Category: International Law

The future of investment dispute settlement

The original article was published in Family Office Magazine and can be found here.

Entrepreneurs engaging in international investments face several issues when they are accused of a breach of contract. When the investment agreement does not provide solid provisions for dispute settlement, endless legal discussions and expensive court cases in unfamiliar jurisdictions can be the result. This article provides simple solutions for both investor and beneficiary to avoid such issues. 

The solution to avoid endless legal battles is to insert an arbitration clause in the investment agreement (out of court legislation). Arbitration has numerous advantages.

  1. Unlike in court, parties can select an arbitrator with an appropriate degree of practical experience. For example, a Court of Arbitration has a list of arbitrators who are experts in the field of digital commerce.
  2. Arbitration is faster than litigation in court, and a time limit can be placed on the length of the process.
  3. Arbitration is cheaper and more flexible, more commercial and less formal than court.
  4. Unlike court rulings, arbitration proceedings and arbitral awards are confidential.
  5. Unlike in court, there are very limited avenues for appeal of an arbitral award, which limits the duration of the dispute and any associated liability.
  6. Due to the provisions of the New York Convention 1958, arbitral awards are far easier to enforce in other nations than court judgments.

From an international perspective, there are several courts of arbitration that offer an effective way to solve investment disputes. Below are examples (in alphabetical order).

Astana International Financial Court (AIFC Court)

The AIFC Court in Kazakhstan provides a common law court system that operates to the highest international standards to resolve civil and commercial disputes in the Astana International Financial Centre.  It adjudicates exclusively all claims arising out of the AIFC and its operations and other claims in which all parties to the dispute agree in writing to the jurisdiction of the AIFC Court.  

The AIFC Court has its own court of final appeal, its own procedural rules, and a special fast track for small claims. Its Chief Justice and judges are among the most experienced and distinguished judges from the common law world with global reputations for independence, impartiality, integrity, unconditional application of the rule of law, and incorruptibility. The judges, procedures, practices and standards at the AIFC Court will be familiar to businesses currently operating in major financial centres around the world.

Website: http://aifc-court.kz

Dubai International Financial Courts (DIFC Courts)

The laws establishing the DIFC Courts were designed to ensure the highest international standards of legal procedure, thus ensuring that the DIFC Courts provide the certainty, flexibility and efficiency expected by the global institutions operating in, with and from Dubai and the UAE. The laws enacted provide for a court system capable of resolving all civil and commercial disputes, ranging from sophisticated, international financial transactions to debt collection and employment disputes.

The DIFC Courts deal exclusively with all cases and claims arising out of the DIFC and its operations and any other claims where all parties agree in writing to use the DIFC Courts. The DIFC Courts carry out their functions in an independent manner, in accordance with the provisions of the DIFC laws and regulations.

Website: https://www.difccourts.ae

Court of Arbitration of the European Chamber of Digital Commerce (ECDC Court)

As an activity of its parent organization, the Swiss Chamber of Commerce in The Netherlands, founded in 1933, the Court of Arbitration of the European Chamber of Digital Commerce plays a crucial role in today’s digital world. Issues specific to digital technology include fintech, blockchain, cybersecurity, digital currencies, and intellectual property. Fairness has always been a business tradition observed in Europe, making the region so prominent as an arbitration location. The Court of Arbitration is conveniently located at Schiphol International Airport in The Netherlands.

The Court of Arbitration applies the UNCITRAL Arbitration Rules of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law which meet international legal standards. The rules are concise and easy to understand, comply with current national and international legal developments, and are published in several languages.

Unless parties do not agree otherwise, the Court will apply the neutral UNIDROIT Principles of International Commercial Contracts to judge the dispute.

Website: https://europeanchamberofdigitalcommerce.com

London Court of International Arbitration (LCIA)

The LCIA is one of the world’s leading international institutions for commercial dispute resolution. The LCIA provides efficient, flexible and impartial administration of arbitration and other ADR proceedings, regardless of location, and under any system of law. The international nature of the LCIA’s services is reflected in the fact that typically over 80% of parties in pending LCIA cases are not of English nationality. 

