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Apple's $14 billion tax trial should start over, says EU

Apple Ireland

Apple and Ireland had together beaten an EU claim over back taxes on appeal, but now a higher court advisor says legal errors were made and the whole case should be reviewed again.

At its core, the allegation is that the Irish government granted Apple an unfair tax arrangement. Both Apple and Ireland dispute this, but a 2016 ruling was made against them both — and that was then overturned on appeal in 2020.

As part of its original ruling, the EU demanded that Apple pay $14.4 billion in back taxes, and the company has done so. However, the money has not gone to either the EU or Ireland, and instead is continuing to be held in an escrow account until the case is finally settled.

That time may now be yet further delayed, though, as according to Ireland's RTE, the Advocate General of the EU's highest court has recommended that the lower General Court's decision in favor of Apple effectively be ignored.

RTE reports that Advocate General Giovanni Pitruzzella says there were a series of legal errors when it said the EU had not shown evidence of its case to the required legal standard. More, the General Court failed to correctly assess the case.

Consequently, Pitruzzella says that in his view, it is now necessary for the General Court to carry out a new assessment.

Pitruzzella's opinion is not legally-binding. It does not automatically follow that there will be a further trial, but it is reportedly unusual for the Advocate General's opinion to not be then subsequently followed by the court.

If the case continues and the EU ultimately wins, the European Commission will receive the $14.4 billion from the escrow account. If it is decided that the EU has failed and it has no further recourse, the money will be returned to Apple.

RTE notes that the managers of the escrow fund were paid a fee of approximately $6 million in 2022.

That's despite the value of the escrow fund declining by around $1 billion in the year to July 2023. Reportedly, the escrow account consists chiefly of investments rather than straight cash, and European bonds having been performing poorly.