Monday, 14 November 2011

No deduction when shares used to acquire goods

The Supreme Court of Appeal recently delivered judgment in the case of Commissioner for the South African Revenue Service v Labat Africa Limited.

The dispute between Labat Africa Limited (“Labat”) and the South African Revenue Service (SARS) was first heard by the Tax Court, where Labat’s appeal against the disallowance of expenditure incurred by it was decided in Labat’s favour. In that case, the taxpayer had concluded an agreement to acquire a business in terms of which it acquired a trade mark from the seller.

In accordance with the agreement concluded by the parties, the total purchase price was R120m and that portion of the purchase price attributable to the acquisition of the trade mark was R44 462 000. The taxpayer acquired the rights to the trade mark on June 1 1999 and on June 15 1999 had issued shares to the seller in compliance with its obligations to give consideration for the trade mark acquired. The taxpayer sought to claim an allowance, which was then available under section 11(gA) of the Income Tax Act, in respect of the expenditure incurred on the trade mark acquired by it in its 2000 year of assessment.

SARS disallowed the taxpayer’s deduction on the basis that the agreement whereby the trade mark was acquired, the taxpayer was obliged to issue shares to the seller and, therefore, did not expend any monies or assets and, as a result, no expenditure was incurred by the appellant in acquiring the trade mark from the seller as required by section 11(gA) of the act. SARS sought to rely on the judgment of Judge Goldblatt, in ITC 1783 [2004] 66 SATC 373, where it was decided that the taxpayer had not incurred any expenditure for the purposes of section 11(gA) on the basis that the consideration given by the taxpayer consisted of shares issued by the taxpayer.

In ITC 1801, Judge Jooste decided that the taxpayer had incurred an unconditional legal obligation to pay for the trade mark, even though it had been agreed by the parties that shares would be issued in settlement of the obligation in question. The court, therefore held that the taxpayer had incurred an unconditional legal obligation as required, and that that was not dependent upon the making of payment, as was decided in Edgars Stores Limited v CIR. Judge Jooste held that the taxpayer was entitled to the deduction claimed for the acquisition of the trade mark in terms of section 11(gA) of the act.

SARS was dissatisfied with the decision of the Tax Court and noted an appeal against the decision, which was heard by the North Gauteng High Court in 2009. In Commissioner for the South African Revenue Service v Labat Africa Limited, the full bench of the North Gauteng High Court ruled that the conclusion of the Tax Court was correct and that the issue of shares by the taxpayer for the acquisition of an asset constituted expenditure, as envisaged in section 11(gA) of the act. Judge Sapire disagreed with the decision of Judge Goldblatt in ITC 1783 and therefore dismissed SARS’s appeal against the decision of the court in ITC 1801. SARS was dissatisfied with the decision of the North Gauteng High Court and lodged an appeal, which was heard by the Supreme Court of Appeal in September.

Judge Harms pointed out that Labat acquired the business for a consideration of  R120m, which was to be discharged by the issue of shares and expressed the view that the agreement was not an agreement of sale in that a sale agreement requires payment in money and not consideration in kind.

As a result of the transaction, Labat had to increase its authorised share capital and various special resolutions were passed to give effect to the transaction. The appeal court identified that the sole issue between the parties was whether “any expenditure” had “actually” been “incurred” by Labat. Judge Harms expressed the view that the Tax Court did not deal properly with the meaning of the term “expenditure” but rather whether expenditure had been incurred. The court stated that there was no issue as to when the liability, payable to the purchaser, arose. The appeal court pointed out that the question that the Tax Court should have considered was whether the issuing of shares by a company constitutes “expenditure” and not whether the undertaking to issue shares amounts to an obligation, which it accepted that it did.

The issuing of shares does not constitute
expenditure and, therefore, no allowance is
available to the company. 

Judge Harms reached the conclusion that for Labat to succeed with the deduction claimed by it, it must be shown that the legal obligation must be discharged by means of “expenditure” and that timing is not the question to consider. The court analysed the term “expenditure” and expressed the view that the ordinary meaning of the term refers to the “action of spending funds, disbursement or consumption.”

The court stated that expenditure requires a reduction in the assets of the taxpayer or, at the very least, a movement of the assets of the person who expends an amount.

In ITC 1783, Judge Goldblatt indicated that an allotment or issuing of shares does not, in any way, reduce the assets of the company and it can, therefore, not qualify as “expenditure” for purposes of the act.

Having analysed the transaction concluded by Labat with the seller, the court concluded that issuing of shares did not constitute expenditure and, therefore, no allowance was available to the company under section 11(gA) of the act.

Thus, no deduction is available under section 11(A) of the act based on the unanimous decision of the Supreme Court of Appeal, where a taxpayer issues shares for goods or services acquired by it.

The legislature chose to intervene insofar as assets acquired in exchange for shares issued by inserting section 24B into the act. Therefore where a taxpayer acquires assets by way of the issue of shares, the taxpayer is deemed to have incurred expenditure for purposes of determining base cost and arriving at the capital gain, which may be liable to tax when the taxpayer disposes of those assets.

However, where a company issues shares to an employee for services rendered, under a share incentive scheme, no deduction is available based on the decision of the court in the Labat case. The act allows a deduction, in terms of section 11(lA) where shares are issued in respect of qualifying equity shares issued pursuant to a so-called “broad-based employee share plan,” as envisaged in section 8B of the act. Taxpayers will be unable to claim a deduction for goods and services acquired where shares are issued to settle the amount due, unless the transaction falls into one of the exceptions referred to above.

Dr Beric Croome is a tax executive at ENS. This article first appeared in Business Day, Business Law and Tax Review November 2011. Free Image from ClipArt

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