The LCIA has access to the most eminent and experienced arbitrators, mediators and experts from many jurisdictions with the widest range of expertise. The LCIA’s dispute resolution services are available to all contracting parties without any membership requirements.

Website: https://www.lcia.org

Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce (SCC)

The Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce (SCC) has developed into one of the world’s leading forums for dispute resolution. The SCC was established in 1917 and is part of, but independent from, the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce. The SCC consists of a Board and a Secretariat and provides efficient dispute resolution services for both Swedish and international parties. The SCC was recognized in the 1970’s by the United States and the Soviet Union as a neutral centre for the resolution of East West trade disputes. Also China recognized the SCC as a forum for resolving international disputes around the same time. The SCC has since expanded its services in international commercial arbitration and emerged as one of the most important and frequently used arbitration institutions worldwide.

Website: https://sccinstitute.com

Conclusions

When you want to avoid legal dramas unfolding from an investment agreement, check the websites above and copy the relevant clause into the agreement before signing. Another option is to persuade the counterparty to allow an already arisen case be settled by one of these arbitration institutions.

About the author: Bob Juchter van Bergen Quast, LLM, FSS, is the President of the Court of Arbitration of the European Chamber of Digital Commerce. Juchter van Bergen Quast has the right of audience before the AIFC. He is Chief Executive Officer of the Swiss Chamber of Commerce in The Netherlands and the European Chamber of Digital Commerce.

DIFC Courts corporate video

The DIFC Courts are an independent English language common law judiciary, located in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and based in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC). This video briefly explains the work of the Courts, why leading international law firms in the region use their services and how their role encourages investment in Dubai. The DIFC Courts’ jurisdiction governs civil and commercial disputes nationally, regionally and worldwide. The DIFC Courts are part of the sovereign structure of the UAE Emirate of Dubai and more than 500 cases have been decided since the Courts began operations in 2006. Based on international best practice, the Courts are an important resource for international businessmen seeking to resolve commercial legal disputes, as well as the enforcement of national and cross-border judicial decisions. The DIFC Courts’ official Enforcement Guide was created in 2012 to provide details on the enforcement of DIFC Courts’ judgments in Dubai, the UAE, the Middle East and across the world. The document is available on our website www.difccourts.ae

See the corporate video here.

How Chambers of Commerce Help Family Offices and Wealth Management Firms

A Chamber of Commerce has traditionally furthered the interests of businesses in a particular geography or market sector by way of representation, business services, and networking opportunities. Multilateral Chambers of Commerce can link the business environments of two or more countries, such as the Swiss Chamber of Commerce in The Netherlands.

International Chambers of Commerce, such as the European Chamber of Digital Commerce, aim to boost companies’ reputation and growth in a particular business sector, such as Digital Technology. Some are governmental, nonprofit, or private organisations.

This article, written by Bob Juchter van Bergen Quast and published in Family Office Magazine, presents some unique benefits that Chambers of Commerce can offer businesses in an independent, impartial manner.

Read the full article here

Functions of the AIFC Court

The AIFC is underpinned by an ambitious objective to become the financial hub for Central Asia, the Caucasus, Eurasian Economic Union, the Middle East, and Europe. The new financial centre is positioning itself to attract US$ 40 billion of investments by 2025 and ensure about 1 per cent growth in the carbonless GDP of Kazakhstan. Kazakhstan is the largest and most oil rich country in Central Asia.

Legal framework

The governing law of the AIFC is based on the Constitution of Kazakhstan and has a special legal regime, consisting of the AIFC Constitutional Law “On the Astana International Financial Centre” (the Law), its own independent judicial system and jurisdiction based on English common law and standards of leading international financial centres. The official language of the AIFC is English.

