Belgium: AB InBev investigated for “excess profit” tax deal

AB InBev is among more than three dozen companies being investigated for a tax deal with the Belgium state. The European Commission has today opened separate in-depth investigations to assess whether “excess profit” tax rulings granted by Belgium to 39 multinational companies gave those companies an unfair advantage over their competitors, in breach of EU State aid rules.

Today's opening decisions follow the General Court's February 2019 annulment of the Commission's January 2016 decision concluding that the same tax rulings formed part of a Belgian aid scheme that was illegal under EU State aid rules.

The Court did not take a position on whether or not the “excess profit” tax exemptions gave rise to illegal State aid but found that the Commission had failed to establish the existence of a scheme. This means that, according to the General Court, the compatibility of the tax rulings with EU State aid rules needs to be assessed individually, which is why the Commission has now opened separate in-depth investigations into the individual tax rulings.

At the same time, the Commission has appealed the judgment of the General Court to the European Court of Justice to seek further clarity on the existence of an aid scheme. These proceedings are ongoing.

Commissioner Margrethe Vestager in charge of competition policy said: "All companies must pay their fair share of tax. We are concerned that the Belgian "excess profit" tax system granted substantial tax reductions only to certain multinational companies that would not be available to companies in a comparable situation. Following the General Court's guidance, we have decided to open separate State aid investigations to assess the tax rulings. We also await further clarity from the European Court of Justice on the existence of an aid scheme.”

The in-depth investigations concern individual "excess profit" tax rulings issued by Belgium between 2005 and 2014 in favour of 39 Belgian companies belonging to multinational groups. Most of these multinational groups are headquartered in Europe.

“Integrity and ethics are at the core of what we do,” AB InBev said in a statement. The company stressed the fact that the tax ruling under investigation expired in 2015. “We remain committed to contributing our fair share of taxes in Belgium,” said the company which has its headquarter in Leuwen, Belgium.

Just four months ago, Margrethe Vestager was already the driving force in fining AB InBev EUR 200.41million (USD 225 million) for breaching EU antitrust rules (, 13.5.2019).

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