Amazon’s $300 Million European Tax Charge Is Rejected by E.U. Court

Amazon on Wednesday won an appeal against European Union efforts to force the company to pay more taxes in the region, illustrating how American tech giants are turning to the courts to beat back tougher oversight.

The General Court of the European Union struck down a 2017 decision by European regulators that ordered Amazon to pay $300 million to Luxembourg, home of the company’s European headquarters and where regulators said the company received unfair tax treatment. The court said regulators did not sufficiently prove that Amazon had violated a law meant to prevent companies from receiving special tax benefits from European governments.

The decision, which comes as European Union and American officials attempt to reach a global tax agreement that could result in higher levies against tech companies, undercuts an effort by Margrethe Vestager, an executive vice president at the European Commission, who issued the Amazon penalty and has led efforts to force big tech firms to pay more in taxes. The companies have been criticized for using complex corporate structures to take advantage of low-tax countries like Luxembourg and Ireland. In 2020, Amazon earned 44 billion euros in Europe, but reported paying no taxes in Luxembourg.

Tech companies are using the courts to fight European regulators trying to rein in the industry’s power. Last year, Apple won an appeal against Ms. Vestager to annul a decision to repay about $14.9 billion in taxes to Ireland, where the company has a European headquarters. That case is now before the European Union’s highest court.

Apple and Amazon for violating antitrust laws.

On Wednesday, Amazon cheered the decision by the Luxembourg-based court.

“We welcome the court’s decision, which is in line with our longstanding position that we followed all applicable laws and that Amazon received no special treatment,” Conor Sweeney, a company spokesman, said in a statement.

Ms. Vestager said the European Commission would study the Amazon ruling before deciding whether to appeal.

“All companies should pay their fair share of tax,” Ms. Vestager said in a statement. “Tax advantages given only to selected multinational companies harm fair competition in the E.U.”

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Australia Bars Its Citizens in India From Coming Home Amid Covid Crisis

SYDNEY, Australia — Before the coronavirus pandemic surged, Drisya Dilin dropped her daughter off with her parents in India, expecting to bring her to Australia a month later. That was more than a year ago.

Now, any attempt to get the 5-year-old to Australia, where she is a permanent resident, brings a threat of jail time or large fines.

She’s one of about 8,000 Australians affected by an unprecedented travel ban that began on Monday, prompted by India’s record-breaking Covid outbreak. It is believed to be the first time that Australia has made it a criminal offense for its own citizens and permanent residents to enter the country.

“I never expected this to happen,” said Ms. Dilin, a hospital administrator who has tried several times to repatriate her daughter to Australia, including on a charter flight this month that was canceled.

a strong preference for hard borders, has pushed isolation to a new extreme. No other democratic nation has issued a similar ban on all arrivals. Britain, Germany and the United States, for example, have restricted travel from India, but have exempted citizens and permanent residents, many of whom are rushing home.

Australia’s decision — announced quietly late Friday night by officials who said it was necessary to keep the country safe — has built into a medical and moral crisis.

Indian-Australians are outraged. Human rights groups have condemned the move as unnecessarily harsh and a violation of citizenship principles. Other critics have suggested that the policy was motivated by racism or, at the very least, a cultural double standard.

medical oxygen; and where crematories are burning day and night amid a deluge of bodies.

Australian officials said the new restrictions — with penalties of up to five years in prison and nearly 60,000 Australian dollars ($46,300) in fines under Australia’s Biosecurity Act — would keep its hotel quarantine system from being overwhelmed.

“Fifty-seven percent of the positive cases in quarantine had been arrivals from India,” Foreign Minister Marise Payne said on Sunday. “It was placing a very, very significant burden on health and medical services in states and territories.”

But for Australians in India, the policy amounts to a stunning lack of concern.

“I thought our passports would look after us,” said Emily McBurnie, an Australian wellness coach who has been stranded in New Delhi since March 2020 and has been ill with Covid-19 for more than a month. She said that the Australian government owed more to its citizens, and added that if her health deteriorated, she feared she would not have access to oxygen or an intensive care bed.

fewer than 300 active Covid cases and where daily life has been nearly normal for months, most people support the strict border policy. In a recent poll by the Lowy Institute, which surveyed Australians before the Indian outbreak intensified, an overwhelming majority reported that they were happy with how Australia has tackled the pandemic. Only one in three surveyed said the government should do more to help Australians return home during the pandemic.

