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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Amazon Paid No Corporate Tax to Luxembourg

Amazon had a record-breaking year in Europe in 2020, as the online giant took in revenue of 44 billion euros while people were shopping from home during the pandemic. But the company ended up paying no corporate tax to Luxembourg, where the company has its European headquarters.

The company’s European retail division reported a loss of €1.2 billion ($1.4 billion) to Luxembourg authorities, according to a recent financial filing, making it exempt from corporate taxes. The loss, which was due in part to discounts, advertising and the cost of hiring new employees, also meant the company received €56 million in tax credits that it could use to offset future tax bills when it makes a profit, according to the filing, released in March.

Amazon was in compliance with Luxembourg’s regulations, and it pays taxes to other European countries on profits it makes on its retail operations and other parts of the business, like its fulfillment centers and its cloud computing services.

But the filing is likely to provide fresh ammunition for European policymakers who have long tried to force American tech giants to pay more taxes. And the Biden administration is pushing for changes in global tax policy as part of an effort to raise taxes on large corporations, which have long used complicated maneuvers to avoid or reduce their tax obligations, including by shifting profits to lower-tax countries, like Luxembourg, Ireland, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.

first three months of this year, the entire company’s profit soared to $8.1 billion, an increase of 220 percent from the same period last year. Amazon’s first-quarter filings, released last week, also showed that it made $108.5 billion in sales, up 44 percent, as more customers made purchases online because of the pandemic.

The company’s filing with Luxembourg was reported earlier by The Guardian.

A spokesman for Amazon, Conor Sweeney, said the company paid all taxes required in every country in which it operated.

“Corporate tax is based on profits, not revenues, and our profits have remained low given our heavy investments and the fact that retail is a highly competitive, low-margin business,” he said.

250 million in unpaid taxes from 2006 through 2014 from Amazon. Amazon and Luxembourg appealed that order, and a judgment in Europe’s second-highest court is expected next week.

Margaret Hodge, a British lawmaker, said Amazon had deliberately created financial structures to avoid tax. “It’s obscene that they feel that they can make money around the world and that they don’t have an obligation to contribute to what I call the common pot for the common good,” she said.

Matthew Gardner, a senior fellow at the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a left-leaning research group in Washington, said Amazon’s Luxembourg filing showed why there was such urgency, not only in the European Union but also in the United States, to require a global minimum tax.

“This is a stark reminder of the high financial stakes of inaction,” he said.

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