Tax Controversy 2019 Comparisons

Last Updated June 06, 2019

Law and Practice

Authors



Ortiz Abogados Tributarios, S.C. is a boutique Mexican law firm with more than 30 years of experience in tax law, comprising comprehensive advisory, consultancy, litigation and alternative dispute resolution in tax matters, regarding domestic and cross-border transactions. The firm is composed of four partners, three associates and two law clerks, and its offices are located in Mexico City. The firm handled a complex transfer-pricing controversy regarding a multinational company in the technology industry, which was resolved through a mediation mechanism before the Mexican Taxpayers Rights Defence Agency (Prodecon).

Tax controversies usually arise as a consequence of the Mexican Tax Authorities' audit attributions, which lead to tax assessments of alleged unpaid amounts.

Tax controversies may also arise as a result of the denial of the refund of a favourable balance or an undue amount paid by the taxpayer.

In both instances, tax controversies at the federal level have their origin in the issuance of an official letter by the tax authorities containing an assessment or a rejection of a refund.

Most tax controversies are related to Income Tax or Value Added Tax, as they are the principal sources of tax revenue for the Mexican government and are triggered by every commercial activity, so almost every productive entity is obliged to pay those contributions.

Two specific issues can be identified in the vast majority of controversies since the authorities challenge the effective execution of the acts that trigger tax effects: (i) transfer-pricing adjustments; and (ii) the substance of the transactions. 

There are no elements available to determine the values involved in each specific case.

Once the authorities have initiated an audit, it is unlikely that a controversy can be avoided or mitigated.

If the taxpayer is not able to demonstrate with sufficient evidence that there has been no avoidance, it is entitled to rectify its tax situation by accepting the observations made by the authorities during the audit. Depending on the stage the audit is in when the corrections are made, a reduction of fines and penalties may occur.

Another method to avoid a tax controversy is to enter into an alternative dispute resolution process, as outlined under 6 Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Mechanisms.

BEPS recommendations to combat tax avoidance and the modification of domestic legislation following said recommendations have not contributed substantially to reducing or increasing tax controversies; they have been used and applied by the authorities to audit taxpayers’ obligations, but have had little influence on the number of controversies.

Regarding double tax treaties, Mexico has not amended a significant number of the international agreements it has signed related to such matters. Nevertheless, Mexico signed the Multilateral BEPS Treaty, although it is not yet in force as it has not been ratified by the Senate.

The taxpayer has no obligation to guarantee the tax assessed in order to be able to lodge an administrative or judicial claim against the corresponding ruling.

Nonetheless, if the assessment is not paid or guaranteed, the authorities have full capacity to carry out the foreclosure procedure as stated in the Federal Tax Code.

There are only two cases in which any foreclosure file is suspended without the need of a guarantee: (i) if the taxpayer challenges the assessment through the administrative claim; and (ii) if the assessment is challenged through the substance trial (as explained below).

The relation between tax assessments and a criminal filing against the taxpayer will be explained in 7 Administrative and Criminal Tax Offences.

As a rule, entities to be audited are selected randomly. Nevertheless, the authorities adopt specific criteria to determine an audit against a specific company or group. Entities must be:

  • taxpayers in the oil industry;
  • high income taxpayers – as defined by Mexican law, a company is considered to be of high income when its annual revenue exceeds approximately USD62.5 million;
  • multinational groups, specifically regarding their transfer pricing obligations;
  • taxpayers that declare in their return information that may amount to uncommon behaviour in comparison to previous years – examples include an unusual deduction, losses when historically profits have been generated, or any transaction that has been audited for one year but has multi-annual effects (a questioned back-to-back credit that generates deductible interests in several years); or
  • taxpayers that perform any inappropriate practice, as described in the catalogue published by the tax authorities.

Also, there is the legal possibility to initiate a direct audit against a specific taxpayer or group, when the authorities have knowledge that such entity has taken part in any misconduct.

Authorities may initiate an audit at any time, unless the statute of limitation period has been exceeded.

The legal term to conduct an audit is 12 months. The period may be extended to 18 months when the audited taxpayer is part of the financial system, or to two years if the authorities request information from a foreign tax agency, or if the audit involves transfer pricing issues.

When the audit ends, within the aforementioned period, the authority has six months to issue an official letter and notify the results of the assessment.

