December 10, 2014 / 2:20 AM / 5 years ago

New Luxembourg leaks reveal Disney, Koch Industries tax deals

LONDON (Reuters) - Walt Disney Co (DIS.N), commodities group Koch Industries and others agreed deals in Luxembourg that could have delivered huge tax savings, a group of investigative journalists has reported, heightening an international debate on corporate tax avoidance.

The water tank of The Walt Disney Co Studios is pictured in Burbank, California February 5, 2014. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) said the two companies engaged in complex restructurings and channeled hundreds of millions of dollars in profits between 2009 and 2013 through Luxembourg subsidiaries that enjoyed tax rates of less than 1 percent.

The disclosures released on Tuesday follow earlier releases from the ICIJ, described on its website as a global network of journalists who collaborate on investigative stories, which prompted an EU parliament no-confidence vote on the European Commission’s new president Jean-Claude Juncker.

Juncker, who had overseen the Grand Duchy’s tax policies for two decades as finance minister and later prime minister, survived the vote.

Luxembourg’s finance ministry said on Wednesday its system for issuing advance rulings to companies, outlining how the tax authority would treat their transactions, was “compliant with international and national law”.

It added: “The way in which these documents were acquired is highly questionable”.

Koch spokesman Robert Tappan said in an email: “Koch companies conduct their business lawfully and they pay taxes in accordance with applicable laws.”

Disney established an inter-company bank in Luxembourg which then extended high-interest loans to operating affiliates in countries such as France, thus reducing their taxable income, the ICIJ said.

Disney spokeswoman Zenia Mucha said the report was deliberately misleading. “Disney’s global tax rate has averaged 34 percent over the last five years ... The ruling has not meaningfully affected the taxes we pay in any jurisdiction globally.”

TAX DEALS

Advisory group EY advised Disney and Koch on their arrangements, the ICIJ said. Other companies whose tax deals appear in the latest leaks include Hong Kong-based Hutchison Whampoa Ltd 0013.HK, private equity group Warburg Pincus and Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O) subsidiary Skype.

Microsoft said it followed the law in all the countries where it operated. Warbug Pincus declined comment.

Hutchison and EY were not immediately available for comment.

The ICIJ’s first set of Luxembourg revelations, published on Nov. 5, were based on files from accounting group PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

That prompted a UK parliamentary panel on Monday to accuse PwC of organizing tax avoidance on an “industrial scale.”

In addition to EY, the latest set of documents include files from the other two of the “Big 4” accounting firms, Deloitte and KPMG. KPMG said its code of conduct required employees to act lawfully and ethically. Deloitte was not immediately available for comment.

Tax avoidance is legal but companies which use complex structures to reduce their tax bills are coming under scrutiny from legislators internationally, who have promised to crack down on the practices.

The European Commission was already investigating the legality of tax deals similar to those revealed by the ICIJ, that countries including Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Ireland agreed with multinationals in recent decades.

The ICIJ leaks have boosted calls for greater harmonization of European tax laws.

Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald in Brussels, Bill Rigby in Seattle, with Lewis Krauskopf and Gregory Roumeliotis in New York.; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and David Holmes

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