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Shareholders to Pressure Google on Tax Payments

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By Michael Cohn
May 13, 2014

A group of Google investors is expected to push for a shareholder resolution at the search giant’s annual general meeting Wednesday in Mountain View, Calif., to pay more than $2 billion in taxes worldwide.

Google has come under fire, particularly in Europe, from advocates who want the company to increase the amount of taxes it pays. The company uses tax strategies dubbed the “Double Irish” and the “Dutch Sandwich” to route profits through Ireland and the Netherlands. The company has also been accused of using shell companies in Bermuda and other low-tax countries to shelter at least $33 billion of revenue.

Ahead of the shareholder meeting on Wednesday, more than 134,000 people from around the world have signed onto a petition in support of the resolution urging Google to pay more taxes. The petition was signed by more than 2,000 Google shareholders, joined by nearly 11,000 investors with Vanguard, Fidelity and iShares, which are among the four largest institutional investors in Google.

The petition claims that Google exploits cross-border tax loopholes across the world and says that in the U.K., Google only paid £11.6 million ($19.5 million) despite making a £5.5 billion ($9.25 billion) profit channeling its profits through Ireland to Bermuda where no taxes are levied.

In the U.S., Google has been investigated by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., for deferring taxes on over $24 billion of revenue. In Italy, the company is being audited by the Tax Police for its tax avoidance strategies, and its offices have been searched. In France, Google's tax avoidance prompted the government to institute policies to prevent tax evasion by Internet giants, and the French government recently assessed back taxes on Google equivalent to $1.38 billion for the past decade.

The shareholder resolution states, “Shareholders request the board of directors adopt a set of principles to address the impact of Google’s tax strategies on society, with particular focus on Google’s employees, customers and suppliers. In addition, the board should publish annual reports to shareholders, at reasonable cost, omitting proprietary information, discussing the implementation of these principles, beginning December 2014.”

The proponents behind the resolution said Google has not been willing to speak to them about the issues raised in their proposal, but they said the company has filed a statement in opposition.

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