Like its neighbouring financial free zone the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) (whose Courts were selected to advise the Kazakhstan Central Bank on establishing the AIFC’s commercial court and arbitration centre), the AIFC has its own specific legislation to address issues arising in the context of companies, contract, implied terms, obligations, damages and remedies, employment and partnership law.

It is reported by the Prime Minister of Kazakhstan that a total of 30 general-purpose AIFC Acts and 17 financial services regulation acts were developed and subsequently adopted by the relevant bodies of the AIFC. About 50 acts constitute the legislative framework of the AIFC.

Source: Norton Rose Fullbright

Official opening of the Court of Astana International Financial Center (AIFC)

The official opening of the Court of Astana International Financial Center (AIFC) took place in Nur-Sultan.

Since January last year, civil and commercial disputes have been solved in accordance with the best international practices and based on English law. The first case went to AIFC court in February of this year. The case is now available in English and Russian on the court’s website.
At similar international financial courts in Dubai and Qatar the first case was considered much later. “We managed to get enforced through the enforcement agency in Kazakhstan almost immediately and that is a world first, that never happens in new international financial centers,” said Registrar of AIFC Court, Christopher Campbell-Holt.
The AIFC Court is an independent institution as part of the financial center. According to the registrar of the Court, Christopher Campbell-Holt, the presence of this court in Kazakhstan is an additional factor to investment attractiveness of not only the country, but also the Eurasian region. “No one can tell our judges what to do. That is written in the constitution in law, court and arbitration center. It is very important to protect international investors, to show them, to give them perception,” Campbell-Holt also said. He added that the AIFC court and the International Arbitration Center will enable investors from all over the world to invest safely in Kazakhstan.

The importance of the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts

In his important and interesting paper “The Story of the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts: A Retrospective“, Mr. Jayanth K. Krishnan addresses the role of the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts (DIFC) in an international legal environment. The DIFCs are part of the sovereign structure of the Emirate of Dubai, within the UAE. Specifically, Dubai Law No.12 of 2004 (Dubai Law No.12) is the governing statute which originally established the DIFC Judicial Authority (including the two DIFC Courts, the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeal). The Dubai International Financial Courts are an independent English language common law judiciary, based in the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) with jurisdiction governing civil and commercial disputes nationally, regionally and worldwide. The Courts began operations in 2006. Originally, the jurisdiction of the DIFC Courts was limited to the geographical area of the DIFC. On 31 October 2011, the signing of Dubai Law No 16 allowed the DIFC Courts to hear any local or international cases and to resolve commercial disputes with the consent of all parties.

Krishnan researches the question regarding the succes of the DIFC:

Can Western-based, English-speaking, common law commercial courts operate successfully in an environment that are not their own — such as in the Middle East?

As Krishnan states, this question is not a simple thought experiment but rather the reality that has occurred since the mid-2000s in the Emirate of Dubai. Krishnan’s monograph recounts the history of how the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts emerged and developed. Drawing on extensive interviews with key stakeholders involved in the process, along with original documents as well as all of the Courts’ judgments, his narrative offers important lessons for those seeking to understand more fully the complex interactions among law, legal institutions and legal and political actors of today’s globalisation.

In my opinion the answer to his question is simply: “yes”, as I will explain below.

Most of the specificities of international arbitration result from its principal feature: party autonomy. Arbitration is essentially the result of contract and can be fashioned by parties in their own ways. Parties are thus free to select the place of arbitration, the language of the arbitration, the procedure governing the arbitration, the number and identity of arbitrators constituting the tribunal, the type of evidence they wish to allow and so on.

Apart from these advantages, in my opinion, the most important advantage is the relative ease with which an international arbitral award rendered in one country can be enforced in another country. This advantage is crucial, as the prevailing party in an international dispute frequently has to enforce the judgment or award rendered in its favor in another country in which the unsuccessful party has assets.

