At a U.S. Senate hearing convened in 2013, Apple Inc. CEO Tim Cook forcefully disputed allegations that the Cupertino-based company had dodged tens of billions of dollars in taxes by shifting profits overseas.
“We pay all the taxes we owe,” he said from the dais, “every single dollar. We don’t depend on tax gimmicks. We don’t move intellectual property offshore and use it to sell our products back to the United States to avoid taxes. We don’t stash money on some Caribbean island.”
Apple may not stash profits in a Caribbean tax haven, but it found another island refuge in the English Channel.
According to a trove of newly leaked documents called the Paradise Papers, Cupertino-based Apple Inc. sidestepped government crackdowns by shifting profits from Ireland to Jersey, a tiny island with a corporate tax rate of 0 percent.
The cache of 13.4 million documents, obtained by German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, show how multinational firms exploit tax loopholes by playing nations against each other.
Apple’s elaborate tax avoidance has been an open secret for years. But the Paradise Papers reveal how the iPhone maker in 2015 sidestepped tax reforms in Ireland—where it had parked profits in three “ghost firms” that claimed tax residency nowhere in the world—by expatriating its earnings to an even laxer regulatory climate.
With the European Commission forcing Ireland to claim $14.5 billion in back taxes, Apple’s advisers began shopping around for another tax refuge.
In 2014, Apple attorneys emailed a query to a law firm called Appleby, which specializes in creating offshore tax shelters. One of the 14 points in the questionnaire requested that the office: “Confirm that an Irish company can conduct management activities … without being subject to taxation in your jurisdiction.”
Apple also sought assurance that the local political climate would remain business friendly. The Silicon Valley tech giant asked: “Are there any developments suggesting that the law may change in an unfavorable way in the foreseeable future?”
By setting up shop in Jersey, Apple continues to avoid taxes and amass $252 billion in offshore cash. The Irish government’s attempt to close loopholes has had little impact.
The revelations in the Paradise Papers come as U.S. Republican lawmakers unveiled a sweeping overhaul of the tax code, which would permanently slash the corporate tax rate from 35 to 20 percent. That change alone is estimated to reduce federal revenues by $1.5 trillion over the coming decade.
House Speaker Paul Ryan called the tax plan critical for allowing the U.S. to compete with the rest of the world. But according to the Paradise Papers and findings from the U.S. Senate inquiry four years ago, Apple—the most profitable firm on the planet—already pays an effective tax rate far below 35 percent by claiming its profits overseas.
Despite the fact that these tax maneuvers play out on a global scale and are technically lawful, the impact is felt locally. By pioneering new lengths for corporate tax avoidance, Apple, Google and other high-profile tax dodgers siphon investment from public infrastructure and public schools in their Silicon Valley hometowns and beyond.