DIT vs. B4U International Holdings Limited (Bombay High Court)

DATE: April 29, 2015 (Date of pronouncement)
DATE: May 9, 2015 (Date of publication)
AY: 2001-02, 2004-05, 2005-06
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Indian agent of foreign company cannot be regarded as "Dependent Agent Permanent Establishment" if agent has no power to conclude contracts. If the agent is remunerated at arms' length basis, no further profit can be attributed to the foreign company. It is doubtful whether retrospective amendment to s. 9(i)(vi) can apply the DTAA. However, question is left open

The assessee is a foreign company incorporated in Mauritius. It had filed its residency certificate and pointed out that its business is of telecasting of TV channels such as B4U Music, MCM etc. During the assessment year under consideration, its revenue from India consisted of collections from time slots given to advertisers from India. The details filed by the assessee revealed that there is a general permission granted by the Reserve Bank of India to act as advertisement collecting agents of the assessee. The permissions were granted to M/s. B4U Multimedia International Limited and M/s. B4U Broadband Limited. In the computation of income filed along with the return, the assessee claimed that as it did not have a permanent establishment in India, it is not liable to tax in India under Article 7 of the DTAA between India and Mauritius. The argument further was that the agents of the assessee have marked the ad-time slots of the channels broadcasted by the assessee for which they have received remuneration on arm’s length basis. Thus, in the light of the Central Board of Direct Taxes Circular No.23 of 1969, the income of the assessee is not taxable in India. The conditions of Circular 23 are fulfilled. Therefore, Explanation (a) to section 9(1)(i) of the IT Act will have no application. The Assessing Officer did not accept the contentions of the assessee. However, the Tribunal noted that paragraph 5 of Article 5 of the DTAA indicates that an enterprise of a contracting State shall not be deemed to have a permanent establishment in the other contracting State merely because it carries on business in that State through a broker, general commission agent, or any other agent of independent status, where such persons are acting in the ordinary course of their business. However, when the activities of such an agent are devoted exclusively or almost exclusively on behalf of that enterprise, he will not be considered an agent of an independent status within the meaning of this paragraph. The Tribunal held that the assessee carries out the entire activities from Mauritius and all the contracts were concluded in Mauritius. The only activity which is carried out in India is incidental or auxiliary / preparatory in nature which is carried out in a routine manner as per the direction of the principal without application of mind and hence B4U is not an dependent agent. Nearly 4.69% of the total income of B4U India is commission / service income received from the assessee company and, therefore, also it cannot be termed as an dependent agent. As far as the alternate contentions are concerned, it was held that the assessee and B4U India were dealing with each other on arm’s length basis. 15% fee is supported by Circular No.742. Thus it was held that no further profits should be taxed in the hands of the assessee. On appeal by the department to the High Court, HELD dismissing the appeal:

(i) As per the agreement between the assessee and B4U, B4U India is not a decision maker nor it has the authority to conclude contracts Further, the Revenue has not brought anything on record to prove that agent has such powers and from the agreement any such conclusion could not have been drawn. Barring this agreement, there is no material or evidence with the Assessing Officer to disprove the claim of the assessee that the agent has no power to conclude the contract. This finding is rendered on a complete reading of the agreement. The Indo-Mauritius DTAA requires that the first enterprise in the first mentioned State has and habitually exercised in that State an authority to conclude contracts in the name of the enterprise unless his activities are limited to the purchase of goods or merchandise for the enterprise is a condition which is not satisfied. Therefore, this is not a case of B4U India being an agent with an independent status.

(ii) The findings of the Supreme Court judgment in Morgan Stanley & Co. that there is no need for attribution of further profits to the permanent establishment of the foreign company where the transaction between the two is at arm’s length but this was only provided that the associate enterprise was remunerated at arm’s length basis taking into account all the risk taking functions of the multinational enterprise. Thus, assuming B4U India is a dependent agent of the assessee in India it has been remunerated at arm’s length price and, therefore, no profits can be attributed to the assessee. The argument that the assessee had not subjected itself to the transfer price regime and cannot derive assistance from this judgment is not correct because therequirement and in relation to computation of income from international transactions having regard to arm’s length price has been put in place in Chapter-X listing special provisions relating to avoidance of tax by substituting section 92 to 92F by the Finance Act of 2001 with effect from 1st April, 2002. Therefore, such compliance has to be made with effect from assessment years 2002-03. In any event, we find that the Tribunal has rightly dealt with the alternate argument by referring to the Revenue Circular 742. There, 15% is taken to be the basis for the arm’s length price. Nothing contrary to the same having been brought on record by the Revenue. Similarly, the Division Bench judgment of this Court in the case of Set Satellite (Singapore) Pte. Ltd. vs. Deputy Director of Income Tax (IT) & Anr. (2008) 307 ITR 265 would conclude this aspect.

(iii) The argument that the transponder charges being a consideration and process as clarified in terms of Explanation (6) to section 9 of the IT Act, the assessee was obliged to deduct tax at source under section 195 and having not deducted the same, there has to be a disallowance under section 40(a)(i) of the IT Act is not required to be answered. It was doubtful whether any payment which is stated to be made to a US based company by the assessee which is a Mauritius based company, can be brought to tax in terms of Indian tax laws. We are of the opinion that any wider question or controversy need not be addressed. We clarify that the arguments based on whether the payments made could be brought within the meaning of the word “process” and within the explanation can be raised and are kept open for being considered in an appropriate case.

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