Britain takes on US firms, citing ‘tax avoidance’

PARIS — The British government announced plans Monday to crack down on tax dodgers as a parliamentary report criticized US companies for what it described as tax avoidance.

George Osborne, the chancellor of the Exchequer, said he had earmarked an additional $123 million for a campaign against ‘‘offshore evasion and avoidance by wealthy individuals and multinationals.’’

The push, the Treasury said in a statement, was expected to yield billions of dollars in additional annual revenue.


Criticism is growing in Britain and elsewhere in Europe of the fiscal policies of several US companies that pay little tax on the sales they generate in the region.

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“Global companies with huge operations in the UK, generating significant amounts of income, are getting away with paying little or no corporation tax here,’’ Margaret Hodge, chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee of Parliament, said in a report published Monday. ‘‘This is outrageous and an insult to British businesses and individuals who pay their fair share.’’

The report focused on Starbucks, Amazon, and Google, criticizing their policy of using lower-tax jurisdictions within Europe, like Ireland, Luxembourg, and Switzerland, to record much of the revenue they generate in higher-tax countries like Britain, France, and Germany. Companies like Google then transfer money they earn in Europe to Bermuda or other places, thus deferring or avoiding US taxes as well.

At parliamentary hearings last month, executives of Google, Amazon, and Starbucks maintained that their tax policies were legal because European Union law lets companies based in one member state operate across the 27-country bloc.

But tax investigators in several countries, including France, are looking into whether the practice, which is also employed by European companies, is legal. Amazon recently disclosed that it had received a bill from the French fiscal authorities for $252 million in back taxes, adding that it was contesting the claim.


Starbucks said Monday that it was reviewing its British tax practices after the company disclosed recently that it had paid no corporate tax in Britain last year.

“To maintain and further build public trust, we need to do more,’’ Starbucks said in a statement. ‘‘The company has been in discussions with HMRC for some time’’ — a reference to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the British tax collection agency — ‘‘and is also in talks with the Treasury.’’

Google declined to comment Monday but has previously insisted that its tax practices comply with British law.

Amazon did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The British parliamentary report stopped short of accusing the companies of tax fraud but said their explanations had been ‘‘unconvincing and, in some cases, evasive.’’