The taxpayer, an accountant, was accused by Inland Revenue (IRD) of using a company as a vehicle to create a tax advantage. He claimed to have sold his sole trade accountancy practice to his own company for $2m in 2002. The company did not have the ‘cash’ to purchase the business, and hence a loan was recognised to the company. Later, in 2007, his family trust purchased a family beach house for $1.3m. To fund the purchase of the beach house, the company borrowed from the bank to repay the debt it owed to him and he lent the funds to the trust.
The IRD did not dispute that the 2002 sale took place, however they argued that the sale price was just $425,000, creating a much smaller loan. On this approach, recognition of the $2m loan to the accountant triggered a taxable dividend for the difference.
Given the facts of the case, it is not surprising IRD were suspicious of the transaction.
Originally, the accountant was unable to produce a sale and purchase agreement evidencing the transaction. When eventually he did, IRD referred the agreement to a document examiner who found a number of irregularities, based on which the IRD concluded the document was a fabrication. The accountant’s explanation for the irregularities were that he had used a client’s sale and purchase agreement, that he had ‘twinked’ out the details and hand written in his own changes.
At the time of the transaction, the company’s 2002 financial statements only recorded a goodwill value for the purchase of the business of $425k. According to the accountant, the original value of $425k was recorded in the financial statements so that his wife did not know the true value of the business (the marriage later broke down). Then In 2003 the goodwill was written off. Over the course of the 2006 and 2007 years, the goodwill and loans were recorded back up to $2m.
The accountant advised the reason for the increase was to improve the standing of the company before a review by the accountant’s professional body. The taxpayer prepared three different sets of financial statements for the 2007 year before arriving at the final version.
The accountant claimed a reversing journal in his accounting software showed an original figure of $2m. IRD contended that this entry had not been made until 2008, after the purchase of the beach house. However, an accounting software expert called by the IRD, confirmed journals cannot be entered into prior years because they are effectively “frozen”.
IRDs final argument was that $2m was a vast overstatement of the value of the accountancy practice in 2002, for which they had the support of an independent valuer. Again, the taxpayer was able to explain in detail how he arrived at his calculation. He accepted the valuation may have been ‘over-enthusiastic’.
Notwithstanding the poor record keeping, unhelpful facts and the arguments put forward by the IRD, the TRA found in favour of the accountant. Accepting the sale was genuine, the price was what was paid by the company and therefore the repayment of the debt was not a taxable dividend. If the accountant had clear and accurate documentation from the outset, the court case and associated costs might have been avoided.