Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Income arising to ‘Western Union’ from money transfer services isn’t taxable in India

‘Western Union’ isn’t liable to pay any tax in India for transferring money to India for their American clients even if it appoints agents in India to provide those services and setS-up a liaison office to interact with such agents.
a)    Western Union Financial Services Inc. (‘Western Union’), incorporated in USA, was engaged in the business of rendering money transfer services.
b)    In order to provide said services to citizens of the USA desirous of remitting money to India, Western Union had set-up a liaison office (LO) in India. It appointed agents in India and provided them software (Voyager) to access its mainframes in the USA. The agents were paid commission on completion of money transfer transactions.
c)    Western Union filed its return declaring ‘nil’ income by contending that it was not liable to pay any tax in India on income arising from money transfer services as it didn’t have any permanent establishment (PE) in India.
d)    The Assessing Officer was of the view that income arising to the Western Union from money transfer services was taxable in India both under the Income-tax Act (‘the Act’) and the India-USA DTAA.
e)    CIT(A) set aside the order of the AO. Aggrieved by the order of the CIT(A), revenue filed the instant appeal before the Tribunal.
The Tribunal held in favour of assessee as under-
1)   Though Western Union had business connection in India in terms of section 9 of the Income-tax Act, yet it did not have a PE in India under India-USA DTAA. It made following observations on different categories of PEs:
·         Fixed Place PE
It was held that Western Union could not be said to have fixed place PE in India as it did not have its own outlet in India and it was carrying on its business through agents appointed in India.
·         Liaison office as PE
It was held that LO could not be considered as Western Union’s PE in India as it carried out activities which were of a preparatory or auxiliary character. It had not carried on any trading activity for the assessee in India. It had only a small number of executives and a support staff. The LO had also filed status reports to the RBI listing out the activities which it actually carried out during the years. None of the activities could be described as anything other than of preparatory or auxiliary character. Therefore, the LO could not be considered to be the PE of the Western Union in India.
·         Software as PE
It was held that the software was the property of the Western Union and it had not parted with its copyright therein in favour of the agents. The agents had only been allowed the use of the software in order to gain access to the mainframe computers in the USA. Mere use of the software for the said purpose from the premises of the agents could not lead to the decision that the premises-cum-software would be the PE of the assessee in India. As per article 5 of India-USA DTAA, an installation might amount to a PE, provided it is used for the exploration of natural resources. Therefore, even if the software was to be considered as an installation, since it was not used for exploration or exploitation of natural resources, it could not per se be treated as a PE.
·         Dependent Agent PE
It was held that agents appointed by Western Union were acting in the ordinary course of their business and their activities were not devoted wholly or almost wholly to the Western Union. Further, commissions were paid to them at arm’s length price. Therefore, the agents were independent agents under Article 5.5 of the India-USA DTAA.

2)    Hence, in the absence of any PE in India the profits of the Western Union, if any, attributable to the Indian operations could not be taxed In India- Deputy DIT v. Western Union Financial Services Inc. [2015] 64 230 (Delhi - Trib.)