What is Double Irish With a Dutch Sandwich?

The double Irish with a Dutch sandwich is a tax avoidance technique employed by certain large corporations, involving the use of a combination of Irish and Dutch subsidiary companies to shift profits to low or no-tax jurisdictions. The technique has made it possible for certain corporations to reduce their overall corporate tax rates dramatically.

Illustration – Double Irish With a Dutch Sandwich

Lets assume you have a company in the United States that wants to sell Mobile Phones in the United Kingdom. The problem — when profits on sales of these Mobile Phones make its way into the US, you’ll have to pay an effective tax rate of 35%. You think that’s too much, So you consult a tax lawyer. The tax lawyer tells you there is a workaround. But for the plan to be successful, you have to set up another entity in Ireland. Don’t be puzzled. You’ll just have to believe him for now, the promise has been made. This is going to work.

Anyway, you start using the Irish company to sell those Mobile Phones in the UK. This way all the income accrues to the Irish subsidiary now. So, instead of paying 35%, you only have to pay 12.5% tax according to Irish laws.

But wait. The tax lawyer comes up with another scheme.

According to Irish laws, if the Irish entity is controlled by managers elsewhere, then the profits will be taxed in that jurisdiction. So if this Irish company that you’ve set up had a controlling presence in say, Bermuda, then you only have to pay tax in this small Caribbean territory. And since the effective tax rate here is nil (0%),  you won’t have to pay anything at all.

So you quickly set up another entity in the Bermuda until somebody tells you there’s another problem. If US authorities find out you have a subsidiary in Ireland whose controlling owners reside elsewhere (like the Bermuda), they can implement the “Controlling Foreign Corporation” (CFC) rule and force you to pay taxes in the US. So you can’t do that.!!!

But there’s still hope.

You figure this requires a gameplan straight out of the greatest tax playbook ever. So you go back to the drawing board once again. And you come out with a new strategy.

First, you set up an Irish subsidiary “Alpha”, that makes all the sales as usual. This entity will be incorporated in Ireland and will have a controlling presence in Ireland. Not in the Bermuda. This way the CFC rule won’t kick in and the US won’t be able to tax you anymore. But then the Irish will tax you 12.5%. So you set up another Irish entity “Beta” with a controlling presence in the Bermuda and you begin working your magic.

Let’s say “Alpha” sells its Mobile Phones and makes a total profit of $1000. It then contests that the only reason it could make all this money, was because it kept using intellectual property owned by entity “Beta”. So “Alpha” makes a $1000 royalty payment to “Beta”. This way the net profit at “Alpha” drops to 0 (Zero). So “Alpha” doesn’t have to pay any taxes. What about “Beta” though? Since “Beta” has a controlling presence in the Bermuda, the Irish won’t tax you.

But here’s the kicker. If the arrangement is done right. The US will consider the whole “Alpha” & “Beta” structure as one single entity originating in Ireland, not subject to CFC rules. And you get away free.

However there is one last problem.

When “Alpha” makes the royalty payment to “Beta”, the Irish will walk in and throw a withholding tax on the payment. This puts your entire plan in jeopardy. So you introduce the Dutch angle here. The Irish and the Dutch have an arrangement where they agree to not tax certain kinds of payments flowing between the two nations.

So now you’ll have “Alpha” make a royalty payment to a dutch subsidiary “Delta”. No tax here.

And Delta will make another royalty payment to “Beta”. No tax once again. And Finally, your income is finally tax-free.

The US authorities finally plugged the loopholes in 2015 and offered tech companies like Google a 5-year window to abandon this shoddy practice. And as part of that long-standing agreement, Google has finally decided to comply. So now they are moving on from the Double Irish Dutch Sandwich. In September 2021, The Irish Times reported that US pharmaceutical firm Abbott Laboratories was still using the Single Malt tool to shield profits on its COVID-19 testing kits.

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Author and Assistant Professor in Finance, Ardent fan of Arsenal FC. Always believe "The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance - Socrates"
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