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A European appeals court ruled today that Apple does not have to pay a $15 billion tax bill levied by the European Commission, which had accused the tech giant of abusing Irish tax laws.

The European General Court determined European Commission officials failed to demonstrate that Apple had gained an unfair competitive advantage through the Irish tax laws. Following a lengthy investigation, the commission had previously issued a finding that Apple had massively reduced its tax bills by overstating the amount of its business in Ireland, where it received low tax rates. The commission had ordered the company to reimburse Irish authorities up to $15 billion.

The decision represents a big win for Apple, which has always denied any wrongdoing. It’s also a setback for European leaders who have built a platform on policing tech companies. The commission must now decide whether to appeal the ruling to the highest court, the European Court of Justice.

Technically, the original ruling by the commission four years ago was against the Irish government for creating tax breaks that gave the country an unfair economic advantage over other European nations. As a result, the EC ordered Ireland to send Apple a tax bill for $15 billion.

Ireland appealed that decision, though this put it in the politically awkward spot of fighting a ruling that would have brought $15 billion to its national treasury. But Irish politicians wanted to protect the country’s status as a low-tax haven, which has attracted tech giants like Facebook, Google, and Apple.

Given Apple’s massive cash haul each quarter, the company would have been fine regardless of the final decision and had already placed the money in an escrow account. Still, the accusation that it had benefited from a fraudulent tax scheme tarnished the reputation of a company that presents itself as squeaky clean.


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