It was a blockbuster international development, and both The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal jumped on it Tuesday with multiple stories.
The Wall Street Journal ran it as the lead story under this headline: “Apple Faces $14.5 Billion Irish Tax Bill.” A second story ran directly beneath the lead story, and on the “jump,” where both stories continued inside, readers found two more related stories. Plus, the story was the subject of the lead editorial.
The New York Times’ front-page headline was, “Ireland Is Told To Collect Tax Owed by Apple.” That story jumped to Page 2 of the Business section, and another story — about Apple’s kicking-and-screaming reaction — was on the Business front. And like The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times’ lead editorial addressed the subject.
The gist of the story is that the European Union, through the European Commission, had ordered Ireland to pay the huge tax bill because Ireland has been a “head office” — in theory but not actuality — for Apple’s European operations, giving Apple a fantastic tax rate on its European profits. (Ireland’s corporate tax rate is 12.5 percent — although Apple negotiated a rate of 2 percent or less — compared to 35 percent in the U.S.)
Now, when I see a story like that, one of the first questions I have is: What happens now? Can the order be appealed? Who has the final say?
You know that Apple C.E.O. Tim Cook isn’t going to shrug his shoulders and say, “Ah, OK, write ’em a check for $14.5 billion” — even though, with $230 billion in cash, Apple could do just that. Both papers said Ireland and Apple would fight the order, and both referred to appeals processes that could take years. Neither paper, however, bothered to explain exactly where the case would go from here — where an appeal would be lodged and what its course might be.
Ah, but for you readers with inquiring minds — those of you who, like me, must know these things — JimmyCSays got out his shovel and started digging. And, Holy Mother of Justice, what a mess he found!
It’s enough to make you understand why a majority of British voters decided they wanted out of the EU and enough to make you think the American judicial system is as streamlined as the Queen Mary 2.
The case will now go to a body called the European Court of Justice, based in Luxembourg. It is the highest court in the European Union in matters of European Union law.
Talk about bureaucracy! Get a load of this:
:: The court consists of 28 judges — one from each member state — and 11 “advocates general.” The advocates general are senior lawyers who function like high-level clerks, researching and writing draft opinions and presenting them to the judges — some of whom have little or no actual judicial experience.
:: In 2014, the British paper The Telegraph said nearly 2,500 cases were pending before the Court of Justice. “Delays can be so severe,” the story said, “that it can take four years to reach judgment.”
:: About six years ago, a sprawling, new court complex opened that cost about $600 million. The complex includes twin skyscrapers that house more than 1,000 translators and interpreters…The Telegraph called it “a modern-day Tower of Babel.”
:: The court has a budget of more than $300 million a year, almost triple what it was in the mid-2000s, and, as with virtually every court everywhere, the judges complain that they need more funding.
To help them get by until more funding becomes available, each judge and each advocate gets a car and a personal chauffeur on top of an annual salary of about $250,000 — and an entertainment allowance.
There’s one more fat layer of this story I didn’t tell you about higher up, because I didn’t want to confuse you more than necessary.
The Court of Justice has a lower court called the General Court, which, as I understand it, is where the Apple case would go first.
Not to be outdone by the Court of Justice, the General Court consists of 38 judges. Ah, but those judges apparently have to carry their own backpacks: They don’t have “advocates general.”
Cases that come before the General Court have both a written and oral phase. You might be interested to know that petitioners bringing cases before the General Court can present their argument in the language of their choosing. So, Tim Cook, if he decides to go to Luxembourg, can argue in English.
But when it comes to decision time, you’d better be parlay-vousing because the court’s official language is French.
My guess is it could take up to a decade to resolve this case, but even then I think Apple will still be able to afford some translators.