European – Gulf trade

The United Arab Emirates is a signatory to the New York Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards of 1958 (the NYC), which was adopted into UAE law by Federal Decree No. 43 of 2006. The NYC has been ratified by over 140 countries and, subject only to a very limited list of exceptions, requires signatory states to recognize arbitral awards rendered in other countries (see Section IV(A) (4)(b)).

There is no equivalent multilateral treaty in which countries agree to recognize and enforce each other’s judgments. The recognition of a judgment obtained in a foreign court will thus usually be subject to the domestic rules on the recognition of foreign judgments of the country in which recognition is sought. Generally, such rules allow for much more extensive review of the judgment than the New York Convention does with respect to foreign awards, and recognition and enforcement are more likely to be denied.

The six member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) represent an important region from a trade point of view and were the European Union’s fourth largest export market in 2018. The GCC countries have formed their own customs union and are working towards the goal of completing an internal market. There is an ongoing cooperation between the EU and GCC on trade and investment issues, macro-economic matters, climate change, energy and environment as well as research. Considering these trade volumes and the legal uncertainty of the applicability of national legislation, I consider the work of the DIFCs crucial from a business perspective in the context of trade between the Gulf region and Europe.

Recommendation

It is recommended that, before entering into an DIFC-arbitration agreement, a party checks whether at least one of the countries in which the other party has its assets, is a signatory to the convention. The DIFC is a premier choice regarding effective dispute regulation in European – Gulf trading.

Krishnan, Jayanth K., The Story of the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts: A Retrospective (November 8, 2018). The Story of the Dubai International Financial Centre Courts: A Retrospective; Monograph – Motivate Publishing Company (2018); Indiana Legal Studies Research Paper No. 404. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3280883

UNIDROIT Principles of International Commercial Contracts (UPICC)

The International Institute for the Unification of Private Law (UNIDROIT) is an independent intergovernmental Organisation with its seat in the Villa Aldobrandini in Rome. Its purpose is to study needs and methods for modernising, harmonising and co-ordinating private and in particular commercial law as between States and groups of States and to formulate uniform law instruments, principles and rules to achieve those objectives.

UNIDROIT has worked extensively in the area of contract law and adopted a variety of instruments intended to offer harmonised and effective rules to respond to the evolving needs of modern transactions. The UNIDROIT Principles of International Commercial Contracts (UPICC) constitute a non-binding codification or “restatement” of the general part of international contract law, adapted to the special requirements of modern international commercial practice.

The UNIDROIT Principles of International Commercial Contracts (hereinafter “the UNIDROIT Principles”), first published in 1994, with a second edition in 2004 and now in their third (2010) edition (hereinafter “UNIDROIT Principles 2010”), represent a non-binding codification or “restatement” of the general part of international contract law. Welcomed from their first appearance as “a significant step towards the globalisation of legal thinking”, over the years they have been well received not only by academics but also in practice, as demonstrated by the numerous court decisions and arbitral awards rendered world-wide that refer in one way or another to the UNIDROIT Principles.

The Model Clauses to apply UNIDROIT in contracts are divided into four categories according to whether their purpose is:

  1. to choose the UNIDROIT Principles as the rules of law governing the contract;
  2. to incorporate the UNIDROIT Principles as terms of the contract;
  3. to refer to the UNIDROIT Principles to interpret and supplement the CISG when the latter is chosen by the parties, or 
  4. to refer to the UNIDROIT Principles to interpret and supplement the applicable domestic law, including any international uniform law instrument incorporated into that law.

Where appropriate, for each Model Clause two versions are proposed, one for inclusion in the contract (“pre-dispute use”) and one for use after a dispute has arisen (“post-dispute use”).

The full Model Clauses can be found here.

European Rules of Civil Procedure

UNIDROIT and the European Law Institute (ELI) are working together towards the development of European Rules of Civil Procedure. Leading academics, practicing lawyers, judges, and members of European institutions are represented in the various committees. The instrument is expected to be finalised and adopted by the UNIDROIT Governing Council at its 98th session in 2019.

