Satyam – Australian Full Court finds that a Treaty can impose tax

The Indian taxpayer (Satyam) argued unsuccessfully before the Full Federal Court of Australia “that tax treaties are, and can only be, exclusively relieving: that is, they are only ever ‘shields not swords’ and not the grant of a standalone taxing power and independent imposition of taxation.”

The issue arose in the context of the interpretation of Art. 23(1) of the Australia-India Treaty, which provided:

Income, profits or gains derived by a resident of one of the Contracting States which, under any one or more of Articles 6 to 8, Articles 10 to 20 and Article 22 may be taxed in the other Contracting State, shall for the purposes of the law of that other State relating to its tax be deemed to be income from sources in that other State.

From a Canadian perspective, the bolded language had the unusual effect of indicating that a technical-services royalty, which Australia was permitted to tax under the Australian royalties article of the Treaty, was deemed to arise in Australia not only for the purposes of the Article of the Treaty dealing with the elimination of double taxation, but also for the purposes of the Australian domestic taxation provisions. Consequently, technical services fees (which were deemed royalties) earned by Satyam, which in the absence of the Treaty would have been considered to not arise in Australia so that they would not have been subject to Australian income tax under the approximate Australian equivalent of ITA s. 115, were now deemed for the purposes of that provision to arise in Australia and to therefore be subject to Australian income tax.

Neal Armstrong. Summary of Satyam Computer Services Limited v Commissioner of Taxation [2018] FCAFC 172 under Treaties – Income Tax Conventions – Art. 24.