Posts Tagged OECD

Bundeszentralamt Fur Steuern v Heis. On comity, staying proceedings, and the ‘public /private’ divide in international litigation.

Bundeszentralamt Fur Steuern (Being the Federal Central Tax Office of the Federal Republic of Germany) & Ors v Heis & Ors [2019] EWHC 705 (Ch) was held in March 2019 bit only came unto BAILII recently and had not caught my attention before.

The primary question raised is whether appeals by the applicants, the German Federal Tax Office (“the GTA”) and by Deutsche Bank AG (“DB”) against the rejection by the Joint Special Administrators (“the Administrators”) of MF Global UK Limited (“MFGUK”) of their respective proofs of debt, to allow the underlying claim which forms the subject of the proof to be resolved by the specialist German tax or fiscal courts, which both the applicants (for different reasons) contend are the natural forum for the determination of the claims and the forum in which they can be resolved most efficiently.

The underlying issue concerns German withholding tax.

The GTA has at all times maintained that its claim should be determined in Germany by the German tax courts, per the UK-Germany double taxation Treaty, based on the OECD model convention (for those in the know: it is Article 28(6) which the GTA has suggested exclusively reserves its GTA Claim to the German Courts). However it felt compelled to submit a proof in MFGUK’s UK administration proceedings in order to preserve its rights.

Under German law, it is within the GTA’s power to give a decision on MFGUK’s objection to relvant Amended Tax Assessment Notices. If and when it did so, it would then be for MFGUK, if it wished to pursue the matter further, to file an appeal against that decision by the GTA with the Fiscal Court of Cologne. The Fiscal Court of Cologne is one of the 18 fiscal courts in Germany which are the courts of first instance for tax matters. That seems a natural course to take however here the GTA is caught in a conundrum: at 18: the GTA has not yet formally rejected MFGUK’s objection. This is because such objection would establish proceedings in Germany, and there is a procedural rule of German law that, in order to prevent parallel proceedings, a German court will automatically defer to the court first seized of a matter. Accordingly, it seems likely that if the GTA were to reject MFGUK’s objection before the Stay Application has been decided by the UK Court, on any appeal by MFGUK, the Fiscal Court of Cologne might as a matter of comity defer to this Court in order to avoid parallel proceedings.

At 57: Brussels Ia is not engaged for the case concerns both the insolvency and the tax exclusion of Articles 1.1 and 1.2.b. At 56 Hildyard J considers the issues under English rules on the power to stay, with a focus on the risk of irreconcilable judgments.

At 84 Hildyard J holds that the GTA read too much into A28(6) and that there is no exclusive jurisdiction, leaving the consideration of whether a stay might be attractive nevertheless (at 89 ff the issue is discussed whether German courts could at all entertain the claim). This leads to an assessment pretty much like a stay under Brussels Ia as ‘related’ (rather than: the same, to which lis alibi pendens applies) cases. Note at 87(6) the emphasis which the GTA places on the actual possibility of consolidating the cases – similar to the arguments used in BIa A33-34 cases such as Privatbank and later cases).

At 115 the impact of this case having public law impacts becomes clear: ‘It seems to me that, despite my hunch that there will also be considerable factual enquiry, and a factual determination of the particular circumstances may determine the result …, the legal issues at stake are not only plainly matters of German law, but controversial and complex issues of statutory construction of systemic importance and substantial public interest in terms of the legitimate interests of the public in the protection of its taxation system from what are alleged to be colourable schemes.’

And at 116, referring ia to VTB Capital v Nutritek, ‘the risk of inconsistent decisions in concurrent proceedings in different jurisdictions, is the more acute when in one of the jurisdictions the issue is a systemic one, or may be decided in a manner which has systemic consequences. Especially in such a context, there is a preference for a case to be heard by the courts of the country whose law applies.’ Reference to VTB is made in particular with resepect to the point that Gleichlauf (the application by a court of its own laws) is to be promoted in particular (at [46] in VTB per Lord Mance: “it is generally preferable, other things being equal, that a case should be tried in a country whose law applies. However, this factor is of particular force if issues of law are likely to be important and if there is evidence of relevant differences in the legal principles or rules applicable to such issues in the two countries in contention as the appropriate forum.’