Recent years have seen the emergence of a growing body of rules at European level in the field of procedural law, in the wake of the enlargement of the EU competences towards judicial co-operation. The ELI/UNIDROIT project could serve as a useful tool to avoid a fragmentary and haphazard growth of European civil procedural law.

The ELI/UNIDROIT project may be considered a first attempt towards the development of other regional projects adapting the ALI/UNIDROIT Principles of Transnational Civil Procedure to the specificities of regional legal cultures, paving the way to the drafting of other regional rules.

Full information regarding the current status of the project, including all documents related to the various committees and conferences, is provided here.

The legal status of Security Tokens in Europe

This article describes the legal context in seven European countries regarding Security Token Offerings. Such offerings differ from Initial Coin Offerings (ICO’s). An Initial Coin Offering (ICO) is the cryptocurrency equivalent to an Initial Public Offering (offering shares of a private cooperation to the public for the first time, also known as IPO) in the traditional investment world.

ICO’s act as fundraisers. For example, a company looking to create a new coin or a new software application launches an ICO. Next, interested investors buy in to the offering, either with fiat currency or with preexisting digital tokens like Bitcoin. In exchange for their support, investors receive a new cryptocurrency token specific to the ICO. Investors hope that the cryptocurrency will perform very well into the future, providing them with a high return on investment. ICO’s are often used by startups to bypass the regulated capital-raising process required by venture capitalists or banks.

Unlike an ICO, a security token is essentially an investment contract into an underlying asset. It has all the attributes of a security in that it is a fungible, negotiable financial instrument that represents actual monetary value. STO’s are backed by real assets.

It is interesting to see to what extent Security Token Offerings are considered traditional security offerings from an international financial law perspective. In the table below, the most important legal characteristics are listed.

Country Are Security Token Offerings considered a security, from a legal perspective? Prospectus needed?
Austria Determined on a case-by-case basis. Yes, unless: > 100.000 EUR < 150 investors < 2 Mio. EUR total investment qualified investors
Belgium Yes, when they look and feel like securities. Yes, unless: > 100.000 EUR < 150 investors < 500.000 EUR total offer profesional investors
France Yes. Yes, unless: > 100.000 EUR < 150 investors < 8 Mio. EUR total investment qualified investors
Germany Yes, when they look and feel like securities. Yes, unless: > 100.000 < 150 investors < 8 Mio. EUR total investment qualified investors
Switzerland Yes, called “asset token”. No.
The Netherlands Yes, when they look and feel like securities. Yes, unless: > 100.000 EUR < 150 investors < 5 Mio. EUR total investment qualified investors
United Kingdom Yes, see Guidance on Cryptoassets Consultation Paper. Yes, unless: > 100.000 EUR < 150 investors < 8 Mio. GBP total investment qualified investors

Advice

Crypto law differs among jurisdictions and certain countries offer more possibilities than others. Running into legal issues is easy, considering the complexity of the new digital laws. Properly drafted and constructed documents are an important part of running a business or structuring any offering. It is crucial to have a specialised lawyer provide you with the documents you need for business operations and fundraising. This includes documents like a private placement memorandum, token sales documents, and miscellaneous offering documents. These documents help not only to ensure compliance with any cryptocurrency law and governmental regulations, but to instill credibility in your project and confidence that your investors are protected.

Important link

The myth of the financialization of the housing market

Background

In February 2017, mrs Leilani Farha, the United Nations’ special rapporteur for housing, presented a paper on housing commoditisation to the UN human rights council in Geneva. The paper explains how an unregulated financial market has boosted housing prices to a level that excludes low-income households from certain attractive urban locations and created social inequality. Mrs Farha introduces the term ‘financialization of the housing market’. This article explains that execution of the ideas of mrs Farha will not lead to lesser social inequality. Other measures need to be taken rapidly.

What is meant by financialization of the housing market?

