The abolition of Swiss withholding tax on bonds and other collective debt financings is a welcome measure that allows Switzerland to significantly strengthen its position as an international finance and treasury centre. All types of financing and refinancing activity in Switzerland will be facilitated as adverse withholding tax consequences can be prevented. This fundamental change of the Swiss withholding tax regime is expected to come into force on 1 January 2022 at the earliest.
Under the current tax framework, the non-uniform cantonal tax practices on the capital gains treatment and valuation of employee shares in start-ups and other non-listed companies lead to different tax consequences for employees depending on their place of residence. The Swiss Federal Tax Administration recently created a favourable framework for start-ups and enhanced the legal certainty and predictability of the tax consequences with regard to non-listed employee shares.
The ordinance concerning the tax credit provided for in applicable Swiss double tax treaties has been significantly amended with effect from 1 January 2020. The new ordinance provides welcome amendments, including an extension of the scope of application to Swiss permanent establishments of foreign companies. In contrast, some of the new features introduced in the ordinance may have a negative effect on taxpayers.
The EU Directive on Administrative Cooperation need not be incorporated into Swiss law, but its impact on groups based in Switzerland may be significant. Considering the directive's broad scope, it is crucial that Swiss-based groups identify qualifying intercompany transactions at an early stage and ensure that they comply with the applicable subsidiary reporting obligations in cases with no involvement of EU intermediaries.
In economic life, debt waivers involving associated companies take on central significance in the context of a restructuring. It can be assumed that restructuring will greatly increase in the near future due to the financial difficulties of many companies resulting from the current COVID-19 crisis. Although the tax treatment of a debt waiver granted by an independent third party is essentially well defined (ie, it is recognised in income), many questions will arise if debt is waived by a related party – namely, a shareholder.
Foreign companies can now take advantage of a tax-neutral step-up of built-in gains (including self-created goodwill) to fair market value for Swiss direct tax purposes when relocating their legal seat, effective place of management or assets, business units and functions to Switzerland from overseas. The disclosed built-in gains may be depreciated tax-effectively over a specified time period, allowing the Swiss company or branch to reduce its tax burden significantly during the respective timeframe.
The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development recently released a statement update on a new international framework to allocate part of the profits of multinational enterprises with a substantial digital business footprint in countries in which they have a large user base, but no physical presence. Switzerland has stated that it will maintain its support for the development of a multilateral solution for taxing the digital economy to avoid unilateral actions that jeopardise growth and innovation.
The Federal Council recently announced its intentions to resume the temporarily suspended Swiss withholding tax reform and set out the general framework to introduce a paying agent tax system with regard to interest payments. However, as the Federal Council's communication did not contain any details, it remains to be seen how the reform will be set out in the draft bill expected in Autumn 2019 and how it will affect paying agents and investors.
The Swiss Federal Tax Administration recently relaxed its practice under which bonds that are issued by foreign resident issuers, but guaranteed by their Swiss resident parent company, are requalified as domestic issuances which trigger Swiss withholding tax on interest payments. The revised rules significantly increase the permissible use of proceeds in Switzerland.
The Swiss Federal Tax Administration recently published the 2019 safe haven interest rates to be used on intra-group loans. Against this backdrop, this article provides an overview of the relevant Swiss tax rules associated with determining whether intra-group financing constitutes equity or debt for tax purposes and the consequences of each characterisation.