“There’s no shifting going on, that I see at all,” Apple CEO Tim Cook explained to a Senate investigations subcommittee chaired by Carl Levin (D-Mich.), referring to his company’s Irish subsidiary AOI, which has been painted as a tax shelter. It has 4,000 employees, but it also helped Apple avoid roughly $20 billion in U.S. corporate income taxes last year. “I would say that the 30.5% effective tax rate is the relevant comparison,” Cook explained, alluding to domestic income.
Cook was diplomatic but firm, steering the conversation toward tax reform. Ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked if he felt bullied or harassed by the committee or its members, taking a dig at Senator Rand Paul’s (R-Ky.) scathing rhetoric. The technology leader replied he was happy to participate in the process and contribute to tax reform, later telling Senator Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), “unlike some of my colleagues I am not proposing zero.”
“I think it’s important to tell our story, and I want them to hear it from me,” he told McCain. “So you were not dragged here?” To mild laughter Cook replied, “I was not dragged here, sir.” He did take a stand on the question of income shifting, however, saying, “from what I see AOI does not reduce our taxes at all,” adding, “Sir, I have tremendous respect for you. I see this differently from you, I believe.”
Levin asked if Cook could understand the perception of an unfair advantage. “To be honest, I do not see this as unfair,” was his reply, “I am not an unfair person and I do not see that as unfair.” Apple Head of Tax Operations Phillip Bullock later asserted that “100% of the profits on any sale to a customer in the United States … all of that is fully taxed in the U.S. There are no outbound payments offshore.” Levin was not satisfied, however, telling Cook: “You shifted your crown jewels, the economic rights to your intellectual property to these three Irish companies, the most valuable things you own.” The Apple representatives disputed that representation, with Senior VP & CFO Peter Oppenheimer saying that AOI “fundamentally has not changed” since 1980 when an agreement was formed to handle these properties.
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