The Inward Investment and International Taxation Review: Russia
In the past few years, the Russian government has taken various measures to reduce adverse consequences of sanctions introduced by the United States, the European Union (EU) and certain other countries and to encourage foreigners to invest in Russia. The measures included major reform of corporate law, simplification of the regulatory framework, subsidies and guarantees, as well as various tax incentives; for example, in relation to industrial R&D, tourism and operation of ports. As of the end of the first six-month period in 2020, direct inward investment into Russia was US$479 million, slightly exceeding investment in the first six months of 2019.2 This is a relatively small amount, standing at a par with inbound investments in Belgium.3 The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) forecasts the growth of the Russian economy to continue at a very moderate pace.4
Tax incentives have been neutralised by a gradual overall increase in the tax burden, including an increase in the value added tax (VAT) rate (as of 1 January 2019) and introduction of various quasi-taxes.
Although the role of the state in the Russian economy has been growing constantly, certain mega projects have been completed by private investors. For instance, Yamal LNG, a company majority owned by Novatek (Russia), with Total (France), CNPC and Silk Road Fund (China) as private investors, completed the LNG project well ahead of the plan. Major tax and customs concessions were secured through amendments to Russian law and an intergovernmental agreement was concluded by Russia and China. In the summer of 2019, the Arctic LNG 2 project majority owned by Novatek attracted investment from Total, CNPC, CNOOC (China), and the consortium of Mitsui and JOGMEC (Japan). The final investment decision on the project was made in September 2019.
The valuation of Russian companies remains low, making them an attractive target for investors willing to take on the risk in the current economic and political environment.
At the same time, Russia has been exercising control over investments in certain sensitive industries, such as defence, aviation and nuclear. Russian law also imposes foreign ownership limitations in certain sectors (e.g., transport infrastructure, aviation and the space industry, cryptology, mass media). In some cases, acquisition of real estate by, and issuance of subsoil licences to, foreigners may be subject to restrictions.
Common forms of business organisation and their tax treatment
Russian law provides for a wide range of both corporate as well as non-corporate forms of doing business; however, only a few are used in practice. Generally, tax rules do not materially differ depending on the types of corporate entities.
In most cases, businesses prefer to invest through corporate vehicles. The two most commonly used forms of entities are the limited liability company (LLC) (shareholders in LLCs are called 'participants' and participants' stakes are called 'participatory interests') and the joint-stock company (JSC), which may be public or non-public.
Both vehicles, as a general rule, stand for limited liability of their members provided that the corporate veil may be pierced in certain cases, including bankruptcy. The major difference between these forms is that LLC capital is divided into participatory interests, which are proprietary rights and not securities, while a JSC issues shares. The title to shares and participatory interest is recorded differently, and the rules of the registration of their transfer differ as well.
An LLC is generally perceived as an entity where personal connections between participants matter more that in a non-public JSC. That triggers some other differences: unlike non-public JSCs, an LLC's charter may prohibit the disposal of participatory interests to third parties; an LLC's charter may subject the transfer of participatory interest to consent of participants without any time limitation while in non-public JSCs the lock-up period is limited to five years; in contrast to LLCs, where the right of first refusal is granted by default under statute, there is no such right in non-public JSCs unless the charter provides otherwise.
Taxation of LLCs and non-public JSCs is widely similar save for specific distinctions (e.g., application of the capital gains rules).
Generally, the following taxes would normally apply to legal entities: profits tax, VAT, social security charges, property tax, land tax and stamp duties. There is no separate capital gains tax, securities tax or capital tax in Russia. Depending on the type of business they perform, companies may also be subject to mineral extraction tax and various resources-related taxes, export or import duty, excise taxes, transportation tax and state duty. Employers are normally obliged to withhold personal income tax from wages they pay. Finally, corporates may apply a range of special tax regimes available for small enterprises and the like.
While many unincorporated forms of doing business are recognised by Russian law, they are rarely used, except for real estate investments. Examples of non-corporate organisations include the simple partnership agreement, investment partnership agreement and private equity fund.
All three structures are transparent for profits or income tax and property tax purposes. Property tax and profits or income tax (depending on whether a participant is a legal entity or an individual) are payable only by the participant but not by the partnership. Some other taxes may be paid by the managing partner on behalf of the partnership.
