'We are talking about tax justice here,' Pedro Sanchez said in Helsinki
Madrid (AFP) - Spain’s prime minister denounced Friday a plan by construction giant Ferrovial to move its headquarters to the Netherlands as the decision triggers a political storm.
The company said Tuesday that the move would give it access to cheaper credit and make it more attractive to equity investors ahead of a planned stock listing in the United States, and would not affect its operations in Spain or elsewhere.
But the Spanish government accuses Ferrovial, one of the country’s biggest companies, of seeking to benefit from lower Dutch taxes on corporate income and dividends.
Ferrovial’s billionaire chairman, Rafael del Pino, has been critical of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and his left-wing coalition government.
“We are talking about tax justice here,” Sanchez said when asked about the controversy during a press conference in Helsinki with his Finnish counterpart Sanna Marin.
“Those that have more must contribute more to the public treasury, paying more taxes, and that is the debate which is behind what Mr del Pino is doing.”
Sanchez’s government has angered some business leaders with a windfall tax on “extraordinary” profits of major banks and energy firms, to fund increased public spending to help households and businesses cope with soaring inflation.
- Third-richest person -
The premier had already criticised Ferrovial’s chairman on Wednesday, saying “there are extraordinarily positive examples in Spain of great businessmen who are dedicated to their country”.
“I don’t think it is the case of Mr del Pino.”
Del Pino, 64, who controls around 20 percent of Ferrovial, is Spain’s third-richest person, with a fortune of around $4.5 billion, according to Forbes.
Founded in Madrid in 1952, Ferrovial operates London’s Heathrow airport, and its toll road division includes projects in Australia, Canada and the United States.
The company paid 282 million euros ($299 million) in taxes in Spain last year.
Spanish bank Sabadell estimates the company could save 40 million euros per year in tax payments by moving its headquarters to the Netherlands, but other experts put the figure far lower.
Ferrovial’s planned move follows in the footsteps of other major European firms such as aircraft manufacturer Airbus, which has its head office in Toulouse in France but its registered headquarters in the Dutch city of Leiden.
- ‘Absurd and dangerous’ -
Ferrovial also justified the planned move of its headquarters on the grounds that it derived more than 80 percent of its revenues last year from outside of Spain.
But the Spanish government has said it will review the legality of Ferrovial’s decision to move to the Netherlands.
It argues the company owes a significant part of its growth to public investment contracts in Spain.
Far-left party Podemos, the junior partner in Sanchez’s minority coalition government, has said it will propose legislation to force firms that move their residence abroad to return all state aid received during the last decade.
Antonio Garamendi, head of Spain’s main business association CEOE, on Friday defended the Ferrovial boss and accused the government of creating “an absurd and dangerous situation”.
These attacks “generate distrust and send a very harmful message for Spain and investors,” he added during an interview with radio Onda Cero.