Natasha Kassam, the director of the Lowy Institute’s Public Opinion and Foreign Policy Program, said many Australians had been led to believe that those abroad should have come home by now or had chosen to stay where they were for personal or professional reasons.

The distinct lack of sympathy is tied, in part, to a lack of understanding, Ms. Kassam said. “More than a third of Australians were born overseas,” she said. “Closed borders means separated families.”

Human Rights Watch called Australia’s ban an “outrageous response” that undermined the concept of citizenship by denying people their right to return to their country.

said the travel ban “raises serious human rights concerns,” and the agency called on the government to show that the move was not discriminatory.

While India has the world’s highest number of new infections, it also has an enormous population. Its per capita infection rate is still lower than what it was in the United States and in many parts of Europe during their recent peaks.

Ms. Dilin, who lives in Sydney, where she works in the Covid-response unit of a hospital, said Australia’s treatment of people from India was clearly unfair.

“When the U.S. had the same issues, when the U.K. had many cases, they never stopped anybody from coming back,” she said.

Aviram Vijh, a Sydney-based designer from India and an Australian citizen, said the government’s actions smacked of prejudice.

“Clearly it’s a move that’s disproportionate,” Mr. Vijh said. His cousin, also an Australian citizen, is stranded in India with his wife and 3-year-old daughter, he added. Both his cousin and his wife have Covid-19.

“He’s very distressed,” he said of his cousin. “And there’s no path forward.”

Neha Sandhu, an Australian citizen who managed to return home from India in June, said that along with Ms. Dilin’s daughter, there were several other unaccompanied minors affected by the ban, many of whom had been visiting family in India and were now unable to return home.

“It is totally inhumane,” said Ms. Sandhu, who runs a Facebook group with more than 17,000 followers for those stuck in India.

Australian officials have argued, however, that the move was purely based on an assessment of the risk to public health. Australia’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, said the ban was temporary and is set to be lifted May 15, though it could also be extended.

Ms. Kassam, of the Lowy Institute, said the denial of a right to return for Australians in India was the first major test of a policy that most Australians have quietly accepted. She wondered if Australians would be more sympathetic once they knew the details.

“Australians have historically been supportive of tough border restrictions, though these questions have never been asked in relation to their own citizens,” she said. “The idea of fortress Australia is politically popular, but is untested in terms of criminalizing citizens for simply coming home”

Damien Cave reported from Sydney, Australia, and Livia Albeck-Ripka from Melbourne, Australia.

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For Extra Days Off, This Couple Had 4 Weddings and 3 Divorces

In Taiwan, one of the few places in the world to offer marriage leave to couples heading to the altar, a bank employee married his partner on April 6, 2020.

They got divorced days later, on April 16.

Then they remarried the following day.

Another divorce and a third marriage followed on April 28 and April 29.

After a third divorce, on May 11, they got married for the fourth time, on May 12.

It was all a plot to take advantage of the self-governing island’s time-off policy for couples who get married — eight days of leave — the man’s employer, a bank in Taipei, said in public records.

The bank refused to approve the man’s application for paid time off beyond the mandated eight days for his first marriage. That prompted him to lodge a complaint with the Labor Department for violations of leave entitlements. The bank was fined $700 last October, but appealed the penalty in February, claiming that the employee had abused his rights.

Facebook last week. “The law exists for the people and not for exploitation, profit or harm. Of course it is important to enforce the law, but not knowing when to be flexible is the real disaster!” she added.

The case has also thrown the labor authorities in Taipei, the capital, into disarray and raised questions about how easy it is to exploit the marriage leave policy. In a statement, Ms. Chen, the labor official, called on public servants not to lose sight of common sense.

“Even though my colleagues had seriously studied the labor laws, they had not reached a breakthrough as to whether the bank employee abused his rights.” Ms. Chen added, “Instead, they had been digging into the black hole of ‘whether the marriage was real.’”

Marriage leave was introduced in Taiwan as part of other employment benefits, such as public holidays and paid time off for illness and bereavement, when the island’s labor laws were established in 1984, according to Chiou Jiunn-yann, a professor specializing in labor law at the Chinese Culture University in Taiwan.

Malta provides two working days. Vietnam allows three days for one’s own marriage and one day for the wedding of a child. In China, the duration of leave varies by region: Most offer at least three days, but Shanxi Province allows 30 days.

