation had failed to file its Italian income tax returns in Italy, whereby it should have reported its foreign income and taxes and computed and claimed the credit, which had then become time barred. Under Italy’s tax administrative rules,  in order to obtain a credit for foreign taxes paid on foreign source income, a taxpayer is required to file its tax return, reporting the foreign income and taxes paid and the amount claimed as a credit to offset the Italian taxes on the same income taxed abroad. The taxpayer raised the argument that the credit should have been granted, regardless of the fact that no income tax returns had been filed in Italy, pursuant to the foreign tax credit provisions of the US-Italy tax treaty, which would prevail over Italy’s internal tax legislation. The Court however rejected the argument, holding that the way in which the credit is substantiated and claimed through the timely filed true and accurate Italian corporate income tax return in Italy is an administrative matter duly regulated under domestic law, and  not affected by the treaty. The ruling shows that Italian companies with foreign subsidiaries must pay specific attention to Italy’s anti inversions rules reclassifying foreign companies as Italian resident companies subject to tax in Italy whenever they are effectively managed and control from Italy. That includes making sure that local managers (with real management responsibilities) are appointed and sit on the board of the company in the Unites States; board meetings are held and resolutions are properly recorded on the company’s books in the United States; commercial contracts are negotiated, executed and filed in the company’s records the United States, and accounting books and records are kept at the company’s offices in the United States. The risk of losing the credit and being subject to double taxation is high and requires a great deal of due diligence and care.                                          

The application of tax treaties to fiscally transparent entities is controversial. Two requirements for the application of the benefits of a tax treaty (that is, the elimination or reduction of the source country tax on payments made by a person resident in one Contracting State, to a person resident in the other Contracting Sate) are that the person receiving the payment is a "resident" of the other contracting state, and the "beneficial owner" of the payment.

Residence is usually defined in tax treaties (typically, under article 4, paragraph 1), as requiring that a person be "liable to tax" in the other Contracting States, by reason of his residence, domicile, place of management, place of incorporation or other criterion of a similar nature (article 4, paragraph 1).

According to the OECD, whenever an entity is treated as fiscally transparent in a State, the entity is not "liable to tax" in that State, within the meaning of article 4, paragraph 1, and so it cannot be a resident thereof for purposes of a treaty. In such case, the entity’s partners or owners should be entitled to the benefits of the treaty entered into by the State of which they are residents, with respect to their share of the income of the entity, to the extent that the entity’s income is allocated to them under the tax laws of their State of residence (see OECD Commentary to the Model Tax Convention, on Article 1, paragraph 5).

The current Tax Treaty between Italy and the United States adopts a slightly different approach and assigns tax residency to a an entity that is treated as fiscally transparent entity in the United States, for the purposes of the treaty, to the extent that the entity’s income is taxed in the U.S in the hands of its parents or beneficiaries. In fact, Article 4, paragraph 1, letter b) of the Convention, with reference to partnerships, estates and trusts, provides that in the case of income derived or paid by a partnership, estate of trust, this term applies only to the extent that the income derived by such partnership, estate or trust is subject to tax in that State, either in its hands or in the hands of its partners or beneficiaries”. Article 1, paragraph 5, letter d) of the Protocol extends the same provision to fiscally transparent entities, by providing that d) The provisions of subparagraph 1(b) of Article 4 (Resident) of the Convention shall apply to determine the residence of an entity that is treated as fiscally transparent under the laws of either Contracting State.

Under the provisions referred to here above, a U.S. entity that is treated as fiscally transparent under US tax laws, receiving dividends from an Italian subsidiary, should be entitled to the 5% withholding tax on inter company dividends, provided that it satisfies the other requirement (minimum 25% ownership for a period of at least 12 months at the time of the payment of the dividends). For that purpose, the documentation provided to the Italian subsidiary must include tax certificates for both the entity and it shareholders or beneficiaries, providing that the shareholders or beneficiaries US residents and are taxed on the entity’s income in the United States.    

As for the second requirement, the term "beneficial owner" is generally not defined in tax treaties. However, the 2014 Update to the OECD Model Tax Convention issued by OECD the Committee on Fiscal Affairs on June 26, 2014 clarifies the meaning of beneficial owner as requiring that a person have "the right to use and enjoy" the income, "unconstrained by a contractual or legal obligation to pass on the payment received to another person". Sometimes, the term is interpreted as meaning that the beneficial owner is the person to whom the income is attributed for tax purposes under the tax laws of a Contracting State. 

The EU Directive 2003/49/EC of June 3, 2003 provides a definition of the term “beneficial owner” for the purposes of the withholding tax exemption of interest and royalties paid to a EU parent or affiliate corporation, according to which “A company of a Member State shall be treated as the “beneficial owner” of interest or royalties only if it receives those payments for its own benefit and not as an intermediary, such as an agent, trustee or authorized signatory, for some other person”. Circular 47/E of November 2, 2005, which at paragraph 2.3.2 clarifies that in order for a company to be considered the beneficial owner of the interest or royalties, “it is necessary that the company receives the payment as the ultimate beneficiary, not as an intermediary such as an agent, a fiduciary, or collector of the payment for another person, … and that the company receiving the interest or royalties derives a direct personal economic benefit from the income from the transaction”.

