Swiss Supreme Court denies qualification of a specific transaction as a quasi-merger and hence as a Swiss tax-neutral restructuring
In Switzerland, the quasi-merger is not formally stipulated under Swiss merger law. Yet, in Swiss tax practice, quasi-mergers typically qualify as tax neutral restructurings (“tax privileged” restructurings), if certain criteria are met.
According to Swiss Tax Administration Circular Letter No. 5, “Reorganisations”, a Swiss tax-privileged quasi-merger usually requires that the receiving company takes over at least 50% of the target’s voting power. In addition, the target’s shareholders may receive a maximum of 50% of the total consideration in cash for their previously held shares in the target. Consequently at least 50% of the total consideration must be paid in new shares (of the receiving company). Typically, the receiving company procures the shares for the share-exchange by way of a capital increase.
In the case at hand, individual A held 100% of the shares of X-AG and 50% of the shares in Y-AG as part of his private wealth. In 2007, A transferred his interest of 50% of Y-AG at book value to X-AG. Subsequently, A held his interest of 50% in Y-AG indirectly via X-AG.
In its decision of 10 June 2015 (2C_976/2014), the Swiss Supreme Court confirmed Circular Letter No. 5 and ruled that in the absence of an increase of the capital level of X-AG, the transfer of the Y-shares does not qualify as a quasi-merger for Swiss tax purposes. As a result, the difference between the market value and the book value of the 50% interest in the Y-shares was subject to Swiss stamp duty on the issuance of capital.
Companies and individuals engaging in quasi-mergers must therefore carefully structure a transaction in order to ensure qualification as a tax neutral reorganisation.