The Taiwanese marriage leave does not impose quotas on those who claim it, nor does it restrict how frequently employees could take the leave. The entitlement is simply renewed for each marriage, even for those marrying each other repeatedly. (In comparison to the marriage leave, workers get five days of parental leave.)

“The worker is entitled to leave if he remarries,” said Chen Kun-Hung, the chief labor standards official in the Taipei City government.

The penalty slapped on the bank was revoked after the case was covered by local news outlets, spurring public debate, he added. “The public thought there was concern over the abuse of labor rights, and the abuse hasn’t been regulated in laws or discussed by the central government to clarify the situation,” he said in a phone interview on Thursday.

Professor Chiou added that the government should consider appropriate measures to ensure fairness to both employers and employees.

“If there’s no plan to resolve this, there’s no guarantee that there wouldn’t be someone who plays this kind of game with you 365 days a year,” he said.

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Alibaba Will Lower Merchant Fees After Antitrust Fine

Two days after Chinese regulators fined the e-commerce giant Alibaba $2.8 billion for placing illegal restrictions on the vendors on its shopping sites, the company said it would lower the fees it charges such merchants and invest in new services for them.

“We will incur additional cost,” Alibaba’s chief executive, Daniel Zhang, said on Monday during a conference call with analysts. “We don’t view this as a one-off cost. We view this as a necessary investment to enable our merchants to have a better operation on our platform.”

The company’s chief financial officer, Maggie Wu, said Alibaba had set aside “billions” of renminbi in additional annual spending to support this initiative but did not offer more specifics. One U.S. dollar is around 6.6 renminbi.

China’s antitrust penalty against Alibaba far exceeds previous fines it has levied for anticompetitive business practices. It reflects the government’s growing concern about internet giants’ ability to tilt the playing field against their rivals and take advantage of their consumers.

In Alibaba’s case, the authorities focused on the company’s practice of blocking vendors from selling their wares on competing sites. Mr. Zhang said on Monday that such exclusivity arrangements previously covered only some digital storefronts operated by big brands on Tmall, Alibaba’s higher-end platform.

Mr. Zhang said Alibaba did not expect the ending of such arrangements to have any “material negative impact” on the company’s business. And Joseph C. Tsai, Alibaba’s executive vice chairman, offered an upbeat assessment of what Beijing’s increasing scrutiny of large digital platforms means for China’s internet industry.

“The regulators’ communication to the public is very clear that they’re affirming our business model,” Mr. Tsai said. “We feel very comfortable that there’s nothing wrong with the fundamental business model of a platform company. These regulatory actions are undertaken to ensure fair competition in order to benefit the public.”

“We are pleased that we’re able to put this matter behind us,” he said.

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Alibaba Faces $2.8 Billion Fine From Chinese Regulators

China on Saturday said it was imposing a record $2.8 billion fine on the e-commerce titan Alibaba for monopolistic business practices, the government’s toughest action to date in its campaign to regulate the country’s internet giants more closely.

Beijing’s market watchdog began investigating Alibaba in December for potential antitrust violations including preventing merchants from selling their goods on other shopping platforms. On Saturday, the regulator said its investigation had concluded that Alibaba had hindered competition in online retail in China, affected innovation in the internet economy and harmed consumers’ interests.

The fine on Alibaba, one of China’s most valuable private companies, exceeds the $975 million antitrust penalty that the Chinese government imposed on Qualcomm, the American chip giant, in 2015. Even so, it is unlikely to leave a substantial dent on Alibaba’s fortunes. The regulator said the fine represented 4 percent of Alibaba’s domestic sales in 2019. The group reported profits of more than $12 billion in the last three months of 2020 alone.

Alibaba said in a statement that it would accept the penalty “sincerely” and would strengthen its internal systems “to better carry out its social responsibilities.”

proposed updating the country’s antimonopoly law with a new provision for large internet platforms such as Alibaba’s. In November, officials halted the plans of Alibaba’s sister company, the finance-focused Ant Group, to go public and tightened oversight of internet finance.

In December, it opened the antimonopoly investigation into Alibaba — a startling turn in the fortunes of Jack Ma, Alibaba’s co-founder, whom people in China had long held up as an icon of entrepreneurial pluck.