Clearly, the tax treatment of an entity in its country of organization is key to determine whether the entity, or its shareholders, partners or members, are entitled to the benefits of a treaty with respect to a parent made by a resident of the other Contracting State. The residence and beneficial owner requirements, whose meaning is not entirely free from doubt, and depends on the facts and circumstances of the particular case, call for extensive analysis of the tax classification and treatment of the entity and its owners, under the laws of their country or organization or asserted residence, as well as the organizational structure, role and functions of the entity receiving the payment. Under that scenario, the payer of the income bearing withholding agent obligations is usually under pressure, and must make sure that the documentation provided by the payee establishes with sufficient certainty the payee’s eligibility for treaty benefit.               

 

 

 

  

   

Every time a trust has connections with Italy and is given legal effects or enforced there, the trustee will need to collect, keep and disclose (if required) information on beneficial ownership of the trust and, potentially, report such information in a special Trust section of the Italian Business Register. The new trust disclosure rules derive from the Italian bill  transposing into national law the EU Fourth Anti-Money Laundering Directive (2015/849).

The Directive requires trustees of any express trust governed under the law of a Member State to obtain and hold information on the beneficial ownership of the trust, inclusive of the identity of the settlor, the trustee, the protector (if any), the beneficiaries, and any other natural person holding any authority or exercising effective control over the trust. When the trust generates legal or tax consequences in the legal system of a Member State, such information has to be reported in a central register of that Member State.

The Italian bill implementing the Directive imposes such duties on “trustees of express trusts governed in accordance with Law dated October 16, 1989 n. 364″.   With law n. 364 Italy ratified the Hague Convention of July 1, 1985 on the Law applicable to Trusts and their Recognition. The reference to trust governed by law n. 364 has the effect to attract all foreign trusts recognized and enforced in Italy to the new disclosure rules.

Italy does not have a body of national statutory provisions on trusts, but the enforcement of the 1985 Hague Convention with the Law n. 364 of 1989 permits to recognize and give legal effects in Italy to trust created under and governed by foreign law.

As a result, every time a foreign trust is to be legally used in Italy, and is designed to produce legal and tax effects there, it can be considered a trust “governed in accordance with Law n. 364 of 1989”, thereby triggering the know your customer and disclosure obligations set forth in the Directive. Therefore, it will be automatically subject to the new disclosure obligations, including the registration in a special Trust section of the general Business Register. Foreign trustees of a foreign trust that has a connection with Italy, are potentially subject to those rules, and need to pay close attention to the their new reporting obligations under the new rules.

Situations that fall within the scope of the disclosure rules include common cases in which a foreign trust has Italian resident beneficiaries, or owns movable or immovable assets located in Italy. In those cases, the beneficiaries in order to claim the distribution of income or assets from the trust need to put in place the procedure to have the trust recognized and enforced in Italy. The same happens when a foreign beneficiary claims the distribution of the trust’s Italian assets pursuant to the trust.

Even when the settlor of a foreign trust is an Italian individual, the new rules would apply. Indeed, the settlor may need to rely on the trust to separate herself from the assets transferred to the trust, and claim that the trust assets and income belong to somebody else who should bear the responsibility of tax filing, payment and reporting relating to the trust. To the effect, the trust would have legal and tax consequences in Italy, which would put it within the scope of the new disclosure rules.

The Directive set forth a deadline for its implementation into EU member’ States’ law, currently expiring on June 26, 2017. The Italian bill once enacted into law will need legislative decrees with enforcement provisions to be adopted by the Government pursuant to the legislative authority granted therein.

 

In recent years the concept of ‘beneficial ownership’ has emerged as a major anti abuse rule applicable in the context of tax treaties and other important areas of international tax law. This article provides an overview of the recent interpretation and applications of the beneficial ownership rule as clarified by the OECD, pursued by tax administrations and courts in various countries, and carried out in Italy.

Italy operates specific provisions on tax treatment of trusts. Trusts formed under foreign law are recognized and enforced in Italy pursuant to the Hague Convention on Trusts dated July 1, 1985. To the extent they have Italian assets, or Italian grantor, trustees or beneficiaries or Italian source income, foreign trusts may be subject to Italy’s trust tax provisions. Under certain circumstances, trusts are disregarded and trust assets are treated as owned by the grantor or beneficiaries. This is the case when the grantor has an unconditional power to terminate or revoke the trust or when the beneficiaries have an unconditional right to claim an anticipated distribution of all or part of the trust assets at any time during the life of the trust, or when the trustee lacks actual independent power to administer the trust and is under the directions or instructions of either the grantor or the beneficiaries of the trust. When respected for tax purposes, the trust is taxed on a fiscally transparent basis or as a separate entity, depending on whether and to what extent the income of the trust is attributed to identified beneficiaries specifically mentioned in the trust agreement or separately by the grantor during the life of the trust. When a trust is taxed on a fiscally transparent basis, income of the trust is allocated to and taxed directly upon the beneficiaries. When a trust is taxed as a separate entity, the trust itself pays the corporate income tax on its own income. A trust administered in Italy or by an Italian resident trustee is treated a a resident trust and subject to tax on its world wide income. A trust administered abroad or by a foreign resident trustee is treated as a foreign trust and taxed only upon Italian source income. For more details about Italian tax treatment of trusts as it applies to trusts formed under the laws of any State of the United States or any other foreign country, we refer you to this article which was recently published on Tax Notes International.