Accounting obligation of foreign real estate corporation

BFH I R 81/16 of 14/11/2018

In a recent judgement, the Federal Fiscal Court (BFH) confirmed the legal obligation of foreign real estate corporations to keep books of account (accrual based tax accounting).

Facts of the case (in brief):
The plaintiff was a public limited company under Liechtenstein law. According to the findings of the tax office, it had neither a permanent establishment nor a permanent representative in Germany. Thus, its only fiscal connection was the situs of a let property in Germany regularly leading to a limited tax liability for so-called fictitious business income under Section 49 (1) no. 2f of the Income Tax Act (since 2009).

The present dispute concerned whether an obligation indubitably existing under foreign law to keep books of account according to Section 140 of the General Tax Code (AO), which concerns accounting obligations ‘under other laws’, also covers foreign law. In its present judgement, the BFH answered this in the affirmative.

Comment by LM:
In the past, in determining the lettings income in cases of a limited tax liability arising from a let property located in Germany, the so-called cash-based-accounting method was usually applied.

This procedure was helpful for, among other things, controlling the interest paid (outflow principle in net income method) within the scope of the so-called interest cap (Section 8a of the Corporation Tax Act).

The BFH’s judgement is likely to be of only limited significance for current taxation practice, since the Federal Finance Ministry had also argued in favour of such an accounting obligation as early as in a letter dated 16 May 2011 (no. 3).

As a stop-gap, tax offices had required books of account, i.e. a tax balance sheet, at the latest when the turnover and profit limits under Section 141 of the AO had been exceeded. To that extent there is now legal certainty.

In practice, it is likely – not least for pragmatic reasons – that foreign annual accounts (where there is an accountancy obligation abroad on grounds of the legal form or size of a company) have as a rule been transitioned into German tax balances for some time. But the judgement also shows that merely copying a foreign balance sheet is not sufficient for German taxation purposes.

Your contact:

Mr. Thomas Jäger (Tax Advisor)

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