The mutual investment fund enjoys profits tax deferral as its main advantage compared to partnership agreements. Thanks to that, private equity funds are commonly used for real estate investment.
Apart from the mutual investment fund, non-corporate entities are not widely used in practice owing to lack of corporate protection of the participants in combination with somewhat ambiguous tax regulation.
Direct taxation of businesses
Key Russian taxes5 and their general rates for businesses are the following:
- profits tax (20 per cent);6
- VAT (20 per cent as of 1 January 2019);7
- social security charges (to the Pension Fund, 22 per cent for remuneration not exceeding 1.292 million roubles and 10 per cent for remuneration in excess of it; to the Medical Insurance Fund, 5.1 per cent; to the Social Security Fund, 2.9 per cent for remuneration not exceeding 912,000 roubles and zero per cent for remuneration in excess of it; and to the Social Security Fund for insurance for work-related injuries and diseases at rates ranging from 0.2 per cent to 8.5 per cent);8
- property tax (2.2 per cent);9
- land tax (may not exceed 0.3 per cent of the cadastral10 value of agricultural and residential land and 1.5 per cent for other types of land);
- mineral extraction tax;
- transportation tax; and
- stamp duty (relatively low in Russia).
i Tax on profits
Determination of taxable profit
Corporates that are Russian tax residents are liable for profits tax on their worldwide profit (calculated as gross income minus deductible expenses).
Non-resident foreign companies with a permanent establishment in Russia pay profits tax on the taxable profits attributable to that permanent establishment. Given that Russian attribution rules are not sufficiently clear, disputes with the Russian tax authorities as regards attribution are not uncommon. Certain other income deemed to derive from Russian source and not attributable to a permanent establishment may be subject to withholding tax.
Profit is calculated as gross income less deductible expenses. Most business expenses are deductible, provided that they are economically justified (i.e., aimed at receiving profit) and properly documented. Restrictions apply to the deductibility of certain expenses, such as certain advertising expenses and interest.
Generally, profits tax is calculated on an accrual basis subject to certain exceptions.
Special accounting rules apply for profits tax purposes.
Capital and income
There is no separate capital gains tax in Russia. Capital gains are subject to the regular profits tax. A separate base may be required in respect of listed and unlisted securities.
An exemption is available for capital gains on the sale of participatory interests and specified in the law shares of Russian companies. To qualify for exemption, a taxpayer should have acquired shares or a participatory interest after January 2011 (in relation to preceding periods, special provisions apply) and have held them for more than five years.
Until recently, loss carry-forward was limited to 10 years yet unlimited by amount. Now, loss may be carried forward indefinitely; however, such loss cannot reduce taxable profit in any year by more than 50 per cent.11 Loss included in the general tax profits base may be set off against received capital gain from non-negotiable instruments, but not vice versa.
Starting from 1 January 2020, this rule shall not apply to the legal successor in the reorganisation proceedings of the predecessor if the tax authorities find that the main purpose of the reorganisation was to record losses.
Generally, the profits tax rate is 20 per cent (that is shared between the federal (3 per cent) and regional (17 per cent) budgets). A zero rate applies to medical and educational institutions, regional or municipal museums, theatres and libraries, and to the regional solid waste management operators (provided that the regional authorities introduce a zero rate). In addition, the Tax Code lists certain categories of taxpayers eligible for profits tax incentives (for instance, residents of special economic zones and, recently introduced to the Tax Code, participants of special investment contracts).12 Starting from 2019, regions are only able to reduce the rate in cases directly provided by the Tax Code, and the existing incentives are gradually falling apart. The reduced rates, which were introduced before 3 September 2018, are valid until the end of 2022 at the most. But the region may change its mind and raise them earlier.
Reduced rates also apply to certain types of income. For instance, dividends received by Russian companies from Russian and foreign subsidiaries are subject to a 13 per cent dividend tax. Furthermore, a participation exemption applies if the recipient has held at least a 50 per cent stake in the subsidiary continuously for at least one year. If the subsidiary is a non-Russian legal entity, it must also not be incorporated in a country that appears on the 'blacklist' of offshore jurisdictions published by the Russian government. The look-through approach, which allowed for participation exemption to be applied to dividends paid by Russian companies through offshore vehicles to their Russian ultimate corporate parents, and which was widely utilised, will cease to be available from 2024 save for minor exceptions.
