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Treasury moves to close CGT avoidance loophole through share buybacks

Where one company previously sought to dispose of its shares in another company, it was able to do so without incurring an exposure for capital gains tax (“CGT”) or dividends tax, if that disposal were structured as an issue of shares by the target company to the “purchaser”, followed by a corresponding buyback of shares by the target company from the “seller”. For example: Company A holds 50% of the shares in Company X (which stake is worth R500,000). A had acquired the 50% interest for R50. B approached A with an offer to purchase the 50% for R500,000. A straight sale of the 50% would give rise to a tax effect of little less than R112,000 for A (being R499,950 x 80% x 28%). To ensure that the aforementioned tax charge does not arise, A agrees with B that the effective transfer of the 50% interest will be structured by B subscribing for shares in X for R500,000. B will now have effectively acquired a 33% interest in X. X will utilise that R500,000 to buy back the shares that are already in issue to A. When A’s shares are cancelled therefore, it will have received the R500,000 contributed by B, while B will have 50% in X by virtue of A’s interest being cancelled. From a tax perspective, the buyback of shares is treated as a dividend, which is both income tax and dividends tax exempt for A. The result: A effectively disposed of its shares in X for R500,000 without incurring any attendant tax cost.

The use of linked share issue and buyback transactions to avoid CGT has been on SARS’ radar for quite some time already, yet without any meaningful remedy to counter such (we would argue, legitimate avoidance) transactions. Where such transactions were in excess of R10 million, those transaction had to be reported to SARS though in terms of section 35(2) of the Tax Administration Act, 28 of 2011.

National Treasury has now moved to close this “loophole” through the proposed introduction of paragraph 43A in the Eighth Schedule to the Income Tax Act, 58 of 1962. The proposed amendments to paragraph 43A are contained in the draft Taxation Laws Amendment Bill, and if accepted by Parliament in its current form, will become operational with effect from 19 July 2017 (being the date of publication of the draft Bill).

In terms of the proposed amendments, tax exempt dividends declared to shareholders (which could hold as little as 20% in the declaring company with the dividends being declared either 18 months prior to the disposal of those shares, or in anticipation of their disposal) will be treated as a capital gain in the hands of the shareholder and taxed accordingly when the shares held are disposed of. In our example above therefore, the share buyback of R500,000 will be taxed as a capital gain.

As noted above, the current draft legislation has not yet been enacted, and we will closely monitor developments to consider implications of the final version of the legislation ultimately introduced.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice.  Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

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