July 21, 2018

Inversions

Transocean Saved Billions in Taxes by Moving Legal Domicile Offshore

While BP continues to get murdered in the press for its role in the Deepwater Horizon nightmare in the Gulf of Mexico, we bring you a new reason to hate on another big player in this mess, Transocean. Martin Sullivan writes in Tax Analysts’ Tax Notes about the billions in taxes Transocean has managed to avoid since moving its domicile offshore – first to the Cayman Islands and then to Switzerland.

For those of you not completely up-to-speed on your Deepwater Horizon cast of baddies, Transocean was the owner and operator of the De BP was the project operator (think of a general contractor) of the rig, paying Transocean $500,000 a day to drill the well.


Sullivan writes in his piece that despite Transocean being legally domiciled in Zug, Switzerland, (a transaction known as an inversion or corporate expatriation) it really does very little to change the substance of the company’s operations, “These tax-motivated restructurings occur with little or no real change in day-to-day business operations. Top executives, key personnel, and all significant business operations in the United States before the transaction remain in
the United States.”

The transactions were controversial to be sure, and companies that engaged in them were likened to Benedict Arnold by politicians when the came under fire back in the early Aughts. To get an idea of Transocean’s savings, Mr Sullivan presents data that shows the company’s preinversion average effective tax rate of 31.6% and its postinversion tax rate of 16.9%. This saved the company just over $1.8 billion in taxes over the last ten years.

Transocean consummated their inversion back in 1999, so they were far ahead of the curve, as the tax benefits for inversions were stripped out in the code effective for transactions that occurred after March 4, 2003 but the savings have added up over the years as the company saved over $750 million just last year.

But Transocean has largely stayed out of the spotlight in this whole shitshow and has been in CYA mode virtually the whole time, consistently citing an indemnification agreement with BP, filing to limit its liability:

As set forth under Federal Law, the complaint also asks that the companies be judged not liable on claims for certain, defined losses or damages relating to the casualty or, if they are judged to be liable, that the liability for such claims be limited to the value of their interest in the Deepwater Horizon rig and its freight including the accounts receivable and accrued accounts receivable as of April 28, 2010. The petitioners assert in the filing that the entire value of their interest does not exceed $26,764,083.

And scoffing at any notion of not paying its dividend, reminding everyone that they declared it long before explosion on the rig they were operating, “Transocean will honor all of its legal obligations arising from the Deepwater Horizon accident. The dividend proposal was announced on February 16, 2010, described in the preliminary proxy statement which was filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on March 1, 2010, and approved by shareholders at the company’s annual general meeting on May 14, 2010.”

Throw the decade or so of tax savings and it sounds like Transocean has it made in the shade. How’s that for corporate responsibility and accountability? It’s not like we’re dealing the largest environmental disaster ever.

Transocean: Better at Tax Planning Than Oil Drilling [TaxProf]