The statute of limitation period is five years as of the date the taxpayer files its ordinary tax return, or as of the day any amended return is filed but limited to the issues that were modified.

When an audit is initiated, the statute of limitation is suspended but in no case can exceed six years and six months.

In some exceptional cases, the statute of limitation term may be extended up to ten years.

There are two main types of audits: those that take place at the authority’s headquarters (revisión de escritorio) and those that occur on the taxpayer’s premises (visita domiciliaria). There is no general rule: the authority executes both options equally.

As a rule, audits are based on printed documents, although the taxpayer may submit documents and information in a digital format.

A new type of audit has recently been introduced by Mexican law: the electronic audit, which is based on the electronic information that taxpayers are obliged to submit monthly through the electronic systems implemented by the authorities.

Auditors put a special focus on requesting the taxpayer to demonstrate, through documentary evidence, the substance of the transactions that trigger tax effects (mainly deductions and creditable VAT).

Contracts, invoices and payment receipts are no longer sufficient evidence to demonstrate that a certain transaction took place – ie, that a service was effectively provided or merchandise was acquired.

Auditors also put emphasis on requesting the taxpayer to demonstrate, for example, that a service provider effectively has the technical capabilities to render the service.

Additionally, auditors request the taxpayer to demonstrate the business reason for executing any specific transaction, instead of any other alternative.

In summary, although there is no rule of substance over form in Mexican legislation, in practice tax authorities tend to observe the substance of taxpayers’ activities, from a legal and practical point of view.

The increasing prevalence of rules concerning cross-border exchanges of information and mutual assistance between states has not increased the number of tax audits in Mexico. However, Mexican authorities have used the mechanisms to exchange information as an additional tool to audit companies that are part of multinational groups.

Mexican authorities have requested information from foreign tax agencies in audits, including the USA, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Ireland.

From a strategic point of view, the key point that the taxpayer must address during an audit is to provide all the evidence that demonstrates the substance of and the business reason behind the transactions questioned during the audit (please refer to 2.1 Main Rule Determining Tax Audits, above)

It is important to bear in mind that, according to a recent precedent of the Supreme Court of Justice, evidence that was not submitted at the audit stage or during the administrative claim will not be accepted by the Judicial Courts.

Therefore, it is highly important for the taxpayer to provide the authorities with all the evidence to support the facts and the nature of the transactions carried out by the company. Legal arguments and the interpretation of the applicable laws may be stated before the Courts, but no additional evidence may be rendered.

In order to challenge a tax assessment, the taxpayer can decide to file either an administrative claim or a judicial trial, as the former is optional before initiating the latter.

The taxpayer has a legal term of 30 business days from the date of notification of the resolution to file the administrative claim before the legal area of the tax administration that determined the assessment.

Mexican law provides an additional term of 15 business days after the claim is filed to announce the evidence that will be rendered, and other 15 days to submit it.

Formally, authorities have a legal term of three months to issue a decision on the administrative claim. The absence of a resolution is considered a tacit negative decision and can be challenged by lodging a judicial claim before the Tax Court; however, it is unusual to appeal a tacit negative decision.

Taxpayers regularly wait until the resolution is issued since, within the time of the administrative appeal, there is no obligation to guarantee the assessment. When the claim is resolved or the tacit negative challenged, a bond or letter of credit, among other means, must be put in place to avoid any foreclosure procedure.

Judicial tax litigation is lodged in order to challenge the decision of the administrative appeal, or directly against the assessment.

The judicial claim is filed before the Federal Court of Administrative Justice (Tax Court), within a legal term of 30 business days of the date of the notification of the resolution to be challenged.

As mentioned above, the taxpayer has a legal term of 30 business days to file the judicial claim before the Tax Court; tax authorities have a legal term of 30 business days to file their written response to the claim.

If evidence from an expert witness is to be rendered, the Tax Court will request the experts appointed by the parties to appear before the corresponding judicial officer to accept their assignment within the next ten business days after the response of the authority has been submitted. The experts will have an additional 15-day term in which to render their opinions.

If those opinions are contradictory, the Tax Court will appoint a third, independent expert to accept the assignment and render his report in the same terms as mentioned before.

Once the experts’ reports have been rendered, the parties will be granted a term of ten business days in which to prepare and file their written closing arguments.

