EC competition official: no new wave of U.S. tax probes

September 20, 2016 5:19 PM EDT

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager gestures during a news conference on the approval of the Hutchison-Vimpelcom deal at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium September 1, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Vidal/File Photo


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By David Morgan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The European Union's competition regulator said on Tuesday she is not about to launch a new wave of tax investigations against U.S. companies after last month's 13 billion-euro ($14.5 billion) decision against Apple Inc (NASDAQ: AAPL).

Fears of a new round of EU state aid probes were triggered by a tweet that EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager sent over the weekend. Some officials said privately that the message appeared to portend a new round of state aid probes days before Vestager began meeting with U.S. officials and lawmakers in Washington.

"I don't think that was the suggestion," Vestager said in an interview, when asked if her tweet meant she was planning new probes.

The tweet stemmed from a Sept. 16 letter from Business Roundtable President John Engler who asked the 28 states that make up the EU Council to overturn a European Commission decision ordering Ireland to recover tax revenue from Apple. The Washington-based business lobbying group represents about 185 chief executive officers.

London-based Algebris Investments CEO Davide Serra tweeted to Vestager: "Apple: so in the USA there are 185 CEO which think it's legal to pay 0.05 percent Taxes in Europe! @vestager pls check what they pay asap!"

She replied a day later: "@davidealgebris I will. And I keep thinking about all the CEOs who just make sure that their companies do pay their taxes. They exist too."

"The suggestion was to look into what they were saying," Vestager told Reuters ahead of a Tuesday meeting with House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady.

"We've been looking into whether the (Business Roundtable) had a point for the council to overthrow our position, which they don’t," she added. "The council by now cannot overthrow" (the decision).

The Business Roundtable said it believes European leaders will ultimately intervene in the Apple case to "avoid economic harm."

Vestager said she has received no complaints from EU members about state aid investigations, adding: "That is most probably because we've been doing this since 1958."

She said meetings with Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and members of the Senate Finance Committee included a "quite frank discussion" about Apple and "a very open dialogue" about global tax issues.

Senators described their discussion as cordial but said she did not address some questions about state aid probes.

"I don’t think she's going to change her viewpoint," Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch told Reuters. He issued a statement saying Vestager "failed to build an effective case".

(Editing by Matthew Lewis)



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