Global investment firms are looking for so called high-quality collateral investments, and housing is one of the asset classes that can be classified as such, together with US, German and Swiss government securities. This explains why housing is increasingly becoming financialized or subject to financial speculation. I would describe financialization in this respect as the increasing dominance of financial actors, markets, practices and measurements of the housing market. Thus, housing is disconnected from its social function and is part of an investment strategy.

Financial markets and housing prices

Stock markets and home building are leading economic indicators. The precise relationship is not known, but it can be observed that the housing sector influences the economy. When the stock market goes down, most portfolios loose money. The net worth of investors declines and so will their willingness to invest. Investors will also be influenced in their behaviour from a psychological perspective. In addition, contractors and their sub-contractors (plumbers, electricians, et cetera) are all dependent on housing. They will loose buying power, which influences other sectors as well.

Purposes of financial markets in general

Generally, the purpose of the financial (capital and money) markets is threefold: (1) raising money for new ventures (a small portion of the stock markets’ activity); (2) providing liquidity, so the investors and therefore contributors to the value of a company can cash in on their efforts and (3) allocating capital effectively, by setting the prices of the financial instruments. Stock markets all over the world list real estate companies.

Fundamental economic problems

One major economic “problem” is that the development of financial markets cannot be predicted. This is explained by the fact that it is too complex to specify all the original information and derivation rules that make up the price of financial instruments. Jeff Stibel (2009) explains this in the following manner:

The future, like any complex problem, has far too many variables to be predicted. Quantitative models, historical models, even psychic models have all been tried — and have all failed. Just imagine predicting something far simpler than the future of the stock market; say, chess. There are an overwhelming 10 to the 120th power possible moves. That’s a 1 followed by 120 zeros! As James Hogan explains it in his book Mind Matters, that sum far exceeds the number of atoms in the universe.

The same counts for housing prices. It is even hard to look back and compare housing prices in the past. Price alone is a misleading way to evaluate the performance of residential real estate. Those who fail to do additional analysis are likely to overestimate the attractiveness of housing as an investment. The only data available in this respect is Robert Shiller’s historical housing index (adjust for the significant increase in the size and quality of homes). To evaluate real estate as an investment, it is needed to consider the total impact that the purchase of the home has on the buyer’s finances. That is, incorporate all of the net additional expenditures (like interest, taxes, insurance and buying/selling costs) associated with the purchase.

The impact of time on the return of a real estate investment is often underestimated. In a 30-years time frame, in increase in price from EUR/USD 50.000 to 300.000 represents an annual growth rate of about 6.2%. The impact of time on the return on their housing investment is often under estimated. It should be stressed that this includes price increase with adjustment for inflation only. The average annual home price increase in the United States over a period of 100 years was about the same as the inflation rate.

Final thoughts

There is no such thing as a boost in housing prices over the years. Long-term housing prices are comparable to the inflation rate. They are not artificially kept high due to speculation. Houses are priced based on demand and availability. This does not mean that the government should not put an enormous effort into ensuring that everyone, irrespective of income or access to economic resources, has access to a safe, secure, habitable, and affordable home with protection from forced eviction.

The right to housing is a human right, protected by a number of fundamental declarations: Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; Article 27 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child; Article 5 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; Article 14 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and Article XI (11) of the American Declaration on Rights and Duties of Man.

In my opinion, a governmental effort to reduce the so called financialization of the housing market is not an option to improve housing conditions for lower income households. It will lead to a housing bubble, since the market mechanism is artificially removed and prices do not reflect the real value of houses. In my opinion the only way to lower housing prices is to lower demand for housing. I cannot understand why it is not understood that reducing the human population is the most effective tool to combat poverty and inequality. As Paul Ehrlich, Bing professor of population studies at Stanford University in California and author of the best-selling book, the Population Bomb, in an interview with the Guardian (26 April 2012) says:

The optimum population of Earth – enough to guarantee the minimal physical ingredients of a decent life to everyone – was 1.5 to 2 billion people rather than the 7 billion who are alive today or the 9 billion expected in 2050.

