BRUSSELS – The European Union ordered Belgium to recover about 700 million euros ($763 million) in illegal tax breaks given to at least 35 companies, including Anheuser-Busch InBev and BP, as regulators continued a crackdown on overly generous tax schemes throughout the 28-nation bloc.
The European Commission told Belgium to recoup the full unpaid tax, saying that excess-profit rulings allowed global corporations to reduce their tax base by as much as 90 percent. Other beneficiaries included BASF, Proximus, Atlas Copco, Wabco Holdings and Celio France, according to a source.
"In essence, the scheme allowed companies to pay substantially less tax, simply because they are multinational," Margrethe Vestager, the E.U.'s competition chief, told reporters. "It distorts competition on the merits by putting smaller competitors who are not multinational on an unequal footing."
Tax deals including Apple's arrangements with Ireland and Amazon.com's agreements with Luxembourg are also under investigation by the E.U., which last year ordered the Netherlands to recover as much as 30 million euros in back taxes from Starbucks.
Most of the companies that benefited from the Belgian tax loophole, in place since 2005, are European and they will have to pay back around 500 million euros out of the estimated 700 million euros in total, Vestager said.
"While we are disappointed by this decision, we remain confident that our tax rulings are in full compliance with the E.U. jurisprudence on state aid and that we have always complied with Belgian and international tax provisions," said Kathleen Van Boxelaer, a spokeswoman at AB InBev.