The Law of Esterovestizione
The Law of Esterovestizione.
You are probably wondering with such an elaborate title then what on earth the topic could be about? Well, this topic came about because in the last few years I have met people who are operating Ltd companies in the UK or in Ireland, but who are living as a tax resident in Italy. This could present some issues and so I thought I would explain the law of Esterovestizione to highlight the problems of registering a business in one European state but operating from Italy. (There may be other legitimate reasons for operating a Ltd company in this way, but I am aiming to explore the main issue for smaller businesses).
How does it all work?
If you own 100% of the shares in a Ltd company and your are the sole director of the same Ltd company then there could be issues if you are an Italian tax resident. The risk being that if the Italian authorities were to interest themselves in your business then they may consider that the business should fall within the Italian rules on ‘esterovestizione’.
What is Esterovestizione?
This is the Italian rule which finds that where an overseas company is controlled by an Italian tax resident it is treated as an extension of their personal assets and therefore becomes subject to the Italian fiscal system and is re-taxed in Italy in accordance with Italian tax laws for corporation tax purposes. What constitutes control is a matter of fact in each case but the authorities look in particular at the board of directors and the shareholdings. What they are looking for is the “place of effective management” of the company, where the decision-making of the company is carried out and if it is by an Italian tax resident it is likely that the rules of esterovestizione would apply.
The authorities look to the substance rather than the appearance, so that the fact that the registered office is outside Italy will not be considered relevant where it is clear that the decisions are in actual fact taken by a person who is resident in Italy.
If you own 100% of the shares and are the sole director of a Ltd company, then this has all the makings of a classic case for the authorities to argue that the Ltd company should be treated as if it were Italian.
If the company is deemed, through your control of it, to be an Italian entity, then the company would effectively be regarded as having failed to meet, for several years, all the usual obligations binding Italian companies, including registering for IVA, filing corporation tax and IVA returns, registering and filing accounts etc.
The fact that you had complied with all these obligations in the UK or Ireland would not be considered relevant.
As the basis on which esterovestizione is applied is the effective control of the company in the hands of an Italian resident you can try and avoid these provisions by appointing trusted non-Italian residents as shareholders/directors – family members, for example – or alternatively to have nominee arrangements whereby a company or individual acts as nominee shareholder on your behalf. Family members and nominee shareholder arrangements of this type are still common, but the situation has become considerably more problematic in relation to both of these arrangements and it is now difficult (and very expensive) to find a professional prepared to accept the responsibility.
However, with the general tightening of the law in relation to nominee arrangements, this kind of structure is no longer effective. The current requirement is to be completely transparent – you need to declare any structure under which you are the beneficial owner – so even if there is a third party who nominally appears to be in charge, but in actual fact they merely operate on your behalf then you are under an obligation to declare your interests in the company in exactly the same way. Failure to do this amounts to making a false statement to the Agenzia.
What is the chance of being found out?
This surely represents a much more complicated area of information exchange than we have seen in recent years for a physical person. Individuals are for all intents and purposes already under the spotlight and financial information is being shared across European and other borders. Obviously, sharing information on underlying shareholders in a Ltd company is much more complicated. However, it is a plan for the EU to action in the very near future.
The EU have been very vocal about transparency of Ltd companies and I have also seen a number of documentaries on Italian TV in the last year, on exactly this subject. One that springs to mind was ‘Presa Diretta’ which focused mainly on Italian residents who set up Ltd companies in the UK and also Panama. If you would like to see the programme, you can watch it HERE (It is 1hr 27 mins long)
It is anyone’s guess how long a free flowing exchange of information on Ltd companies will take place, but planning to ensure you are not one of the people who are made an example of is probably a sensible long term business decision. That might be as easy as setting up an Italian Srl.