Belgium: AB InBev’s secrete tax deal challenged

Belgium’s Special Tax Inspectorate (BBI) claims EUR 30.44 million in taxes from AB InBev despite a secrete tax deal from 2012 that allowed AB InBev to pay only 11.2 million euros of tax on more than 287 million euros of profit for five years from 2011 to 2015. Hearings in relation to the 3.9 percent tax rate started before the Brussels court of first instance two weeks ago.

The case concerns Ampar, AB InBev’s worldwide procurement office founded in November 2011 in Belgium. A special tax construction allowed AB InBev to avoid tax on 80 percent of Ampar’s profit.

In November 2014 a journalistic investigation based on confidential information disclosed tax rulings between Luxembourg and hundreds of companies worldwide aiming at reducing their tax payments. The so-called Luxembourg Leaks (sometimes shortened to LuxLeaks) led to a series of similar investigations in other European countries and initiated also investigations on the AB InBev deal in Belgium.

In February 2015, the European Commission (EC) announced an in-depth investigation into the entire Belgian system of so-called excess profit rulings that would have allowed AB InBev and forty other large companies to keep part of their profits tax-free in Belgium. In January 2016, the EC concluded that there was unlawful state aid.

In February, European judges concluded that the system was not unjustified state aid but the EC again appealed the case and started collecting information about individual tax agreements that have been concluded in Belgium with dozens of large companies, including AB InBev. In the meantime, BBI continues to fight the lawsuit against AB InBev on this matter.

AB InBev spokeswoman Laure Stuyck refused to provide further information because the case is still pending.

The investigation only concerns the years up to 2015. As early as 2016, there has been no operating income from Ampar.

Two years after the investigations on AB InBev started, the company moved the top of its purchasing management from Belgium to Switzerland. Not coincidentially, Anheuser-Busch InBev Procurement GmbH is now based in Zug, the canton with one of the lowest tax rates in Switzerland and the world where SABMiller already had its purchase department before it was purchased by AB InBev in 2016.

The tax lawsuit comes at an inconvenient time for AB InBev because the EC is already on the heels of the beer giant for another issue. Three weeks ago, AB InBev was fined EUR 200.41million (USD 225 million) for breaching EU antitrust rules. The EC said the world's biggest beer company abused its dominant position on the Belgian beer market by hindering cheaper imports of its Jupiler beer from the Netherlands into Belgium thus forcing consumers in Belgium to pay more for their beer. (, 13.5.2019)

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