The Court has a legal term of 45 business days to issue its verdict, but there is no legal sanction if it takes longer.

As of 2017, there is a new modality of the procedure before the Tax Court: the so-called substance trial.

Through this special variant of the annulment complaint procedure, the taxpayer is entitled to argue only substance arguments before the Court, in order to challenge a tax assessment determined by the authority. This means that the plaintiff renounces its right to formulate legal arguments in order to demonstrate violations to procedural rules that regulate tax audits.

Substance arguments must be understood as the interpretation of the applicable legal provisions, the qualification of the nature of the facts and transactions, and the evaluation of the evidence submitted at the audit.

Although the legal term to initiate the substance trial is also 30 business days, the terms of the internal phases of the procedure are shorter.

The most relevant difference between the ordinary trial and the substance trial is that, at the substance trial, there is a hearing in which both parties (taxpayer and authority) verbally present the main arguments to challenge or defend the legality of the assessment to the Magistrates of the Tax Court.

The substance trial has become a highly recommendable option for taxpayers to challenge assessments that involve relevant or strategic issues, and that implicate an assessment in a large amount (as the threshold to file the substance trial is approximately USD325,000).

Another relevant advantage of the substance trial is that the law waives the taxpayer’s obligation to guarantee the assessment during the period in which the procedure takes places.

As mentioned before, documentary evidence is relevant in order to support the substance and business reasons of the transactions carried out by the taxpayer; however, no additional evidence can be submitted at the judicial Courts that was not rendered at the audit or with the administrative claim.

Therefore, the opinion of expert witnesses is appropriate evidence to be rendered at the judicial Court level if it is necessary to sustain any technical issue that goes beyond the legal interpretation of the law or the appreciation of the facts and evidence. Recurrent examples include expert opinions in accountancy, in economy regarding a transfer-pricing controversy, or in engineering if the litigation is related to the oil industry. 

Documentary evidence must be submitted with the claim. If not submitted, the Court will grant an extra five-day term in which to do so. The expert opinion will be rendered according to the proceeding described in 4.2 Procedure of Judicial Tax Legislation, above.

The burden of proof lies with the taxpayer in civil and administrative tax litigation, as the resolutions of the authority are deemed to be legal and lawful.

In criminal litigation, the burden of proof rests with the public prosecutor, as the Mexican Constitution establishes the presumption of innocence in favour of the defendant.

Documents and evidence must be submitted according to the legal terms, as explained in 4.2 Procedure of Judicial Tax Litigation and 4.3 Relevance of Evidence in Judicial Tax Litigation, above. It is important to remember that documentary evidence that was not rendered at the audit or with the administrative appeal will not be accepted by the Courts.

Legal arguments also have to be stated at the claim, as no new arguments can be drafted at the appeal stage; any aspect that was not challenged at the claim may not be refuted at the appeal stage.

It is also important to bear in mind that legal arguments must directly challenge the legal grounds of the assessment and/or the resolution to the administrative appeal, its interpretation of the applicable legal provisions, the appreciation of the facts, and evidence rendered at the previous stages.

Legal arguments that do not aim to challenge these aspects will not be considered by the Courts, as the purpose of a judicial claim is to refute the concrete legal grounds of a resolution that determines a tax assessment.

During a judicial claim there is no legal chance to enter into a settlement; these kind of agreements between the tax authorities and the taxpayer can only be reached as explained in 6 Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Mechanisms (in order to initiate such a process, it is necessary that no assessment has been determined).

At the same time, during a judicial trial the question of whether or not to pay the assessment has no impact on the outcome of the litigation process. On the contrary, the taxpayer has to decide – when the corresponding resolution is notified – if the assessment is paid or guaranteed.

If the taxpayer decides to pay, this does not interfere with its right to litigate, but the interests and inflation increases will be accrued in its favour. This may be an important cash outflow for the company. 

Expert reports shall be submitted following the process and terms explained in 4.2 Procedure of Judicial Tax Litigation, when the controversy relies, even in part, on technical issues that go beyond the interpretation of the law.

The jurisprudence issued by the Supreme Court of Justice and the Circuit Court is mandatory to the Tax Court. However, not every precedent is binding – only those that have ruled five cases in the same sense, or when the Supreme Court resolves a contradiction of criteria between two or more Circuit Courts.

