The special transfer pricing audit department of the Belgian tax authorities, in January and February 2016, launched a new wave of transfer pricing audits, and approximately 150 companies in Belgium have received or will receive a detailed request for information on their transfer pricing policy. This new wave of transfer pricing audits reflects a past trend in Belgium.
The special transfer pricing department of the Belgian tax authorities has recently been reorganized. The department is (again) more centralized, and has had to recruit and train new inspectors. It is anticipated that 2016 will be a transition year. As such, less files than in previous years may be audited.
The special transfer pricing department has concluded a “cooperation protocol” with the special investigation squad (Bijzondere Belastinginspectie—BBI / Inspection Spéciale des Impôts—ISI), so that the BBI/ISI will also remain active in the transfer pricing arena.
In the early days of the transfer pricing department, audited companies were hand-picked by the tax inspectors based on publicly available information (e.g., financial statements, websites, databases, FIN-48 disclosures, sector studies, and information disclosed by the media).
Since 2013, file selection decreasingly has been left to the discretion of the tax inspectors because selection is driven by a data-mining tool based on risks analysis—the “mantra data warehouse” software.
Major risks analyzed by the software include:
In addition, when transfer pricing questions arise during the course of a general corporate tax audit, the tax inspector in charge is strongly encouraged to request the assistance of the inspectors from the transfer pricing department, potentially leading to an in-depth transfer pricing audit.
While small and medium-size enterprises (quite often Belgium based and family owned) historically were rarely audited by the transfer pricing department, the data mining file selection methodology led in 2014 and 2015 to an increased number of audits for these taxpayers.
Following the selection of a taxpayer for a transfer pricing audit, the sending of a standard request for information by the tax authorities triggers the audit process. In January 2013, the already lengthy list of questions presented at this point was further broadened, and a new update has been included in the current wave of transfer pricing audits. Among the more recent additions made to the questionnaire, there is a section on captive insurance premiums and on intercompany financial transactions, among other factors.
The possibility for taxpayers to solicit a pre-audit meeting is still available, and may be encouraged. As introduced by a 14 November 2006 circular letter, the pre-audit meeting has been specifically mentioned in the request for information since January 2013. Although it is a useful way of minimizing compliance costs for the audited company, practice shows that companies and their advisors still do not sufficiently make use of this possibility. When intra-group transactions are limited and follow a straight-forward transfer pricing policy that is in line with the arm’s length principle, starting the audit with a pre-audit meeting can significantly shorten the process.
When the taxpayer wants a pre-audit meeting to take place, the Belgian tax inspector(s) concerned need to be contacted within 10 days, and the meeting preferably is to take place within the official one-month reply period. While the official amount of time afforded the taxpayer to provide the requested information is one month, additional time may still be granted on a case-by-case basis. The addition time granted rarely exceeds a total of three months.
Once the request for information is received by the Belgian company or permanent establishment of the group, it is important that the internal tax department and local external transfer pricing adviser are involved early in the process in order to make sure that correct answers are being given to the questions raised in the request for information and to monitor the exchange of information with the tax authorities.
In addition to the risk of being subjected to a transfer pricing audit, the envisaged introduction of transfer pricing documentation requirements in Belgium (following Action 13 of the OECD/G 20 BEPS project) will necessitate multinational groups present in Belgium to be (pro)active in documenting the arm’s length character of their intercompany transactions.
For more information, contact a tax professional in Belgium with KPMG’s Global Transfer Pricing Services group:
Dirk Van Stappen | +32 3 821 19 18 | firstname.lastname@example.org