Don't Hold Your Breath in Apple Tax Probe, EU's Vestager Says

  • Speed less important than quality of analysis, she says
  • EU examining whether companies were handed unfair tax deals

European Union competition chief Margrethe Vestagertempered expectations of a speedy ruling on Apple Inc.’s tax affairs in Ireland.

“Don’t hold your breath,” she told reporters in Brussels on Monday about the timing of decisions targeting Apple and online shopping giant Inc, whose tax affairs in Luxembourg are also under intense scrutiny. “I’m just warning you.”

Margrethe Vestager

Photographer: Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg

The two companies are slated to be next in the firing line months after the EU watchdog ordered the Netherlands and Luxembourg to recover as much as 30 million euros ($32.9 million) in back taxes from Starbucks Corp. and a Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV unit respectively.

While Vestager refuses to be drawn into speculation, analysts say that in the Apple case, repayments could potentially dwarf those amounts. Vestager in January signaled she’s willing to add Google parent Alphabet Inc.’s 130 million-pound ($184.3 million) tax deal with the U.K. to her growing list of investigations. All of the companies cited by the EU say they have done nothing wrong and that any tax arrangements were in line with applicable laws.

Despite saying the next wave of decisions isn’t imminent, Vestager said she won’t wait for the EU courts to decide on pending appeals by Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Fiat against last year’s state aid repayment orders.

‘Quality’ Probe

“No, we wait for the job being done thoroughly and with the quality that we want it to be done with,” she told reporters. “That is what decides the timeline.”

Vestager last month responded to criticism of the EU state aid probes by U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. In a letter sent to Lew on Feb. 29, she rebutted claims that she was unfairly targeting U.S. companies, stressing that she was doing her job and that clawing back undue tax advantages “simply restores equal treatment.”

While the EU’s tax probes have been focusing so far on U.S. companies, including an ongoing investigation of the fiscal pacts of McDonald’s Corp., the commission in January also ordered Belgium to recover about 700 million euros in illegal tax breaks given to at least 35 companies, including Anheuser-Busch InBev NV and BP Plc.

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