On the other hand, international jurisprudence, doctrine (domestic or international) and other international documents are only guidelines that Courts can take into consideration, but they are not obliged to do so. Therefore, precedents other than domestic jurisprudence are rarely applied by the Courts to resolve tax controversies.

However, according to Mexican legislation, OECD Guidelines in Transfer Pricing are applicable regarding the interpretation of transfer-pricing rules.

As a rule, there is only one definitive stage for appealing a verdict issued by the Tax Court, which is the direct constitutional injunction (juicio de amparo directo). In general terms, that is the proper remedy to challenge verdicts issued by Courts.

The appeal is ruled by a Circuit Court, which depends on the Federal Judicial Power.

There is no threshold or burden in order to appeal a verdict issued by the Tax Court, since it is a constitutional right for any private person or entity to challenge any verdict that causes any harm to its rights. There are no limitations in terms of the nature or value of the controversy, unless the final and decisive stage of appeal, according to the law, has been reached and ruled.

If the verdict issued by the Tax Court is favourable to the taxpayer, it is important to consider that the authorities are entitled to challenge said verdict through a petition for review, which will also be ruled by a Circuit Court.

As mentioned before, as a rule there is only one stage in tax appeal procedures: the direct constitutional injunction.

The procedure is simple, as this appeal cannot contain any legal arguments that were not stated at the judicial claim, and no new evidence may be rendered.

The legal arguments to be drafted at the constitutional injunction must challenge the legal grounds of the verdict issued by the Tax Court – ie, the interpretation of the applicable legal provisions, the nature of the facts according to the evidence, and the evaluation of the significance of the evidence rendered at the procedure.

The only case in which there is a second stage for appealing is when the taxpayer claims the unconstitutionality of the legal provisions applied by the authorities and the Tax Court in order to determine and confirm the assessment, or when the direct interpretation of a constitutional rule is implied. In both cases, the taxpayer can file a petition for review before the Supreme Court of Justice, which will be limited to attend the constitutional issues of the controversy.

Circuit Courts are formed by three Magistrates, and their decisions are taken by majority or unanimity. One of the Magistrates prepares a draft, which is then discussed and approved or rejected at a public hearing.

Magistrates are appointed by the Federal Judicial Council, the administrative agency of the Federal Judicial Power, from among the candidates that pass the corresponding public examinations.

The Justices of the Supreme Court of Justice are appointed according to the procedure stated in the Constitution: the President remits a shortlist of three candidates to the Senate, which then has to appoint one candidate through the favourable voting of two thirds.

Mexican law provides only one ADR mechanism for tax disputes: mediation by the Taxpayers Rights Defence Agency (“Procuraduría de la Defensa del Contribuyente” – Prodecon), which has been conceived as a tax ombudsperson.

The purpose of the mediation process is to achieve a settlement between the taxpayer and the authorities regarding the proper nature of the facts and transactions carried out by the taxpayer, and their tax effects.

This is not a controversy stage, but a collaborative procedure, in which both parties have expressed their intention to reach a settlement based on evidence.

The Agency, acting as a mediator, provides all the legal means in order to conduct the negotiation process by procuring the understanding of each other’s position and the analysis of the evidence rendered by the parties.

The last stage of a review process, prior to determining an assessment, is the observations letter, in which the authority states in writing the issues discovered that may implicate an omission by the taxpayer. The audited entity will have a legal term of 20 business days in which to submit any evidence and express any legal arguments in order to demonstrate the contrary.

The relevance of said observations letter, or pre-assessment, is that the authority qualifies the nature of the facts and transactions as well as its legal effects.

Once this qualification is issued by the tax authorities, the taxpayer is entitled to initiate a conclusive agreement procedure before Prodecon. It is important to bear in mind that the corresponding request must be filed after the notification of the observations letter, but before the final assessment is issued.

In this request, the taxpayer shall indicate what he or she believes to be the correct nature of the facts and transactions, and its legal effects, and propose the terms in which he considers a settlement should be reached.

The authorities will have 20 business days in which to agree with the taxpayer’s proposal, reject it or make a counterproposal.