Skepticism about the clout of large internet companies has been on the rise in the United States and Europe, too. Western regulators have repeatedly fined Goliaths such as Google in recent years for various antitrust violations. But such penalties generally have not changed the nature of the companies’ businesses enough to mitigate concerns about their power.

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PG&E Charged With Crimes in 2019 California Wildfire

Pacific Gas & Electric, the troubled utility that has started some of California’s most destructive wildfires, faces new criminal charges, for its role in igniting a 2019 wildfire that burned 120 square miles in Sonoma County north of San Francisco.

The county’s district attorney on Tuesday charged PG&E, which emerged from bankruptcy protection last year, with five felonies and 28 misdemeanors, including recklessly causing a fire with great bodily injury, in connection with the Kincade Fire. The blaze damaged or destroyed more than 400 buildings and seriously injured six firefighters.

This is the third set of criminal charges filed against PG&E, California’s largest utility. A jury in 2017 convicted PG&E of charges related to five deaths in a gas pipeline explosion seven years earlier. And the utility pleaded guilty last year to 84 counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the 2018 Camp Fire, which was started by its equipment. That fire destroyed the town of Paradise and helped drive PG&E into bankruptcy, where it worked to resolve an estimated $30 billion in wildfire liabilities.

California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection concluded that the Kincade Fire had started after high winds knocked a cable from a PG&E tower at the Geysers geothermal field. The fire took 15 days to contain, and the district attorney, Jill Ravitch, described the evacuation required in some towns as the largest ever in Sonoma County, a California wine hub.

If convicted, PG&E could face fines and additional penalties for violating a federal probation that stems from the pipeline explosion case. The company has paid billions of dollars to governments, families, insurance companies and others for disasters caused by its equipment, which regulators have said has often been very poorly maintained.

In a statement on Tuesday, PG&E promised that it would continue upgrading its equipment and carrying out safety practices to protect Californians. The company said it accepted findings that its equipment had caused the Kincade Fire but did not believe it was criminally liable.

“We are saddened by the property losses and personal impacts sustained by our customers and communities in Sonoma County and surrounding areas as a result of the October 2019 Kincade Fire,” the company said. “We do not believe there was any crime here. We remain committed to making it right for all those impacted and working to further reduce wildfire risk on our system.”

The company emerged from bankruptcy last summer, agreeing to pay $13.5 billion to a fund set up to compensate tens of thousands of individuals and families who lost homes in wildfires started by PG&E.

Emerging from bankruptcy allowed the utility to participate in a $20 billion state wildfire fund with California’s other investor-owned utilities to help cover costs of future wildfires.

The utility has been working to improve its equipment, adding weather stations, cameras, micro-grids and sturdier transmission towers and lines. Patricia K. Poppe, who became chief executive of PG&E’s parent company in January, said she had taken the job “to ensure that we care for all those who were harmed, and that we make it safe again in California.”

“We will work around the clock until that is true for all people we are privileged to serve,” she added.

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Don’t Pay Tax Penalties on Money You Took From Retirement Accounts

If you’re using tax preparation software, the document should print out with the word “rollover” entered next to the zero, Mr. Slott said. Someone completing a paper form would need to write in the word “rollover.” That will treat the withdrawal as a nontaxable event. (Usually, R.M.D.s aren’t eligible for rollovers, but the I.R.S. made an exception for 2020.)

Some clients who returned their R.M.D.s have had pleasant surprises on their tax returns, Ms. Costa said. Because their taxable income is lower than it would have been, some were able to deduct medical expenses or even qualify for the federal stimulus payments.

But if the minimum distribution isn’t properly reported as returned, those benefits could evaporate, Ms. Costa said.

“You don’t want to add insult to injury by paying taxes on a distribution that you returned,” she said.

Here are some questions and answers about R.M.D.s:

Is it OK if I kept the retirement withdrawals I made in 2020?

Yes. Returning the money was optional.

Are R.M.D.s waived for 2021?

No. The waiver applied only to withdrawals in 2020.

When do I have to start taking R.M.D.s?

It depends. A federal law passed in 2019 called the SECURE Act, for Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement, raised the starting age for taking R.M.D.s to 72, from 70½.

The new age 72 threshold applies to those who turned 70½ after 2019 — or, put another way, those whose 70th birthday was July 1, 2019, or later. For everyone who turned 70 before that date, the starting age is 70½.

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