LONDON (Reuters) - Hutchison Whampoa 0013.HK has won a legal battle that will allow it to offset losses at its UK mobile phone business against profits from other British subsidiaries, setting a precedent that could allow other groups to cut their tax bills.
A European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling on Tuesday held that British regulations covering “group relief” - the right to share losses between affiliated companies for tax purposes - were overly restrictive and broke European Union rules on the freedom of companies to do business across the bloc.
Hong Kong conglomerate Hutchison, controlled by one of Asia’s richest men, LiKa-shing, declined to say how much it could save in tax as a result of the ruling.
However, the most recent period for which accounts are available suggest that there will be limited benefit. At the end of 2012 the group’s profits from British interests were only a fraction of the 5.9 billion pounds of accumulated losses reported by Hutchison 3G UK.
HM Revenue & Customs, the British tax authority, said in an email that it would not appeal against Tuesday’s ruling, which had been expected after an ECJ advocate-general issued a report in October saying that Britain had no right to restrict the sharing of losses between group companies if the shared parent resided in the European Union.
Hutchison’s UK subsidiaries, which also include the Savers chain of discount stores, the Superdrug pharmacy group and the Port of Felixstowe, were mainly owned through a Luxembourg holding company, lawyers said.
Accountants have said that that other companies could benefit from the European court’s ruling.
“The confirmation that the freedom of establishment of a company is unaffected by the residence of its parent (if the parent is within the EU), may have much wider application,” Ernst & Young said in a note for clients late last year.
Hutchison Whampoa will now use the European decision to apply for consortium tax relief in the British courts, said Christian Salbaing, Deputy Chairman of Hutchison Whampoa Europe.
Editing by David Goodman