If both parties demonstrate their disposition to achieve a settlement, Prodecon shall call for working sessions, where the taxpayer may submit additional evidence and express legal arguments in order to enter into a negotiation process regarding the proper evaluation of the facts, transactions, legal provisions and evidence provided by the parties.

At the end of the process, both the authorities and the taxpayer may reach a settlement regarding every concept in dispute or just a part of it. The rest may be substance for an assessment and a litigation process. If a settlement is reached, both parties must sign a written document in which the terms and conditions of the agreement and the corresponding duties for each of them are stated.

Prodecon’s role is to facilitate the negotiation process, make suggestions and express its point of view, which does not have to be followed by any of the parties; therefore, the procedure may end without an agreement being reached between the parties. If that is the case, it is most likely that the authorities will issue an assessment regarding the full omissions discovered at the review process.

If an agreement is reached as a result of the mediation process, the potential contingency may be reduced, as both parties agree that the facts have a different nature than attributed by the authorities, but they also have different effects than those reflected by the taxpayer on its tax return.

Surcharges shall be reduced in the same proportion as the potential contingency, as they are an accessory to the principal amount.

Penalties will be cancelled in full if it is the first time the taxpayer enters into a conclusive agreement. In subsequent cases, penalties should be applied and reduced according to the applicable laws.

Taxpayers are entitled to make a ruling request before the tax authorities regarding the tax effects of a specific transaction, a set of related transactions or a complete corporate restructure. The only condition is that the petition has to address actual and concrete situations, and the taxpayer has to propose the tax treatment that he or she considers to be appropriate.

The response to the petition is mandatory for the tax authorities if the ruling supports the position proposed by the taxpayer, which may lead to any dispute being avoided.

On the contrary, if the resolution to the ruling request does not endorse the criteria proposed by the taxpayer, it is not mandatory on the latter and can therefore be challenged. Nevertheless, this may rise a flag to the authorities to audit the transactions stated at the ruling request.

There is no limitation regarding the type of controversy or any threshold in regards to the value of the claim or possible assessment in order to request a conclusive agreement before Prodecon.

Taxpayers have the right to make a petition in this sense before the authorities issue the assessment. Therefore, the only limitation is time: if the authorities notify the assessment, there is no legal chance to opt for a settlement.

Prodecon has a 20-day term after the authorities submit their response in which to call for a meeting with the parties in order to sign the conclusive agreement. However, in practice, Prodecon procures the execution of as many working sessions as needed (within a prudent basis), in order to reach an agreement; mediation procedures may take up to two years.

If both parties reach an agreement and proceed with the signing of a settlement, the terms of that settlement cannot be challenged before the Courts. The only exception is when the authorities discover that the facts the agreement is based on are untrue or were simulated, in which case the complete agreement may be challenged.

If the agreement is only partial, authorities may issue an assessment regarding the issues for which there was no consensus between the parties. These issues may be challenged through the regular procedures described above.

There are no strict rules regarding the number of mediators and their appointment, as they are Prodecon officers who work full time as public servants at said agency, and are appointed according to the corresponding administrative rules.

The precedence of previous settlements does not necessarily have an influence on the result of a concrete mediation process; the precedence of jurisprudence may have an impact on the qualification of facts and their tax effects, with the same importance as in any other legal procedures regarding a controversy between a taxpayer and the authorities.

Agreements stated at the settlement must be based on the strict law; nevertheless, in order to apply those criteria, the parties and the mediator tend to give preference to the substance of the transactions over the form, under the premise that there is sufficient documentary and technical support for the conclusions reached by the parties.

Transfer pricing cases are settled according to the exact same procedure and rules as described above. It is relevant that the parties provide the technical elements that support their positions and the agreements they reach in order to determine a certain valuation of transactions between related parties.

In fact, regarding transfer-pricing issues, mediation has become the preferred option for taxpayers to resolve a controversy before entering into a litigation process.

Regarding indirect methods, there are specific rules that establish legal presumptions and ADR mechanisms that may be a useful tool to settle disputes. There is an additional path to demonstrate, in a collaborative manner, the origin of deemed income before entering into a litigation process in which the burden of proof lies with the taxpayer. Nevertheless, ADR has not become a significant mechanism by which to resolve controversies regarding potential contingencies derived from the use of indirect methods.

In Mexican legislation, there are only two types of liabilities for taxpayers related to tax payment omissions: administrative (as explained in previous sections) and criminal.