At 117: ‘even if the factual centre of gravity may be London, the jurisdiction likely to be most affected by the result is Germany: and even if the US approach of ‘interest analysis’ is not determinative in this jurisdiction it does not seem to me to be an impermissible consideration.’

Held, at 121, there is here ‘a sufficiently “rare and compelling” reason for granting the stay sought by the GTA, provided that the German Fiscal Court are an available forum in which to determine the substance of the disputes.’ At 122 Hildyard J seeks assurances ‘insofar as the parties’ best endeavours can secure it, resolution of both the GTA Claim and the Later MFGUK Refund Claim as expeditiously as possible. That seems to me necessary in order to safeguard this jurisdictions’ insolvency processes and for the protection of the interests of the body of creditors as a whole.’

Then follows at 131 ff extensive analysis of the impact of this stay decision on the related case of Deutsche Bank, with at 190 a summary of the issues to be decided. Held at 218: ‘By careful selection of potentially dispositive issues, I consider that there is some prospect of that process enabling a determination without recourse to the intricacies of German tax law which are to be decided in the context of the GTA Claim; whereas an immediate stay guarantees a long delay before this court can determine the matter, based on presently hypothetical claims, after a long wait for non-binding guidance from the German court which may result from other cases to which DB is not a party.’ However at 219 the prospect of a stay after all is held out, should a quick resolution of those issues not be possible.

Most interesting.

Geert.

 

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Arica Victims v Boliden Mineral (Sweden). Lex causae and export of toxic waste. Relevant for the business and human rights /CSR debate.

I reported earlier on the decision at first instance in Arica Victims v Boliden Mineral. The Court of Appeal has now reversed the finding of Chilean law as lex causae, opting instead for Swedish law. Lindahl has good review here and I rely on it quite heavily for I do no speak Swedish.

Boliden Mineral exported toxic waste to Chile in the ’80s, prior to either Basel or EU or OECD restraints (or indeed bans) kicking in. A first issue for consideration was determination of lex causae. Rome II does not apply ratione temporis (it only applies to tortious events occurring after its date of entry into force) – residual Swedish private international law applies. My understanding at first instance was that the applicable law rule referred to lex loci damni, Chile. The Court of Appeal has gone for lex loci delicti commissi: whether this was by use of an exception or whether the court at first instance had simply misunderstood Swedish PIL, I do not know.

Having opted for lex loci delicti commissi, the Court of Appeal then considered where this was. Readers of the blog will know that this is relevant for CSR /business and human /environmental rights discussions. Lindahl’s Linda Hallberg and Tor Pöpke summarise the court’s approach:

In order to determine which country’s law applied to the case, the court examined a sequence of events that had influenced, to varying degrees, what had led to the alleged damage. According to the court, the decisive factor in the choice of law were acts and omissions that could be attributed to the Swedish mining company, as the case concerned this company’s liability for damages.

Instead of determining the principal location of the causative events using quantitative criteria, the court considered it to be where the qualitatively important elements had their centre of gravity. Further, in contrast with the district court’s conclusion, it held that the Swedish mining company’s alleged negligence had its centre in Sweden and therefore Swedish tort law should be applied in this case (the law of the place in which a delict is committed).

Unlike more ‘modern’ CSR cases the fact do not concern mother /daughter company relations yet the considerations of locus delicti commissi are nonetheless interesting.

The Court of first instance had employed Chilean’s longer statute of limitation. The Court of Appeal tried to stretch Sweden’s shorter one of 10 years (the case concerns a potentially tortious act which occurred more than 30 years ago): any subsequent damage that had been caused by the mining company’s failure to act during the period after the toxic waste had been shipped to Chile would advance the starting point for the limitation period. However this was at the latest 1999 and the 2013 action therefore had been taken too late.

On 25 June last the Supreme Court rejected further consideration, the Court of Appeal’s finding therefore stands.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 4, Heading 4.6.3, Chapter 8.

 

 

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Regina v Biffa: Jury instructions and the Basel export ban.

Update 3 July 2020. The conviction was upheld in [2020] EWCA Crim 827.

Update 10 October 2019 BIFFA was found guilty (and has asked for leave to appeal) and reportedly has been fined £350.000.

[2019] EWCA Crim 20 Regina v BIFFA Waste Services is a rare example of interlocutory appeal concerning jury instruction and summing up. It involves Regulation 1013/2006, the Waste shipments Regulation, particularly the EU’s enforcement of the ‘Basel Ban‘: the ban on exports of hazardous wastes destined for disposal in non-OECD countries.