Dividends paid to non-Russian residents having no permanent establishment in Russia are subject to a 15 per cent rate unless a lower tax rate is available under an applicable tax treaty. Interest paid to non-Russian residents is subject to a 20 per cent withholding tax. However, this tax may be reduced (and even eliminated) under an applicable tax treaty. Royalties paid to non-Russian residents are subject to a 20 per cent withholding tax. Again, a reduction or full exemption may be available on the basis of a double tax treaty.
Advance profits tax returns are filed quarterly (or monthly, in some cases); the final return is filed annually.
All taxes, including profits tax, are administered by the Federal Tax Service, including its regional and local departments. Special tax inspectorates exist (e.g., for major taxpayers, for foreign taxpayers, for information technologies).
Tax rulings are available only in limited instances in Russia. However, it is possible to obtain individual guidance from the Ministry of Finance. Action in accordance with such guidance may exempt the taxpayer from fines and late payment interest, but not tax arrears. A taxpayer or tax agent can also request such guidance from the local Tax Service; however, it is unclear if it grants the same benefit. Letters of the Federal Tax Service and letters of the Ministry of Finance addressed to an indefinite number of persons are formally not mandatory, but reflect the general policy of the tax authorities.
Tax assessments may be challenged with the superior tax authority or in court; most decisions are to be challenged with the superior tax authority prior to filing a lawsuit.
Tax grouping is only available to few major corporations in Russia.
Members of the group can count income and deduct expenses jointly, thus decreasing the tax and administrative burden. Transfer pricing rules are not applicable inside the group.
Currently, companies are prohibited from joining the existing consolidated groups. It is expected that the existing consolidated groups will be terminated by 2023.
ii Other relevant taxes
VAT is charged on: (1) goods, works and services 'supplied' in Russia, and also on property rights; and (2) imported goods.
Goods are deemed to be supplied in Russia if they are located in Russia and not transported or if they are located in Russia at the time of dispatch.
In respect of services, the general rule is that they are deemed to be supplied in Russia if the seller of services carries out its activities in Russia. However, specific rules apply to certain types of services. For instance, consulting, legal, accounting, marketing, engineering and information processing services are deemed to be supplied in Russia if the purchaser or recipient of those services carries out its activities in Russia.
The standard VAT rate is 20 per cent. A 10 per cent rate applies to certain food products, goods for children, certain mass media items (e.g., newspapers) and medical goods. The export of goods is zero-rated (exempt with credit). Certain VAT exemptions are available; for example, the sale of land or residential properties and the import of certain technological equipment that has no Russian equivalent.
A company's VAT liability is generally calculated as its output VAT invoiced to customers minus input VAT invoiced to the company by suppliers or paid to customs upon the import of goods. Where the amount of input VAT exceeds the amount of output VAT, the difference is usually recoverable.
Starting from 1 January 2020, the successors of reorganised companies are obliged to reinstate the VAT deducted by their predecessor if they start to use goods (including fixed assets and intangible assets), works, services, property rights in the activity, which is not subject to VAT, or pass to the simplified taxation system, the UTII.
Personal income tax
Russian tax residents (generally individuals who, regardless of their citizenship or domicile, are physically present in Russia for at least 183 days in any consecutive 12-month period) are subject to tax on their worldwide income. Non-residents are only subject to tax on income from Russian sources.
In general, employers are required to withhold personal income tax from wages. Personal income tax is withheld at a rate of 13 per cent (since 2021, 15 per cent tax rate will apply to income exceeding 5 million roubles, save for certain types of income which will be subject to 13 per cent irrespective of the amount of such income) from most types of income of Russian residents (special rates may apply) and at a rate of 30 per cent from Russian-sourced income of non-residents (although see below in relation to dividends). Employment-related income of non-resident individuals who are treated as highly qualified specialists is subject to 13 per cent personal income tax regardless of their residency status.
Social security charges
An employer is subject to social security charges payable on its employees' and individual contractors' remuneration. Employees are not subject to social security charges.
Employers are required to make contributions to different social security funds in the following amounts (assessed by reference to thresholds that are reconsidered annually):
- to the pension fund, 22 per cent for annual remuneration not exceeding 1.292 million roubles and 10 per cent for remuneration in excess of it;
- to the medical insurance fund. 5.1 per cent; and
- to the social security fund, 2.9 per cent for annual remuneration not exceeding 912,000 roubles and zero per cent for remuneration in excess of it.
