Apple Inc. was ordered to repay a record 13 billion euros ($14.5 billion) plus interest after the European Commission said Ireland illegally slashed the iPhone maker’s tax bill. The world’s richest company benefited from a “selective tax treatment” in Ireland that gave it a “significant advantage over other businesses,” the European Union regulator said Tuesday. It’s the largest tax penalty in a three-year crackdown on sweetheart fiscal deals granted by EU nations.
Apple and the Irish government have both vowed to fight the decision, which also risks stoking a fight with the U.S. over taxation policies — with the U.S. having already complained that Europe is unfairly targeting American companies and threatening global tax reforms.
“Ireland granted illegal tax benefits to Apple, which enabled it to pay substantially less tax than other businesses over many years,” EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in an e-mailed statement. “This selective treatment allowed Apple to pay an effective corporate tax rate of 1 percent on its European profits in 2003 down to 0.005 percent in 2014.”
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Apple is not the only American company that has recently found itself under scrutiny over its European tax affairs. The European Commission ordered Starbucks and Fiat Chrysler to repay millions in taxes last October.
Starbucks (SBUX) has to pay back up to 30 million euros it saved thanks to a sweetheart tax deal with the Netherlands. Fiat Chrysler (FCAM) was ordered to repay a similar amount after a similar deal with Luxembourg. Both companies have appealed the decisions.
The EU is also probing the tax arrangements of Amazon and McDonald’s. Google is under investigation over its taxes in France and a couple of other European countries.
The ruling against Apple’s tax deal comes despite a stern warning from the U.S. last week. The Treasury Department urged the European Commission to stop its tax crackdown on American companies, saying it would consider “potential responses” if Brussels doesn’t change course.