Google still exploiting tax loopholes to shelter billions in overseas ad revenue


Google saved itself as much as $3.7 billion in 2016 by moving 16 billion euros between Ireland, the Netherlands, and Bermuda using infamous legal loopholes that allow it to skirt high tax responsibilities overseas, according to a report from Bloomberg. Citing regulatory filings in the Netherlands, the report explains how Google continues to use the “Double Irish” and “Dutch Sandwich” loopholes to cut its foreign tax bill. In 2016, Google saved seven percent more than it did in the year prior, at a tax rate of 19.3 percent.

“We pay all of the taxes due and comply with the tax laws in every country we operate in around the world,” Google said in a statement given to Bloomberg. ”We remain committed to helping grow the online ecosystem.” Similar to Apple, which was recently ordered by the European Union to pay the government of Ireland billions in back taxes, Google makes ample use of arcane tax loopholes to shuffle overseas revenue to tax havens, with stops in Ireland and the Netherlands on the way to Bermuda, which enjoys a corporate income tax rate of zero.

Google does this by using what is effectively a shell company in Ireland to collect overseas ad revenue, a Dutch subsidiary to hold that revenue, and another Irish shell company, this one physically located in Bermuda, with the right to license Google’s intellectual property to ultimately report it as income. Moving the money this way is where the names “Double Irish” and “Dutch Sandwich” come from, and Google has continuously used these loopholes in the past. Ireland announced back in 2014 that it was closing these loopholes, effective 2015, after intense regulatory scrutiny, but a grace period has been extended to 2020 for companies to comply. That’s given Google the legal leeway to continue exploiting them for another three years.

Google reportedly has $60.7 billion in overseas revenue it has yet to repatriate for fears it would lose too much of it to US taxes, which are set at 35 percent for corporations. That means the money must stay overseas. That arrangement may change in the months and years to come, however, as the new tax bill passed by the House and Senate last month is aimed at pleasing corporations and the wealthy. The new law sets a more generous minimum tax rate on overseas profits and offers companies a less burdensome path toward bringing that money home on a regular basis at greatly reduced rates.

That means Apple, Google, and others may bring more money home, yet still enjoy many of the benefits these tax loopholes have afforded them for decades now. Of course, there is no clear indication that businesses will reinvest that money into domestic manufacturing, hiring, or any other of the intended recipients of the profit windfall being handed to corporate America. Some companies have made strategic use of the PR opportunity to publicly celebrate the tax bill with $1,000 bonuses to employees.