Italian Taxation of Companies and Businesses

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.             

With its Ruling n. 3769 issued on March 9, 2012, the Italian Supreme Court significantly departed from its previous line of decisions on the issue of characterization of a foreign-owned Italian company as the permanent establishment of its foreign parent.

The case in which the ruling has been issued involved Boston Scientific S.p.A., an Italian joint stock company ("BS SPA") whose stock is  owned for 99 percent by Boston Scientific B.V. ("BS B.V.") a Dutch company  and for the remaining 1 per cent by Boston Scientific Corporation, a U.S. corporation ("BS USA"), which in turn controls BS B.V.

BS USA was engaged in the business of designing, manufacturing and selling medical equipment and devices. BS SPA operated as commission agent for BS B.V. for the purpose of the marketing and sale of the products of BS USA in Italy and the EU. 

From the summary of the facts as reported on the Supreme Court Judgment it appears that BS SPA acted under the management direction and control of BS B.V,, operated exclusively for BS B.V. as its only  client  and signed sales contracts with customers under its own name although in the interest of and pursuant to the final approval from BS B.V.    

The Italian tax agency took the position that BS SPA lacked economic and legal independence from BS B.V. and it operated as agent of BS B.V. according to the substance of its business dealings with its principal and final customers, even though it normally signed the contracts in its own name.  As a consequence, the tax agency re-characterized BS SPA as the permanent establishment of BS B.V. in Italy and assessed additional taxes and penalties on BS B.V., which should have accounted separately for its sales of products carried out in Italy through BS SPA, file its own Italian corporate tax return and pay the Italian corporate income tax on its net profits from its Italian sales accordingly.

Both the Italian Tax Court and the Appellate Court ruled in favor of the taxpayer and rejected the agency re-characterization and tax assessment, motivating their decisions with the fact that BS SPA had its own separate business organization of which it sustained all the costs, had assumed the economic risks of its business operations and was legally bound by the contracts it signed with the final buyers of the products under its own name as seller.

The Supreme Court affirmed the decision of the Appellate Court concluding that it was sufficiently and adequately motivated and that the grounds for appeal set forth by the tax agency were not sufficiently explained and could not be considered.

The Court in particular referred to the provisions of article 5 of U.S.-Italy tax treaty and argued that the Italian tax agency failed to explain the reasons why those provisions should be read in a way to create a permanent establishment when an Italian company contracts under its own name and risks and bears the economic cost of its business organization through which it conducts its business in Italy, for the sole fact that it is owned and controlled by a foreign company and operates under the supervision and directions of its foreign parent company.

Ruling 3769 is very encouraging. Indeed, the ruling seems to depart from the Supreme Court’s previously established case law stemming form its 2002 decisions in the Philip Morris case and to provide more clarity for foreign businesses which plan to expand their operations into Italy. 

Il 17 Settembre scorso ad un convegno organizzato dalla American Chamber of Commerce in Italy a Milano abbiamo illustrato i principali aspetti legali e fiscali che le imprese italiane che investono sul mercato americano si trovano ad affrontare. Gli Stati Uniti, grazie alla loro competività e flessibilità, ad un mercato dei capitali estremamente evoluto, alla totale assenza di discriminazioni e barriere e a una grande propensione a premiare le capacità, lo spirito imprenditoriale ed il merito,   offrono formidabili opportunità di crescita e sviluppo del business alle numerose imprese italiane di piccole e medie dimensioni dotate di prodotti o servici unici o di alta qualità e di know how e tecnologia che le pongono in posizione di vantaggio competivo rispetto alla concorrenza. Allo stesso tempo, il sistema legale e fiscale USA richiede estrema attenzione e professionalità sia al momento dell’ingresso sia nella fase successiva della gestione del proprio business negli USA, e non tollera improvvisazione. Tra gli aspetti da curare vi sono quelli contrattuali, relativi ai contratti di distribuzione, agenzia o collaborazione commerciale stipulati con partners commerciali e ai contratti con i clienti, gli aspetti societari, amministrativi e organizzativi (scelta della migliore forma societaria, costituzione e capitalizzazione della società, apertura conti bancari, assunzione del personale e libri paga, assicurazioni, gestione della contabilità e dei bilanci, licenze e permessi, eccetera), e gli aspetti fiscali relativi  alle imposte sul reddito, federali e statali, e alle imposte indirette sulle vendite e sui consumi. Alleghiamo la nostra presentazione con la discussione dei suddetti aspetti, su cui è bene sollevare il livello di allerta ai fini di una corretta gestione ed esecuzione del proprio piano di business negli Stati Uniti.

In data 17 Maggio 2012 presso l’Università degli Studi di Roma Tre, nel contesto del master per Giuristi e Consulenti di Impresa gestito dal Prof. Tinelli, lo studio MQR&A ha riferito sul tema "Aspetti internazionali della fiscalità americana di interesse per gli investitori esteri".

La relazione, sia pure sintetica, ha inteso offire un breve excursus sui principi fondamentali di diritto fiscale internazionale americano applicabili agli investimenti e alle attività estere negli Stati uniti.

Gli Stati Uniti costituiscono tuttora il maggiore mercato del mondo di destinazione di attività e investimenti internazionali e attraggono costantemente imprenditori, professionisti, personale d’azienda e investitori esteri. La conoscenza del regime fiscale applicabile a questa categoria di soggetti ed attività è cruciale, in un contesto sempre più difficile e complesso di crescente globalizzazione e maggiore attenzione da parte delle amministrazioni fiscali.          

In data 14 Maggio 29012 lo studio MQR&A ha presentato alle imprese italiane interessate presso l’Associazione delle Piccole e Medie Imprese di Torino una relazione dal titolo "Fare Business negli USA – Casi di studio e analisi dei principali profili legali e fiscali".

Le imprese italiane che fanno business con o negli USA sono numerose. Le forme di business variano dalla esportazione diretta dall’Italia o vendita tramite agenti e distributori locali, alla fornitura di beni con prestazione di servizi accessori (installazione, assistenza post vendita) tramite proprio personale in loco, alla costituzione e gestione di società di diritto locale controllate dalla capo-gruppo o casa madre italiana.

Ciascuna forma presenta peculiarità e aspetti giuridici e fiscali che devono essere gestiti in maniera consapevole onde evitare rischi. Il sistema legale e fiscale americano è complesso e non consente di operare in maniera improvvisata.

La presentazione aveva lo scopo di fornire una disamina sommaria dei suddetti aspetti che consenta alle imprese di mettere in atto il giusto set up e la corretta struttura di gestione legale e fiscale dei propri affari e delle proprie attività negli Stati Uniti.