Amazon sold £7billion in UK and paid no taxes

By IAN GRIFFITHS | THE GUARDIAN | APRIL 6, 2012

Amazon.co.uk, Britain’s biggest online retailer, generated sales of more than £3.3bn in the country last year but paid no corporation tax on any of the profits from that income – and is under investigation by the UK tax authorities.

Regulatory filings by parent company Amazon.com with the US securities and exchange commission (SEC) show the tax inquiry into the UK operation, which sells nearly one in four books sold in Britain, focuses on a period when ownership of the British business was transferred to a Luxembourg company.

The SEC filings, highlighted by Bookseller magazine, show that in the past three years, Amazon has generated sales of more than £7.6bn in the UK without attracting any corporation tax on the profits from those sales.

HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) refused to confirm it was investigating Amazon.co.uk, and its inquiries could be a routine audit. But Amazon’s tax affairs are being investigated in the US, China, Germany, France, Japan and Luxembourg.

Amazon, which launched in the UK in 1998, is the UK’s most popular retail website, with more visitors than Argos, Next and Tesco. It sells a vast array of goods other than books and recently won an award for offering the best customer service in the UK.

But the business that people voted for is not British-owned. The UK operation avoids tax as the ownership of the main Amazon.co.uk business was transferred to a Luxembourg company in 2006. The UK business is now owned by Amazon EU Sarl and the UK operation is classed only as an “order fulfilment” business. All payments for books, DVDs and other goods go directly to Luxembourg. The UK business is simply a delivery organisation.

The latest 2010 accounts for Amazon EU Sarl show the Luxembourg office employed just 134 people, but generated turnover of €7.5bn (£6.5bn). In the same year, the UK operation employed 2,265 people and reported a turnover of just £147m. According to the SEC filings, UK sales that year were between £2.3bn and £3.2bn. Amazon in the US has earned an average 3.5% profit margin over the past three years.

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California will begin Taxing the Internet in July

by Marc Lifsher
Los Angeles Times
June 30, 2011

Shopping at Amazon.com Inc. and other major Internet stores is poised to get more expensive.

Beginning Friday, a new state law will require large out-of-state retailers to collect sales taxes on purchases that their California customers make on the Internet — a prospect eased only slightly by a 1-percentage-point drop in the tax that also takes effect at the same time.

Getting the taxes, which consumers typically don’t pay to the state if online merchants don’t charge them, is “a common-sense idea,” said Gov. Jerry Brown, who signed the legislation into law Wednesday.

The new tax collection requirement — part of budget-related legislation — is expected to raise an estimated $317 million a year in new state and local government revenue.

But those taxes may come with a price. Amazon and online retailer Overstock.com Inc. told thousands of California Internet marketing affiliates that they will stop paying commissions for referrals of so-called click-through customers.

That’s because the new requirement applies only to online sellers based out of state that have some connection to California, such as workers, warehouses or offices here.

Both Amazon in Seattle and Overstock in Salt Lake City have told affiliates that they would have to move to another state if they wanted to continue earning commissions for referring customers.

“We oppose this bill because it is unconstitutional and counterproductive,” Amazon wrote its California business partners Wednesday. Amazon has not indicated what further actions it might take to challenge the California law.

Many of about 25,000 affiliates in California, especially larger ones with dozens of employees, are likely to leave the state, said Rebecca Madigan, executive director of trade group Performance Marketing Assn. The affiliates combined paid $152 million in state income taxes last year, she pointed out.

“We have to consider it,” said Loren Bendele, chief executive of Savings.com, a West Los Angeles website that links viewers to hundreds of money-saving deals. “It does not look good for our business.”

The larger bite from buyers’ pocketbooks will be eased only a bit because California’s basic sales tax rate also will drop to 7.75% on Friday when a 2-year-old temporary increase expires. The basic rate in the city of Los Angeles falls back to 8.75%.

Brown’s signature on the budget bills is aimed at closing a loophole that freed Amazon and other out-of-state retailers from collecting sales taxes for California.

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