There are other administrative infringements that correspond to defaults of formal obligations; as a rule, the penalty for administrative infringements is a monetary fine. 

Administrative infringements are regularly determined by the authorities during the same audit process as tax assessments and, accordingly, are challenged with the same legal remedies (unless the taxpayer chooses the substance trial).

It is important to keep in mind that, if the authorities issue a tax assessment against a specific taxpayer, this does not automatically bind the latter to a criminal procedure. In general terms, although there are concrete legal provisions, criminal offences occur in cases where the taxpayer commits fraud by misleading the tax authorities or simulates transactions in order to avoid any tax consequences.

If tax authorities discover a fact or transaction that may indicate a criminal offence, they can notify the federal prosecutor for tax matters (Procuraduría Fiscal de la Federación) so that he or she can make all the investigations. If that special prosecutor finds merits on the case, then he or she could ask the federal prosecutor (Fiscalía General de la República) to initiate the criminal procedure stated according to criminal law; tax authorities will act as the offended party.

Administrative and criminal files are related, as the former may be evidence to the public prosecutor of the latter. Nonetheless, both processes may be carried out in parallel, as the criminal procedure does not have to be suspended while the Tax Courts issue their ruling regarding the tax assessment.

Additionally, the definitive ruling of one file does not determine the result of the other. As several precedents of Federal Courts have established, the reason for this relates to the burden of proof: at the administrative level, the taxpayer is obliged to demonstrate that the assessment has no legal grounds, while at the criminal level, the public prosecutor has to demonstrate that the defendant was involved in conduct that is described as a criminal offence.

As mentioned before, administrative infringement processes are the same as those to determine and challenge tax assessments.

Criminal cases are initiated when tax authorities discover that the taxpayer has been involved in conduct that is described as a crime regarding the applicable laws – ie, tax fraud or the simulation of transactions. Administrative processes may evolve to a criminal case only in such cases.

It is important to mention that our firm does not litigate criminal cases, so our expertise regarding the topics of Sections 7.4 to 7.7 is limited to a basic and general knowledge of the criminal process and its stages.

If the tax authorities discover that the taxpayer has been involved in conduct that may indicate a possible crime, they are entitled to make the formal accusation before the federal prosecutor for tax matters, as mentioned in 7.1 Interaction of Tax Assessments with Tax Infringements.

This special prosecutor will, in turn, enter into the investigation phase, where he or she will gather all the evidence needed to determine whether or not the taxpayer committed a criminal offence; if the prosecutor finds such evidence, he or she has to turn it over to the federal prosecutor.

If the conclusion is that there is enough evidence that implicates the taxpayer, the public prosecutor will formulate the formal accusation before the Judicial Courts in order to proceed to criminal trial. 

In specific cases, prior to the initiation of the trial, there is the possibility for the victim – in this case, the tax authorities – and the defendant to arrive at an alternative resolution before the Court in order to repair the damage caused by the taxpayer.

If there is no agreement between the parties, the formal trial will take place according to the rules established in the National Criminal Procedures Code, which is a verbal procedure, where the prosecutor and the defendant will lay out their legal arguments and provide the corresponding evidence to support their positions.

The criminal judge will issue his or her resolution, whereby he or she will declare whether or not the defendant is guilty of the offence attributed by the prosecutor.

The Courts that may hear criminal tax cases are the federal criminal Courts, which may also hear any other kind of criminal case; there are no criminal courts specialised in tax offences.

Criminal Courts that decide tax felonies are totally different from those that rule on the legality of the tax assessment.

If the taxpayer covers the unpaid taxes, plus surcharges and penalties, the tax authorities may request the public prosecutor or the criminal Court to dismiss the case; it is a discretionary attribution that may be or may not be executed.

Additionally, if the taxpayer restitutes the unpaid amount during the process, the penalty may be reduced by 50%.

Finally, if the taxpayer pays the omitted taxes before the authorities discover the omission, the tax authorities will not execute any action before the public prosecutor.

As described in 7.4 Stages of Administrative Processes and Criminal Cases, there is the possibility to enter into an agreement with the tax authorities to prevent a criminal trial; the only condition to enter into an agreement is the approval of the tax authorities, as the victim, and the defendant. 

