Apple Ireland’s move to limited status will peel the covers off its opaque finances

After Australia forced Apple to file accounts, tech giant heads to Irish companies office

Apple logo. File photo. Photograph: Reuters/Stephen Lam

When the row blew up a few years back over Apple’s use of Ireland to prop up its aggressive tax avoidance strategy, the full financial extent became apparent only after one of its Irish units had to file returns in Australia under local laws.

The curtains had remained drawn on Apple’s Irish tax gymnastics because most of its companies here hid behind unlimited status. This meant they did not have to file publicly-available accounts in Ireland, avoiding any scrutiny of the fact that some were paying an effective tax rate of less than 1 per cent.

The filing of the accounts in Australia – local laws required it because Australian sales were being routed through the jurisdiction – blew the lid off things, once this newspaper got hold of the accounts and splashed them across the front page on a day that German chancellor Angela Merkel was in town to meet former taoiseach Enda Kenny.

Last month, it appears things at Apple’s Cork hub began to change. On January 23rd, Apple’s six main Irish entities all began re-registering with the Companies Registration Office as limited companies, relinquishing unlimited status.

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Company filings this week suggest the move is underway at Apple Operations Europe, Apple Sales Ireland, Apple Sales International, Apple Distribution International, Apple Operations, and Apple Data Services Ireland.

Returning to limited status means that Apple’s Irish entities will now have to file full annual accounts, detailing their sales, profits, tax bills and where their ultimate control lies. Apple will also have to reveal what sort of cash pile it is maintaining in Ireland through these entities.

Apple’s conversion to the merits of the full public disclosure of its Irish financial dealings is to be welcomed, of course, no matter how late in the day it has come. But it should never have taken a company filing in Australia to blow the lid off the situation in the first place.