Incentives apply for a limited number of industries.
Additionally, employers are required to make contributions to the social security fund for insurance for work-related injuries and diseases at rates ranging from 0.2 to 8.5 per cent, depending on the types of activities carried out by the employer.
As a general rule, Russian companies are liable to pay property tax on the average annual net book value (cadastre value for trade and business centres and non-residential premises) of the fixed assets on their balance sheet. However, movable fixed assets acquired after 1 January 2013 (other than those acquired from related parties or in the course of liquidation or reorganisation) are exempt from property tax. This narrows the application of this tax to immovable fixed assets and movable fixed assets acquired before 1 January 2013. As of 1 January 2019, the property tax on movable fixed assets is abolished.
The standard property tax rate is 2.2 per cent. However, regional authorities may reduce that rate or even provide a full exemption for all or certain categories of taxpayers.
Owned land is exempt from property tax and is subject to a separate land tax.
Land tax applies to landowners at the rate determined by the municipal authorities. Land tax is assessed on the cadastral (other statutory values apply in some cases) value of the land, which is usually equal or close to its actual market value. Land tax rates may not exceed 0.3 per cent of the cadastral value of agricultural and residential land. With respect to other land plots, the maximum rate is 1.5 per cent of the cadastral value.
Municipal authorities may establish tax incentives.
Businesses leasing land are not subject to land tax. Instead, they are liable for the land lease payments established by federal, regional or local authorities or other landowners.
Mineral extraction tax (MET)
Companies and individual entrepreneurs that extract commercial minerals must pay MET. In particular, this tax is levied on the extraction of coal, peat, crude oil, gas, ferrous and precious metals and precious stones. In certain limited cases, windfall tax is levied on subsoil users.
Certain activities with respect to alcoholic drinks, tobacco, transportation vehicles and oil products are subject to excise taxes payable by companies and individual entrepreneurs.
Transportation tax is payable by persons in whose name a taxable transport vehicle is registered and is payable at the rate established for that type of transport vehicle. Regional governments are permitted to establish tax incentives for certain categories of taxpayers. Generally, transportation tax is not a great burden on businesses.
Relatively small transactional fees apply to, among other things, the notarisation, registration and filing of legal documents and the issue of securities.
Other taxes include water tax and levies for the use of fauna and for the use of aquatic biological resources.
Certain specific tax regimes are available to small businesses.
Tax residence and fiscal domicile
i Corporate residence
All companies incorporated in Russia are deemed Russian tax residents. Companies registered outside of Russia may be deemed Russian tax residents if they have a place of effective management in Russia.
ii Branch or permanent establishment
A foreign entity can establish its presence in Russia via a subsidiary, branch or representative office. Setting up a branch or representative office through which business activity is conducted regularly leads to permanent establishment in Russia unless the functions of such office are restricted to 'preparatory and auxiliary' activity.
In line with an OECD tax treaty, a 'dependent agent' may also lead to a permanent establishment.
As the test for permanent establishment in Russia is not formal but substantial, the only way to avoid its setting up in Russia is not to carry out regular business activity in Russia.
The profits received as a result of activity of a permanent establishment are attributed to this permanent establishment. If there are several permanent establishments, the taxable base for each permanent establishment is normally calculated separately, unless a specific rule allows the taxable base to be calculated on a consolidated basis (e.g., if several permanent establishments are involved in a single technological process).
Most of the double taxation treaties Russia is a party to are OECD-based, and so are the permanent establishment provisions.
Tax incentives, special regimes and relief that may encourage inward investment
There are no special tax regimes for resident operations outside the home jurisdiction. Worldwide income of residents is subject to taxation in Russia unless a double tax treaty applies.
However, various tax incentives are available for doing business in Russia. Some of them are granted for investing in specific territories (special economic zones, territories of advanced social and economic development), participation in certain investment projects (regional investment projects, special investment contracts) or even redomiciliation from abroad to special administrative zones in Russia. Russian tax law also encourages investment in high tech. Reduced social security charges are imposed on certain IP companies. Profits tax benefits apply in relation to depreciation of assets used in technological activities. Exemption from capital gains tax applies to listed shares of high-tech companies though, as a general rule, such exemption does not apply to listed shares. Favourable tax regimes are available for small businesses.
i Holding company regimes
Dividends are not subject to profits tax if the participation exemption conditions are met. To qualify for this exemption, a Russian company must have held at least a 50 per cent stake in the relevant subsidiary continuously for at least one year. If the subsidiary is a non-Russian legal entity, it must not be incorporated in a country that appears on the 'blacklist' of offshore jurisdictions published by the Russian government. Special rules apply to the companies which had redomiciled to Russia.