The only real point arising on appeal is whether (contrary to the judge’s approach at Crown Court) the prosecution was to be required to show not just that a shipment of wastes was not ‘Green List’ wastes but rather household (domestic) wastes, but in addition, to prove that the waste was contaminated by other materials to an extent which prevented the recovery of waste in an ‘environmentally sound manner’ (the general Basel condition for exports); and whether the jury was to be instructed in the summing-up accordingly.

The containers in question were to form part of a larger consignment of containers (448 in total) destined for China. In May and early June 2015 they were the subject of interception and examination at the port of Felixstowe by officials of the Environment Agency. It is asserted that such examination revealed that these particular containers, or some of them, included significant contamination by items which were not mixed paper items at all; for example, soiled nappies and sanitary wear, sealed bags of excrement, clothing, food packaging, plastic bottles and so on. It is asserted that this was indicative of the consignments being mixed household waste rather than mixed paper waste: it being common ground that household waste, as such, could not be lawfully exported in this way to China.

Of particular specific relevance for the appeal is Recital (28)  of the Waste Shipments Regulation which provides “It is also necessary, in order to protect the environment of the countries concerned, to clarify the scope of the prohibition of exports of hazardous waste destined for recovery in a country to which the OECD Decision does not apply, also laid down in accordance with the Basel Convention. In particular, it is necessary to clarify the list of waste to which that prohibition applies and to ensure that it also includes waste listed in Annex II to the Basel Convention, namely waste collected from households and residues from the incineration of household waste.”

Davis LJ at 33 deals swiftly with the issue. Appreciating that plenty could be said about the precise application of the Regulation, he nevertheless simply points to the prosecution’s intention. They have never sought to say that these were consignments which were indeed essentially Heading B3020 waste paper but nevertheless contaminated by other materials not collected from households (for example, corrosive fluids or dangerous metals etc). so as to prevent recovery of the waste in an environmentally safe manner. They had relied solely on showing the jury that the shipment was not paper waste. If it was, then the waste in question could not be B3020 waste paper (which is within the “green” list of waste which may legitimately be exported). If it was proved that the relevant consignments were indeed heading Y46 waste (household waste) instead, then that was within Article 36(1)(b) of the Regulation and that was the end of the matter. If, on the other hand, the prosecution failed to prove that the relevant consignments were indeed Y46, then that too was the end of the matter and the defendant was entitled to be acquitted.

At 36 he ends with congratulatory remarks to judge Auerbach at Crown Court:

In a matter which is by no means the common currency of Crown Courts, he speedily produced a comprehensive reserved written ruling which set out in full detail the legislative background and authorities; fully analysed and discussed the competing arguments; and explained the reasons for his conclusion with crystal clarity. It is just because of the care and detail underpinning his ruling that this court has been able to approach matters rather more succinctly than otherwise might have been the case.’

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Waste Law, 2nd ed 2015, Chapter 4.

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Arica Victims v Boliden Mineral. Lex causae and export of toxic waste.

‘Reading’ Arica Victims v Boliden Mineral (I have a copy of the case, but not yet a link to ECLI or other database; however there’s a good uncommented summary of the judgment here] leaves me frustrated simply for my lack of understanding of Swedish. Luckily Matilda Hellstorm at Lindahl has good review here (including a hyperlink to her earlier posting which alerted me to the case in 2017).

Boliden Mineral exported toxic waste to Chile in the ’80s, prior to either Basel or EU or OECD restraints (or indeed bans) kicking in. A first issue for consideration was determination of lex causae. Rome II does not apply ratione temporis (it only applies to tortious events occurring after its date of entry into force) – residual Swedish private international law applies, which determined lex causae as lex loci damni. The Court found this to include statute of limitation. This would have been 10 years under Swedish law, and a more generous (in Matilda’s report undefined) period under Chilean law. Statute of limitation therefore following lex causae – not lex fori.

Despite this being good for claimants, the case nevertheless failed. The Swedish court found against liability (for the reasons listed in Matilda’s report). (With a small exception seemingly relating to negligence in seeing waste being uncovered). Proof of causality seems to have been the biggest factor in not finding liability.

Leave to appeal has been applied for.

Geert.

(Handbook of) EU Private International Law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 8.

 

 

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