U.S. Treasury Chief to Meet Vestager as Apple Tax Decision Looms

  • Apple tax probe decision touted for as soon as this month
  • U.S. has criticized EU for targeting American tech firms

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is set to meet with the European Union’s antitrust chief Margrethe Vestager this week as she prepares to deliver a final decision on a probe into Apple Inc.’s tax affairs in Ireland.

QuickTake Apple’s New Challenges

The meeting with Lew, who has criticized the European Commission tax investigations, comes amid mounting speculation that the authority will rule as soon as this month in the case -- one of a raft of investigations into whether multinational companies don’t pay their fair share of taxes.

Vestager has repeatedly denied she’s deliberately taking aim at U.S. firms, insisting that probes into tax rulings are part of the watchdog’s responsibility to police fair competition within the EU. Clawing back undue advantages -- as was the case when Starbucks Corp. was ordered to pay as much as 30 million euros ($33 million) in back taxes to the Netherlands -- simply restores equal treatment, she insists.

The commission’s press office didn’t comment beyond confirming the Brussels meeting on Wednesday. Spokespeople for Apple and the U.S. Treasury Department didn’t have an immediate comment.

Letter to Juncker

Conflict over trans-Atlantic tax practices escalated in February as Lew complained to commission President Jean-Claude Juncker that U.S. firms are unfair targets of state-aid investigations. The Treasury Secretary’s letter came after EU enforcement focused on fiscal pacts Apple, Amazon.com Inc. and McDonald’s Corp. have with Ireland and Luxembourg. The companies all say they acted within the law.

The EU opened the Apple probe in 2014, and, in preliminary findings, said its tax arrangements were improperly designed to give the company a financial boost in exchange for jobs in Ireland. The government has said it will “vigorously defend’’ any adverse Apple tax decision, while the company has denied any wrong-doing.

Irish Finance Minister Michael Noonan said last month the EU decision could come as soon as July, though he also suggested that the U.K. vote to quit the EU may trigger delays. The finance ministry couldn’t immediately comment on timing.

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