We should not let mrs Leilani Farha’s ideas influence us, because they lead to a myopia. The focus should be on the factors that really can be influenced and make a substantial difference in fighting poverty.

Literature

Aalbers, M. (2016). The financialization of housing: a political economy approach. London: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.

Ehrlich, P. R. (1975). The population bomb. Rivercity, MA: Rivercity Press.

Malthus, T. R. (2017). Essay on the principle of population. New York: W W Norton.

Shiller, R. J. (2016). Irrational exuberance. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Stibel, J. (2009). Why We Can’t Predict Financial Markets. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review.

Statistical sources

Eurostat, House Price Indices euro area and EU aggregates Index levels 2015 100 2017Q1

International Monetary Fund, Global Housing Watch

S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Home Price Indices

De factuur fiscaal bezien

Het komt voor dat de belastingdienst de aftrek van BTW in facturen weigert. Met name als het om grotere bedragen gaat. Het verwijt dat de ondernemer dan wordt gemaakt is dat de omvang en aard van de werkzaamheden niet is vast te stellen. Wat zegt het internationale recht over de inhoud van de factuur?

BTW-aftrek mag in beginsel niet worden geweigerd

In de zaak ECLI:EU:C:2016:690 en 101 bevestigt het Hof van Justitie EU dat het herhaaldelijk heeft geoordeeld dat het recht op btw-aftrek waarin de artikelen 167 en volgende van richtlijn 2006/112 voorzien, een integrerend deel van de btw-regeling is en, in beginsel, niet kan worden beperkt. Het wordt onmiddellijk uitgeoefend voor alle belasting die op in eerdere stadia verrichte handelingen heeft gedrukt (zie in die zin arrest van 13 februari 2014, Maks Pen, C 18/13, EU:C:2014:69, punt 24 en aldaar aangehaalde rechtspraak).

De aftrekregeling heeft tot doel de ondernemer geheel te ontlasten van de in het kader van al zijn economische activiteiten verschuldigde of betaalde btw. Het gemeenschappelijke btw-stelsel waarborgt bijgevolg een neutrale fiscale belasting van alle economische activiteiten, ongeacht de doelstellingen of resultaten van deze activiteiten, mits deze activiteiten in beginsel zelf aan de btw zijn onderworpen (arrest van 22 oktober 2015, PPUH Stehcemp, C 277/14, EU:C:2015:719, punt 27 en aldaar aangehaalde rechtspraak).

De materiële voorwaarden waaraan moet zijn voldaan opdat het recht op btw-aftrek ontstaat, volgen uit artikel 168, onder a), van richtlijn 2006/211 dat de goederen of diensten waarvoor op dat recht aanspraak wordt gemaakt, door de belastingplichtige in een later stadium moeten zijn gebruikt voor zijn eigen belaste handelingen en in een eerder stadium door een andere belastingplichtige moeten zijn geleverd of verricht (zie in die zin arrest van 22 oktober 2015, PPUH Stehcemp, C 277/14, EU:C:2015:719, punt 28 en aldaar aangehaalde rechtspraak).

Wat de formele voorwaarden voor de uitoefening van dit recht betreft, volgt uit artikel 178, onder a), van richtlijn 2006/112 dat de belastingplichtige in het bezit moet zijn van een overeenkomstig artikel 226 van deze richtlijn opgestelde factuur (zie in die zin arresten van 1 maart 2012, Kopalnia Odkrywkowa Polski Trawertyn P. Granatowicz, M. Wąsiewicz, C 280/10, EU:C:2012:107, punt 41, en 22 oktober 2015, PPUH Stehcemp, C 277/14, EU:C:2015:719, punt 29).

