The Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, Delhi (ITAT) recently delivered a very significant decision in the case of Nokia Networks O.Y (Assessee)[1] on the issue of its permanent establishment (PE) in India and attribution of income to the PE. The majority of members of the ITAT ruled in favour of the Assessee holding that its Indian subsidiary would not constitute a PE in India, especially in absence of a Service PE clause in the erstwhile India-Finland Tax Treaty (Treaty).

Facts

The Assessee is a resident of Finland and sold GSM equipment manufactured by it to Indian telecom operators, on a principal-to-principal basis. It’s Indian subsidiary, Nokia India Private Limited (NIPL) was either assigned the installation contracts by the Assessee or entered into independent contracts with the customers for installation. NIPL also entered into technical support agreements with customers. NIPL’s income from these activities was taxed in India.

The Assessing Officer (AO) was of the view that NIPL constituted a PE of the Assessee and attributed an additional 30 percent of the profit from the equipment to NIPL. The AO also concluded that 30% of the equipment price pertained to supply of software and sought to tax it as royalty in the hands of the Assessee. On appeal, the ITAT held that NIPL being a virtual projection would form a PE, and attributed to NIPL 20 percent of the Assessee’s profits from the sale of equipment to Indian customers.

Continue Reading Subsidiary is Not a Permanent Establishment but Beware the ‘Virtual Projection’ Risk

Stock Appreciation Rights (SARs) are recognised globally as one of the most popular instruments of stock-based compensation. SARs are alternatives adopted for implementing equity-based compensation plans like an employee stock option or employee stock purchase. SARs can be structured as either ‘equity settled’ or ‘cash settled’. As a concept, SARs contemplate passing on of appreciation in the value of a certain number of equity shares to employees.

The Income Tax Act, 1961 (IT Act) did not have any specific provision to tax such income; specific provisions were introduced in 1999 to provide for taxation of benefits provided by an employer to its employees under share benefit rewards. From 1999 onwards, Section 17(2) of the IT Act specifies the payments that come within the ambit of ‘salary’ and ‘perquisites’, and covers benefits available to employees therefrom.

For the period prior to 1999, the issue of taxability of amounts received from various employee benefit programmes, including amounts received from the redemption of SARs, was always under dispute. The special bench of the Mumbai Income Tax Appellate Tribunal (ITAT) in the case of Sumit Bhattacharya[1] held that the amount received on redemption of SARs should be taxable as salary because it was an employment related benefit, in the nature of deferred wages, bonuses or incentives received as a fruit of employment. However, the issue remained inconclusive and litigious. The Supreme Court (SC) appears to have settled this issue in the case of Bharat V. Patel[2], wherein it has been held that the amount received on account of SARs redemption prior to amendment to section 17(2) would not be taxed as salaries.

Continue Reading SC Holds that Income from SARs is Taxed as Capital Gains Only

Multinational enterprises often outsource back-office support operations to their captive subsidiaries in India. Additionally, foreign parent companies second their employees to provide guidance to the Indian subsidiary in the provision of back-office functions. A contentious question has for some time arisen, however. Should such arrangements constitute a fixed place Permanent Establishment (PE), a service PE or a Dependant Agent PE (DAPE) for the foreign company in India?

In the 2007 case of Morgan Stanley[i], the Supreme Court (SC), while dealing with the issue of PE, held that back office functions performed by the Indian subsidiary were preparatory and auxiliary in nature and, therefore, did not constitute a fixed place PE. The SC also held that if the foreign company had deputed its employees to the Indian company to render stewardship services, then no service PE would be constituted in India.

In contrast, however, in the case of Centrica Offshore[ii] in 2014, the Delhi High Court (Del HC), held that if the terms of employment of the employees seconded to India continued to be controlled by the foreign company, it would be regarded as having constituted a service PE in India.

In the ensuing paragraphs, we discuss the recent decision of the SC in the instant case of e-Funds Corporation and its implications for resolving this long-standing issue.

Continue Reading Outsourcing of Back Office Support Functions Does Not Create a Permanent Establishment

The Income Tax Act, 1961 (IT Act) contains several provisions to prevent tax evasion. One such provision seeks to tax loans and advances made to shareholders by a closely held company as deemed dividends in the hands of the shareholders. This is intended to prevent tax evasion in situations where closely held companies distribute accumulated profit as loans or advances which are not chargeable to tax under the IT Act, instead of distributing it as dividends which is chargeable to tax under the IT Act. However, the said provision of deemed dividend is attracted subject to the satisfaction of the following conditions:

Continue Reading Supreme Court Rules: Deemed Dividends Are Taxable Only in the Hands of Shareholders

Permanent Establishment (PE) is a significant feature of bilateral tax treaties and is a key threshold adopted by source countries to tax profits earned by non-resident entities from the business activities carried out by the non-resident in the source country.

A ‘Fixed Place PE’ relates to a non-resident entity having a fixed place of business in the source country. But certain tax treaties also provide for a ‘Service PE’. A Service PE is established if: (i) the non-resident delivers services for longer than the prescribed threshold; and (ii) the said services are furnished in the source country through the employees or other personnel of the non-resident.

Traditionally, a Service PE required the physical presence of employees of the non-resident in the source country. However, in the present digital economy, this understanding is being challenged as more and more jurisdictions are doing away with this requirement.

The governments of Saudi Arabia and Israel, for example, have passed internal guidelines that suggest a non-resident would have a Service PE if it furnished services, including consultancy services, through employees or other personnel who are offshore and not physically present in the Source State. This would only be the case, however, if the activities continue (for the same or connected projects) within the Source State for more than 183 days in any 12-month period.

Continue Reading Service PE Does Not Require Physical Presence of Employees