WASHINGTON — Apple Inc. employs a group of affiliate companies located outside the United States to avoid paying billions of dollars in U.S. income taxes, a Senate investigation has found.
The world's most valuable company is holding overseas some $102 billion of its $145 billion in cash, and an Irish subsidiary that earned $22 billion in 2011 paid only $10 million in taxes, according to the report issued Monday by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.
The strategies Apple uses are legal, and many other multinational corporations use similar tax techniques to avoid paying U.S. income taxes on profits they reap overseas. But Apple uses a unique twist, the report found. The company's tactics raise questions about loopholes in the U.S. tax code, lawmakers say.
The spotlight on Apple's tax strategy comes at a time of fevered debate in Washington over whether and how to raise revenues to help reduce the federal deficit. Many Democrats complain that the government is missing out on collecting billions because companies are stashing profits abroad and avoiding taxes. Republicans want to cut the corporate tax rate of 35 percent and ease the tax burden on money that U.S. companies make abroad. They say the move would encourage companies to invest at home.
Apple CEO Tim Cook, the company's chief financial officer and its tax chief are scheduled to testify and explain the company's tax strategy at a hearing by the subcommittee Tuesday.
Apple spokesmen didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Monday on the subcommittee report.
The company has made clear that given current U.S. tax rates, it has no intention of repatriating its overseas profits to the U.S.
The subcommittee also has examined the tax strategies of Microsoft Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and other multinational companies, finding that they too have avoided billions in U.S. taxes by shifting profits offshore and exploiting weak, ambiguous sections of the tax code. Microsoft has used "aggressive" transactions to shift assets to subsidiaries in Puerto Rico, Ireland and Singapore, in part to avoid taxes. HP has used complex offshore loan transactions worth billions while using the money to run its U.S. operations, according to the panel.
The subcommittee's report estimates that Apple avoided at least $3.5 billion in U.S. federal taxes in 2011 and $9 billion in 2012 by using the strategy. The company, based in Cupertino, Calif., paid $2.5 billion in federal taxes in 2011 and $6 billion in 2012.
Apple uses five companies located in Ireland to carry out its tax strategy, according to the report. The companies are located at the same address in Cork, Ireland, and they share members of their boards of directors. While all five companies were incorporated in Ireland, only two of them also have tax residency in that country. That means the other three aren't legally required to pay taxes in Ireland because they aren't managed or controlled in that country, in Apple's view.
The report says Apple capitalizes on a difference between U.S. and Irish rules regarding tax residency. In Ireland, a company must be managed and controlled in the country to be a tax resident. Under U.S. law, a company is a tax resident of the country in which it was established. Therefore, the Apple companies aren't tax residents of Ireland nor of the U.S., since they weren't incorporated in the U.S., in Apple's view.
The subcommittee said Apple's strategy of not declaring tax residency in any country could be unique among corporations.
"Apple wasn't satisfied with shifting its profits to a low-tax offshore tax haven," Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the subcommittee's chairman, said in a statement. "Apple sought the Holy Grail of tax avoidance. It has created offshore entities holding tens of billions of dollars, while claiming to be tax resident nowhere."