Exemption from capital gains is also available (see above).
ii IP regimes
There is no special IP regime in Russia, although there are some incentives for R&D and high-tech companies.
iii State aid
No state aid provisions apply in Russia.
Withholding and taxation of non-local source income streams
i Withholding on outward-bound payments (domestic law)
Russian residents are required to withhold tax on dividends, interest, royalties and certain other payments to non-residents.
No withholding tax applies on profit distributions by a permanent establishment to the headquarters.
ii Domestic law exclusions or exemptions from withholding on outward-bound payments
As a general rule, such exemptions do not apply.13
iii Double tax treaties (DTTs)
Russia has a very extensive network of DTTs (at the time of writing, there are 80).14
DDTs may reduce local withholding on outward-bound dividends, and reduce or eliminate withholding on interest and royalties.
By way of example:
|Party to DDT with Russia||Dividends||Interest||Royalties|
|Cyprus||5 or 10 per cent (15% from 2021)15||Exempt (15% from 2021)||Exempt|
|Netherlands||5 or 15 per cent||Exempt||Exempt|
|Luxemburg||5 or 15 per cent (15% from 2021)||Exempt (15% from 2021)||Exempt|
|Ireland||10 per cent||Exempt||Exempt|
Most of the DTTs to which Russia is a party are based on the OECD model.
Russia has been actively renegotiating its DTTs to accommodate recent trends such as source taxation of real estate shares and limitation on benefits.
Also, in 2020, Russia has started renegotiating the tax treaties with certain jurisdictions with the view of dramatically increasing the dividends and interest withholding tax rates (from 5 to 10 per cent to 15 per cent in case of dividends and from 0 to 15 per cent in case of interest). Some countries, such as Cyprus and Luxembourg have already agreed to the increase, others such as the Netherlands continue to oppose. Nevertheless, this increase appears to significantly disincentive many ways in which tax planning has been done in respect of investment into Russia.
iv Taxation on receipt
DTTs may provide for set-off of tax withheld on outbound dividends in the source country. The same applies to other types of income. The set-off amount should not exceed the amount of tax due in Russia.
Taxation of funding structures
The most common way to fund business structures are loans, capital contributions and contributions to assets (financing by a shareholder with no capital increase).
i Thin capitalisation
Rules on thin capitalisation apply if a Russian company (A) obtains a loan:
- from a foreign company that is 'interrelated' with the borrower on the basis of a 25 per cent direct or indirect ownership interest in the charter capital of the borrower;
- from an affiliate of a foreign company that is 'interrelated' with the borrower on the basis of a 25 per cent direct or indirect ownership interest in the charter capital of the borrower; or
- that is guaranteed in any form by the above foreign company or its affiliate.
In these three cases, the thin capitalisation rules only apply if A's debt-to-equity ratio exceeds 3:1 (12.5:1 for banks and leasing companies).
Interest attributable to the portion of the loan that exceeds the ratio is not deductible for A and is treated for tax purposes as a dividend that is normally subject to higher withholding tax under a tax treaty. The portion of the interest not taxed as a dividend is deductible up to the threshold set out in the Tax Code.
According to the most recent amendments, there are certain exceptions from these rules in respect of interest under loans relating to investment projects. However, it is not yet clear to what extent they will be available to the foreign investors.
Thin capitalisation rules currently do not apply to permanent establishments of foreign companies.
ii Deduction of finance costs
Generally, finance costs can be deducted. However, interest may only be deductible subject to thin capitalisation rules and interest transfer pricing rules.