In order to challenge the decision adopted by the court of first instance, the National Criminal Procedures Code establishes an appeal procedure that will be ruled by a Circuit Federal Unitary Court (Tribunal Unitario de Circuito), integrated by a federal Magistrate. The resolution of this Circuit Federal Unitary Court may be challenged through a direct constitutional injunction (juicio de amparo directo).

As a general rule, transactions challenged by the tax authorities under GAAR, SAAR, transfer pricing rules or anti-avoidances rules do not give rise to criminal cases. The reason is that those rules are too technical and a public prosecutor would be obliged to demonstrate that the taxpayer participated in any fraud or simulation, as the burden of proof for criminal cases lies with the authorities.

Authorities tend to focus on the tax assessment procedures, unless there are very strong elements that may lead to a criminal case, or the issue acquires public relevance.

If a double-taxation situation occurs due to an additional tax assessment or tax adjustment in a cross-border transaction, the most common path to challenge the corresponding ruling is domestic litigation and/or the ADR mechanisms described in previous sections.

Also, mutual agreement procedures (MAP) under double tax treaties signed by Mexico are a feasible way to obtain the nullity of the assessment.

A MAP is much less common but both procedures can be triggered by the taxpayer; if a MAP is filed before a foreign tax agency, the domestic litigation process will be suspended.

Mexican jurisprudence has not addressed the issue of whether GAAR or SAAR apply in cross-border transactions covered by bilateral tax treaties.

Nevertheless, authorities have applied GAAR or SAAR to such situations, usually overlooking the provisions stated in the applicable double taxation treaties signed by Mexico.

As a rule, and in accordance with Mexican transfer-pricing rules, resolutions issued by the authorities regarding transfer-pricing adjustments that involve cross-border transactions focus on the determination of income and deductions of the Mexican resident taxpayer. Therefore, litigation against said assessments is regularly carried out before the Tax Court.

Additionally, transfer pricing adjustments can be challenged through the MAP foreseen in double-taxation treaties signed by Mexico.

Advance pricing agreements (APAs) are established in Mexican legislation and are a useful mechanism to avoid or mitigate controversies in transfer-pricing matters, as taxpayers and authorities achieve a consensus regarding the methodology implemented by the former in controlled transactions.

The result of the procedure carried out by the parties is a ruling that will be in force in the fiscal year in which it was issued, in the previous year and in the following three years.

The APA can derive from a direct negotiation between the taxpayer and Mexican authorities, but also from an arrangement with foreign tax agencies of countries that have signed a double taxation treaty with Mexico.

The procedure is not expressly regulated by Mexican law, but it takes the path of a regular administrative procedure: the taxpayer shall file his or her petition before the tax authority, submitting the documentary, technical and legal evidence that supports his position. The authority may request additional information and documentation; there is the possibility to have working sessions in order to achieve an agreement, and the notification of the corresponding ruling.

As a rule, cross-border situations that relate to transfer pricing generate more litigation. In order to mitigate such litigation, many taxpayers have chosen to enter into a conclusive agreement procedure before Prodecon, as described in 6 Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Mechanisms above, in order to achieve a settlement with the authorities.

In the Mexican justice system, there are no fees to carry out a litigation process at the administrative or judicial level regarding tax issues nor any other matter (civil, criminal, labour). Therefore, taxpayers do not have to pay any fee before the tax authorities or the judicial courts to submit a claim and obtain a resolution.

The same criteria apply to the ADR mechanism of mediation before Prodecon, as it is a public agency funded within the Federal budget.

Finally, taxpayers may request an indemnity from the tax authorities, when a tax assessment does not express its legal grounds or reasoning (fundamentación y motivación), or is issued against a mandatory precedent of the Supreme Court of Justice regarding the proper interpretation of the legal provisions applied.

See 9.1 for relevant information.

See 9.1 for relevant information.

See 9.1 for relevant information.

According to the Annual report of the Tax Court (the Annual report), by the end of 2018 there were 62,469 cases pending at the Tax Court. The global monetary value of the cases handled by the Tax Court during 2018 was MXN351 billion (approximately USD18 billion).

The report does not disclose the number of cases attributed to each Chamber of the Tax Court.