Het Hof heeft geoordeeld dat het basisbeginsel van neutraliteit van de btw verlangt dat aftrek van voorbelasting wordt toegestaan indien de materiële voorwaarden daartoe zijn vervuld, ook wanneer een belastingplichtige niet voldoet aan bepaalde formele voorwaarden. Wanneer de belastingdienst over de nodige gegevens beschikt om vast te stellen dat is voldaan aan de materiële voorwaarden, mag hij bijgevolg voor het recht van de belastingplichtige op aftrek van die belasting geen nadere voorwaarden stellen die tot gevolg kunnen hebben dat de uitoefening van dat recht wordt verhinderd (zie in die zin arresten van 21 oktober 2010, Nidera Handelscompagnie, C 385/09, EU:C:2010:627, punt 42; 1 maart 2012, Kopalnia Odkrywkowa Polski Trawertyn P. Granatowicz, M. Wąsiewicz, C 280/10, EU:C:2012:107, punt 43, en 9 juli 2015, Salomie en Oltean, C 183/14, EU:C:2015:454, punten 58 en 59 en aldaar aangehaalde rechtspraak).

Daarom mag de belastingdienst het recht op btw-aftrek niet weigeren enkel en alleen omdat een factuur niet voldoet aan de door artikel 226, punten 6 en 7, gestelde voorwaarden indien hij beschikt over alle gegevens die nodig zijn om na te gaan of is voldaan aan de materiële voorwaarden voor uitoefening van dat recht.

In dit verband mag de belastingdienst zich niet ertoe beperken de factuur zelf te onderzoeken. Hij moet bovendien rekening houden met aanvullende informatie die de belastingplichtige verstrekt. Deze stelling vindt steun in artikel 219 van richtlijn 2006/112, dat ieder document of bericht dat wijzigingen aanbrengt in en specifiek en ondubbelzinnig verwijst naar de oorspronkelijke factuur, met een factuur gelijkstelt.

De economische realiteit

Het HvJ EU overweegt in de zaak Paul Newey (HvJ EU 20 juni 2013, nr. C-653/11, BNB 2014/49) in de eerste plaats dat het begrip dienst een objectief begrip is dat onafhankelijk van het oogmerk of het resultaat van de rechtshandelingen wordt toegepast. Vervolgens overweegt het Hof in genoemde zaak dat contractuele bepalingen normaliter de economische realiteit weergeven en – mede omwille van de rechtszekerheid – een in aanmerking te nemen factor vormen. Een afwijking van de contractuele bepalingen is echter mogelijk als sprake is van een zuiver kunstmatige constructie die niet beantwoordt aan de economische realiteit en alleen is bedoeld om een belastingvoordeel te verkrijgen. De nationale rechter dient – op basis van een globale beoordeling van de omstandigheden – na te gaan wie de daadwerkelijke ontvanger van een dienst is. De contractuele bepalingen vormen daarbij een in aanmerking te nemen, maar niet de doorslaggevende factor.

Aard en omvang van de geleverde diensten

Een factuur die bij wijze van vermelding van de aard van een dienst slechts de omschrijving als bijvoorbeeld ‚juridische dienstverlening’ bevat, voldoet aan de eisen van artikel 226, punt 6, van richtlijn 2006/112/EG (2016:101, r.o 102 onder 1).

De factuur is onder meer bedoeld om te kunnen controleren of de opsteller van de factuur de juiste belasting heeft voldaan. Daartoe moet – naast voornoemde omschrijving – ook de datum bekend zijn waarop een dienst is verricht. Het is namelijk deze datum – en niet bijvoorbeeld de datum van uitreiking van de factuur – die volgens artikel 63 van de btw-richtlijn in beginsel bepaalt wanneer het belastbare feit in de zin van artikel 62, lid 1, van deze richtlijn heeft plaatsgevonden, en daarmee ook welke belastingvoorschriften ratione temporis op die handeling van toepassing zijn (2016:101, r.o 68).

Kortom, vermeld op een factuur duidelijk waar het om gaat en wanneer de prestaties zijn verricht.

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