New approach to beneficial owners of income

В апреле 2018 года Федеральная налоговая служба (ФНC) опубликовала письмо, в котором подробно объясняется применение налоговыми органами концепции фактического владельца дохода (beneficial owner of income — BOI).

В письме говорится, что концепция BOI не будет интерпретироваться как имеющая узкий технический смысл; скорее, она будет интерпретироваться на основе:

В частности, цели и задачи международных налоговых соглашений России несовместимы с освобождением от налога, когда резидент другого государства, получающий доход, выступает в качестве фактического получателя дохода. Кроме того, международные налоговые соглашения не будут применяться в тех случаях, когда:

В письме также рассматривается судебная практика в отношении споров между налогоплательщиками и налоговыми органами и кратко оцениваются наиболее распространенные вопросы, которые ставятся перед судом.

Interpretation of BOI concept

In April 2018 the Federal Tax Service (FTS) issued a letter providing an extensive explanation of the tax authorities’ application of the beneficial owner of income (BOI) concept.(1) This concept was previously referred to only in the international tax treaties between Russia and other states, but has – in recent years – been actively implemented into Russian tax legislation. In this regard, the FTS’s letter is of great interest, as it summarises the approach of both the courts and the tax authorities with regard to resolving BOI issues.

Interpretation of BOI concept

The letter states that the BOI concept will not be interpreted as having a narrow, technical meaning; rather, it will be interpreted based on:

the goals and objectives of Russia’s international double taxation avoidance treaties; and
the main principles applied when resolving tax disputes, such as the prevention of abuse of agreement provisions and the prevalence of substance over form.
In particular, the goals and objectives of Russia’s international tax treaties are incompatible with the exemption of withholding tax when a resident of another state who receives income acts as a frontperson for the actual beneficiary of the income. Further, the international tax treaties will not apply where:

the operations underlying financing and income payments do not seek to attract foreign capital; and
the actions of the parties undertaking the operations are aimed only at gaining preferential tax treatment.

The letter also reviews the court practice regarding disputes between taxpayers and the tax authorities and briefly assesses the most common issues that the courts are asked to resolve.

The main issue being examined in disputes concerning the application of Russia’s international tax treaties is the assessment of the relevant business objective and the proper qualification of the substance of transactions entered into by taxpayers. The application of tax preferences is recognised as unlawful where it can be concluded that the main objective of a set transactions (operations) was to:

avoid income received in Russia from being subject to a tax assessment; or
benefit from an international double tax treaty.
Examples of the above include:

requalifying a liability payment as share capital, thereby changing the tax treatment; and
qualifying a set of transactions as hybrid schemes and applying national legislation to the income that has not been assessed for tax purposes.
The letter also indicates that taxpayers should:

provide their reasons for entering into transactions in a certain manner or involving foreign companies in their business structure and transactions; and
produce evidence that their decisions and any entrepreneurial risks taken were reasonable.
The letter confirms that the tax authorities’ approach, which is supported by the courts, is that the burden of proof to show that an owner of income is a beneficial owner lies with the tax agent making the payments subject to withholding tax to a foreign person.

According to the letter, activities which are carried out only with regard to the investment and financing of group (holding) companies or interrelated persons cannot be considered to constitute entrepreneurial activities. In addition, the FTS believes that companies serving only the interests of their own group and its affiliates cannot benefit from Russia’s international tax treaties if their income receipt is not commercially feasible. Thus, on inspection, a Russian tax authority can refuse to recognise as a BOI a foreign holding company which has only management and consulting functions with regard to its Russian subsidiary legal entities.

This conclusion may be disputable, as holding companies which have no operating business are often formed for reasons other than tax preferences and the location of such companies is often influenced by other factors. However, an approach similar to that discussed in the FTS’s letter would mean that a management company’s role in the entire business structure of an international holding would be considered solely in terms of a tax benefit.


On the basis of the FTS’s letter, arrangements regarding the holding of Russian assets by an international business which did not previously raise concerns now require reassessment from a tax-risk perspective.



(1) Letter С�-4-9/8285, dated April 28 2018.

Автор: Валерий Нарежный (Valery Narezhniy)


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