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Amazon fights $234 million tax liability in Tax Court

Well, the IRS may have a fight on its hands as the giant Amazon is currently involved in a case pending before the U.S. Tax Court as Docket No.: 031197-12, and concerns proposed adjustments of over $234 million. The case, filed on December 28, 2012, in U.S. Tax Court in Washington, D.C., has implications for other technology companies with software assets that may prove difficult to value for tax purposes. The case involves a “transfer pricing” tax dispute.

The IRS informed Amazon in November 2012 of what the agency said were unpaid taxes for 2005 and 2006. The agency also is contesting tax deductions Amazon claimed on its net operating losses, among other issues, according to the court filing.

Amazon first publicly disclosed in April 2011 that it faces $1.5 billion in additional federal taxes over a seven-year period, beginning in 2005, according to a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

The case involves a “transfer pricing” tax dispute. Multinational corporations value goods and services moving across international borders from one corporate unit to another. These cash transfers are frequently managed to reduce corporations’ global tax costs.

Amazon argues that the IRS is overestimating the value of Amazon’s “intangible property,” which includes computer software, trademarks and marketing assets, according to the court filing.

The IRS counters that Amazon’s European subsidiaries made taxable payments to its U.S. parent company based on a low-dollar estimate.


Seattle-based Amazon, which is expected to have $60 billion in annual revenue for 2012, contends the IRS used an inaccurate estimate for calculating its transfer pricing taxes.

The IRS relied on an estimation method that was overturned in a 2009 court decision involving Veritas Software Corp, now part of Symantec Corp, Amazon said.

The Veritas decision was a stinging loss for the IRS, prompting corporations to be more aggressive in fighting the IRS over transfer pricing.

The Veritas-based tax estimate derived in part from an outside report conducted for the IRS by Horst Frisch Inc, a transfer pricing consultancy.

Horst Frisch was contracted by the IRS to analyze Amazon’s transfer pricing figures. The firm submitted a January 2011 report to the IRS that was used to levy additional taxes, Amazon said.

Because the case was filed in U.S. Tax Court, Amazon is not required to pay the tax bill until the outcome of any court decision. The case could be settled out of court. The case was first reported in the trade publication Tax Analysts.

Amazon faces other tax troubles in the United States and abroad. Amazon received a $252 million demand from French tax authorities at the end of last year.

Amazon last year was forced to start collecting sales taxes in more states, including California, Texas and Pennsylvania.

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Meet Paul Raymond

Meet Paul Raymond

Mr. Raymond is a sought after speaker in tax controversy law by many attorney, accountant, and business groups and at the request of the Internal Revenue Service, has presented programs at the IRS Nationwide Tax Forum, attended by tax professionals throughout the United States.

Additionally, he continues to be an active member in the Section of Taxation, American Bar Association, where he was the Past Chair of the Employment Taxes Committee.

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