In relation to interest transfer pricing rules, if the loan is provided by a related party, interest may only be deductible if it is within the range set by the Tax Code. If the interest is higher than the threshold, only the interest up to the threshold can be deductible. This rule works for the assessment of profits tax to the lender as well: if the interest under the loan is lower than the threshold, the lender is subject to tax based on the lowest interest rate of the range provided by law.
iii Restrictions on payments
The right to receive a portion of distributed net profits (in the case of LLCs) or dividends (in the case of JSCs) arises only when the company makes a decision regarding net profit distribution or dividend payment. Profit and dividend distributions are subject to statutory solvency and certain other capital adequacy tests. In a number of situations, profit or dividend distribution is prohibited, such as where the charter capital has not been fully paid up or where the company is close to being insolvent or may become insolvent as a result of the distribution.
iv Return of capital
Reduction of charter capital is allowed both in JSCs and LLCs. In some cases, such reduction may be obligatory (e.g., in case of insufficient net assets). Capital can be reduced twofold: by a decrease in the nominal value of the shares (participatory interest) or by a decrease in the number of shares (participatory interest). Share capital reduction may be either accompanied by return of capital or not.
When the reduction of share capital is not obligatory and is not followed by a capital return to shareholders then the company receives a taxable gain. Otherwise, there are no tax consequences for the company.
As for the shareholders (participants), generally, irrespective of whether they are legal entities or individuals only the share premium is subject to profits tax.
Acquisition structures, restructuring and exit charges
Historically, a typical structure for acquisition involved an offshore company (often located in Cyprus, Luxembourg or the Netherlands) holding interests in Russian operating companies, with a shareholders' agreement governed by English law. The popularity of offshore vehicles was owing to the greater flexibility in structuring the relationship between investors and the benefit of tax treaties and bilateral investment treaties offered by other jurisdictions.
Reforms to Russian civil law in recent years have increased the availability of Western-style structuring instruments for onshore business structuring.
Typically, relations between co-investors in such entities are governed by a Russian law shareholders' agreement supported by an English law agreement containing anti-dilution and shareholder information provisions, and an English law deed of indemnity.
Traditional bank financing is the most common source of debt finance for Russian companies. However, sanctions limiting the debt- and capital-raising abilities of many state and state-backed companies have affected their ability to finance transactions. Further, international nervousness around sanctions has made many foreign banks generally cautious about lending money in Russia.
Equity financing via contributions to assets or increases of the charter capital of the company are common, although EU sanctions may limit the ability of EU investors to participate in these. Shareholder loans are also commonly used and tend to be unsecured.
Businesses can merge or demerge freely except for merging with or demerging from a foreign entity. Reorganisation itself is not taxed. All the tax duties are succeeded by the companies that resulted from reorganisation.
However, reorganisation requires completing administrative proceedings which take time. In addition, reorganisation can trigger special rights of creditors aimed at their protection (e.g., the right to demand early performance if the obligation is not duly secured) and an extraordinary tax audit.
Legal entities can freely relocate within Russia. In order to do so, tax authorities should be notified and the charter amended. No tax penalties for relocation exist. Relocation to a foreign jurisdiction is generally not permitted under Russian law.
Recent amendments allowed redomiciliation to Russia from foreign jurisdictions. However, it is only possible to relocate to two areas: the Russian Island (Vladivostok) and the Oktyabrsky Island (Kaliningrad). Special requirements are to be met in order for the redomicilation to become possible. If the redomiciled companies meet the 'international holding company' criteria, they may enjoy various tax benefits, such as the lower ownership threshold for participation exemption purposes (15 per cent as opposed to 50 per cent generally) and for the capital gains exemption; in addition, 5 per cent withholding tax applies on outbound dividends to foreign shareholders until 2029 irrespective of application of a tax treaty, as opposed to 15 per cent generally. International holding companies are exempt from controlled foreign corporations (CFC) regulation, including taxation of CFC profit, until 2029. The tax regime of the redomiciled companies is rapidly changing, often with little or no notice.
Anti-avoidance and other relevant legislation
i General anti-avoidance regulations (GAAR)
GAAR have been developed in Russia by courts and applied for many years. In 2017, they were incorporated in the Tax Code, which provides that the following cases are considered tax avoidance:
- reduction of the tax burden by misrepresentation of tax accounting and financial statements;
- the main purpose of the transaction is reduction of the tax burden or receipt of a deduction from the budget; and
- an obligation under the transaction or other operation is not fulfilled by the taxpayer's counterparty or the person to whom this obligation was delegated.
The rule also describes circumstances that do not per se evidence tax avoidance (e.g., the possibility of the taxpayer reaching the same economic results with different means).
