Shell appeals to Tanzania tax tribunal over $520m in capital gains tax claim

Royal Dutch Shell Tanzania was slapped with the capital gains tax after its £47 billion ($67 billion) takeover of a 60 per cent stake in blocks 1 and 4 in southern Tanzania from BG Group. The blocks contain 16 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Now, the Oil giant has taken Tanzania to the tax tribunal over the method used to determine that it owes $520 million in capital gains tax, causing delays in the construction of the country’s first liquefied natural gas plant.

Shell wants the tax tribunal to bar the Tanzania Revenue Authority from demanding the dues. There are fears that a prolonged dispute could halt a $30 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility that Shell and other partners are investing in, leading to smaller plants being pursued by individual investors. The plant was to be completed in 2025.

TRA says its assessment was based on the market value of the assets, a factor of volumes and global natural gas prices, and Shell’s acquisition costs.

The taxman further referred to a precedent set in 2013 when Ophir sold its 20 per cent stake in block 1 and 4 to Pavilion Energy at $1.3 billion and TRA received $228 million in capital gain tax.

BG controls 60 per cent of these blocks with Ophir and Pavilion Energy sharing the rest.

Shell argues that it had allocated only 1.8 per cent (the equivalent of $850 million) of the total price paid to the Tanzania unit for the purchase of the stake in BG Group, whose Tanzania subsidiary had already spent about $1.5 billion, hence indicating a loss, not a gain.

Richard Kayombo, TRA director of education and taxpayer services, said that the matter was still in progress but the law barred TRA from discussing the details.

“The law does not allow us to discuss details of the affairs of a taxpayer, especially on issues that have not been concluded as this may jeopardise whatever is being discussed at various levels,” Mr Kayombo said.

Shell has in recent months focused on the viability of the LNG project in view of a land dispute over compensation. Analysts believe the tax dispute could provide a window for Shell to renegotiate the terms of the project.

In 2012, Public Accounts Committee chairman Zitto Kabwe pushed for the government to amend the tax laws to introduce 20 per cent capital gains tax for sale of shares or securities by companies whose assets are in Tanzania.

The matter became a big political issue with MPs from both the opposition and CCM complaining that the government was losing out on revenues due to lack of a legal mechanism to stop tax leakages. As a results, the laws were amended in 2013 to allow the government to charge capital gains tax on the companies.