On the other hand, the Annual report of the Supreme Court of Justice and the Federal Judicial Council provides information regarding the number of cases resolved by the former, but does not disclose how many of them are related to tax issues, nor the number of cases ruled by the Federal Circuit Courts across the Country.

According to the Annual report, during 2018 a total number of 180,073 cases were initiated and 126,889 cases were terminated. However, the report does not disclose the number of cases relating to different taxes or matters (as the Tax Court also has jurisdiction regarding social security, intellectual property, antitrust and other administrative issues), nor their monetary value.

The Annual report only provides statistics about the party that succeeds in litigation, regarding the cases resolved by the Superior Chamber, which attends a limited number of cases, depending on the matter and the monetary threshold of the controversy.

In this sense, during 2018 the Superior Chamber issued 220 verdicts favourable to the taxpayer, 260 verdicts favourable to the authorities, and 44 verdicts partially favourable to the taxpayer and partially favourable to the authorities.

Also, there are statistics regarding the number of verdicts issued by the Tax Court that were challenged and overruled by the Circuit Courts: during 2018, 46,880 verdicts were challenged (by the taxpayer or by the authorities) and 21,885 appeals were resolved, with the verdict of the Tax Court being revoked in 4,249. 

There are some strategic guidelines that taxpayers must consider in order to prevent a tax controversy or, when one is triggered, to be successful in its defence.

First, the taxpayer should try to support its transactions with as much evidence as possible, such as contracts, invoices, payment receipts, communications with suppliers and services providers or any other material evidence that demonstrates the substance of the operations that generate tax effects.

When an audit is initiated, the taxpayer should provide the tax authorities with all the evidence that supports the nature, substance and effects of the transactions that are being questioned by the auditors. Not disclosing information to the authorities is not a reasonable strategy, as evidence that is not provided to the auditor will not be accepted by the Courts.

Additionally, if auditors do not understand or are not convinced of the nature of the business, the business reasons of any transaction or restructure, or the business model implemented by the Company, they will likely issue an assessment without making a detailed and accurate analysis of the particular case.

It is crucial that the authorities understand the following:

  • the business reasons for making and deducting any specific expenditure or investment;
  • the relation between the main activity carried out by the Company and the profits, current or future, generated by said deduction, if the person that provided the questioned good or service actually has the physical, human and technical resources to provide such services; and
  • its residence for tax purposes, in case of a cross-border transaction that involves a benefit prescribed in a double taxation treaty.

Taxpayers will be in a better position to litigate before Courts, or even at the level of the administrative claim, if the controversy deals with the interpretation of the legal provisions, rather than the material support of the substance, nature and business reasons of the transactions, as the burden of proof relies on the taxpayer.

Even where the authorities determine an assessment based on a lack of material support, the more evidence submitted to the auditors, the better the position of the taxpayer to litigate or enter into a settlement process.

Regarding cross-border transactions, it is also advisable to disclose – as many times as expressly requested by the auditors – if the Company did take any benefit from a tax treaty, and to provide the legal ground according to which the invoked treaty is applicable, at both the audit level and the litigation stages.

When it comes to transfer-pricing controversies, the most recommendable strategy is to enter into a settlement process, in which the parties may achieve an agreement through the mediation of the Prodecon.

According to this, it is important for the legal adviser to be involved in every stage of tax matters, from the very beginning of an audit, as the defence of the case is built through all the review process, and not only at the litigation stages.

Ortiz Abogados Tributarios, S.C.

Sierra Candela No 111
Piso 9
Colonia Lomas de Chapultepec
Mexico
11000

+52 55 5540 7800

+52 55 5520 2140

www.oat.com.mx
Author Business Card

Law and Practice

Authors



Ortiz Abogados Tributarios, S.C. is a boutique Mexican law firm with more than 30 years of experience in tax law, comprising comprehensive advisory, consultancy, litigation and alternative dispute resolution in tax matters, regarding domestic and cross-border transactions. The firm is composed of four partners, three associates and two law clerks, and its offices are located in Mexico City. The firm handled a complex transfer-pricing controversy regarding a multinational company in the technology industry, which was resolved through a mediation mechanism before the Mexican Taxpayers Rights Defence Agency (Prodecon).

{{searchBoxHeader}}

Select Topic(s)

loading ...
{{topic.title}}

Please select at least one chapter and one topic to use the compare functionality.