Australian tax office names names in multinational avoidance row

Thu Dec 17, 2015 4:28am EST
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By Byron Kaye and Colin Packham

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australian tax authorities on Thursday took the unprecedented step of publishing the records of hundreds of companies, including Google Inc (GOOGL.O: Quote) and Apple Inc APPL.O, which show they paid little or no tax on their in-country earnings.

Of more than 1,500 largely foreign-owned companies which reported total earnings over A$100 million ($72.11 million) in the 2014 financial year, more than a third paid no tax, the Australian Taxation Office data showed.

Australia has led efforts at the Group of 20 rich nations to close tax loopholes, but the ATO's move appears to have caught ministers off-guard, coming in the same week as the government flagged spending cuts to rein in a budget blowout.

"Just because they don't pay tax doesn't mean that they are avoiding tax," Assistant Treasurer Kelly O'Dwyer told reporters, adding the government had strengthened the ATO's powers to ensure corporations paid their dues.

Commissioner of Taxation Chris Jordan criticized certain foreign-owned companies for being "overly aggressive in the way they structure their operations".

"We will continue to challenge the more aggressive arrangements to show that we are resolute about ensuring companies are not unreasonably playing on the edge. If they do, they can expect to be challenged," he said in a statement.

The ATO has the powers to release such sensitive corporate information but has never done so until now.

Among the offshore firms that paid no tax on their Australian earnings were U.S. oil services firm Halliburton Co (HAL.N: Quote), U.S. hotel chain Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc (HLT.N: Quote), U.S. aviation giant Boeing Co (BA.N: Quote), its U.K. rival BAE Systems Plc (BAES.L: Quote), beer giant SABMiller Plc SAB.L, Japanese automaker Honda Motor Co Ltd (7267.T: Quote) and U.S. automaker Ford Motor Co (F.N: Quote).   Continued...

The Apple logo is lit in Sydney in this September 19, 2014 file photo. REUTERS/David Gray