Vodafone scores a victory in $3 billion tax dispute with India
An international arbitration tribunal ruled Friday that India’s efforts to claim 200 billion rupees ($2.7 billion) in past taxes were in breach of fair treatment under the bilateral investment protection pact between the south Asian nation and the Netherlands.Updated: Sep 25, 2020, 19:11 IST
Vodafone Group Plc. won a crucial victory in a years-long tax dispute with the Indian government, a development that could potentially save the UK wireless carrier almost $3 billion.
An international arbitration tribunal ruled Friday that India’s efforts to claim 200 billion rupees ($2.7 billion) in past taxes were in breach of fair treatment under the bilateral investment protection pact between the south Asian nation and the Netherlands, according to a lawyer representing the company in the case. The tribunal has also asked India to halt its efforts to claim the tax dues. India can appeal.
Shares of Vodafone Idea Ltd., Vodafone’s money-losing India unit, jumped 14% in Mumbai after CNBC-TV18 reported the ruling, the biggest gain since Sept. 3.
The ruling may ease the burden on Vodafone’s India venture at a critical time when it is already facing a demand for billions of dollars in back-fees India’s Supreme Court ordered it to pay last October in a separate case. The joint venture between Vodafone and billionaire Kumar Mangalam Birla’s conglomerate has been weighed down by a $7.8 billion bill from the government -- biggest among peers -- eight straight quarterly losses and over $14 billion of debt.
“Vodafone has finally got justice,” said Anuradha Dutt, managing partner of DMD Advocates, a New Delhi-based firm which argued for Vodafone. “They have held that the government trying to recover from Vodafone the tax, interest, and penalty, is unfair and it breaches the fair and equitable standards laid down by international law.”
A Vodafone spokesman in London confirmed the tribunal has ruled in the company’s favor. “The award is confidential,” he said. “We are studying the lengthy documents and can make no further comment at this time.”
A spokesperson for India’s finance ministry did not answer calls seeking comment on the arbitration court ruling.
This marks the latest twist in over a decade-long tax dispute that started when Vodafone entered India by acquiring Hutchison Whampoa’s Indian operations in 2007 and was slapped with this tax bill. Vodafone disputed this tax demand and the country’s Supreme Court agreed that no local law supported the levy of this tax. But the then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee amended the tax rules to apply retrospectively, triggering a legal battle that ended up in the Hague arbitration court.