A taxpayer is presumed to act in good faith and the burden of proof rests with the tax authorities.
Notwithstanding the codification of GAAR, courts continue to apply the 'unjustified tax benefit' notion previously developed by the Supreme Arbitrazh Court.
ii Controlled foreign corporations
CFC rules came into force on 1 January 2015. Under the CFC rules, a CFC is a non-Russian entity (including funds, trusts, partnerships and foundations) that is controlled by a Russian tax resident (a company or an individual). Limited exemptions exist. The rules set out how 'control' is assessed and there are certain circumstances in which 'control' will be deemed to exist; for example, where a certain minimum level of participation exists.
'Control' will not exist where an individual who participates in a foreign corporation through direct or indirect participation in one or more Russian public companies, which, in turn, may participate in such a foreign corporation through non-public companies. However, this rule will not apply until 1 January 2029 if the public companies above are international holding companies.
A controlling Russian resident is now required to (1) notify the tax authorities of the CFC; and (2) calculate the CFC's profits and remit taxes to the state at the rate of 20 per cent (for Russian legal entities) and 15 per cent or 5 million roubles lump-sum tax (for Russian individuals).
This is an actively developing and improving area of tax law in Russia although there are still a number of questions about how it will apply in practice.
iii Transfer pricing
Generally, transfer pricing control applies to certain transactions between related persons and certain transactions that, for the purposes of transfer pricing control, are treated as being equivalent to transactions between related persons. In particular, all transactions between related persons where one of the parties is a non-Russian person are subject to such control.
Taxpayers are obliged to report to the tax authorities on all transactions that are subject to transfer pricing control. In addition, the tax authorities may conduct transfer pricing control audits.
If the price of a controlled transaction deviates from the market price and this deviation results in a reduction of taxes owed to the state, the tax authorities are able to assess the respective taxpayers for additional tax liabilities. That said, only profits tax, MET and VAT may be assessed as a result of the above control.
Year in review
Unfortunately, the Russian government continues to take certain measures resulting in the increase of the tax burden. As mentioned above, as of 2019 the VAT rate has been increased by 2 per cent to 20 per cent. As of 2021 an increased personal income tax rate of 15 per cent will be applicable to any income exceeding 5 million roubles a year (exceptions apply). A new excise tax will be introduced for ethane and liquefied petroleum gas.
As noted above, Russia is rapidly renegotiating its DTTs to increase withholding tax rates for dividends and interest.
Outlook and conclusions
The main focus of the Russian tax authorities has been on challenging aggressive tax planning arrangements, including in the cross-border context. We expect that this trend will continue in the new year. In particular, the tax authorities have become very aggressive in applying the beneficial ownership concept when taxpayers claim treaty benefits.
Russia has been a strong supporter of the base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS) initiative and expects to further strengthen enforcement as a result of the introduction of automatic exchange of information.
The continuing reform of taxation of the oil and gas industry remains on the agenda of the Russian government.
The overhaul of the Russian DTTs system will prove to be very discouraging for inbound investment in the coming years.
1 Oleg Konnov is a partner and Sergei Eremin is a senior associate at Herbert Smith Freehills CIS LLP.
2 CBR statistics https://www.cbr.ru/statistics/macro_itm/svs/#a_71405.
5 Although VAT is an indirect tax, we have included it in this chapter because of its structure.
6 Special rates may apply; for example, 13 per cent applies to dividends received by Russian shareholders.
7 Zero per cent applies to export (exemption with credit), 10 per cent applies to certain food, medical goods, goods for children, etc.
8 Thresholds subject to annual change.
9 Decreased rates apply for particular types of taxpayers.
10 Other statutory value used in certain cases.
11 The validity period of this rule has recently been extended until 31 December 2021.
12 See Chapter 3.5 of the Tax Code of the Russian Federation.
13 Special rules apply to the companies that redomiciled to Russia.
14 Russia has ratified the Multilateral Convention to Implement Tax Treaty Related Measures to Prevent BEPS (the MLI). The MLI modifies or clarifies only some of the provisions of existing DTTs. The text of the MLI contains options for legal solutions to individual cross-border taxation issues; for application subject to the reservations that the states may make when ratifying the MLI. This should be considered when applying the provisions of DTTs after 1 January 2020.
15 Hereinafter in this table, the increased rates would apply provided they are approved before the end of 2020.