INTERNET giant Google today denied trying to “disguise” the way its business operated to minimise its tax bill in the UK.
Appearing before the Commons Public Accounts Committee, Google vice president Matt Brittin insisted he stood by evidence he gave last year that all the firm’s advertising in Europe was sold through its offices in Ireland.
But in a series of testy exchanges, committee chairman Margaret Hodge said his claims were contradicted by documentation MPs had seen and evidence from a “stream” of whistleblowers.
“It was quite clear from all that documentation that the entire trading process and sales process took place in the UK,” she told him.
“I simply suggest to you again that you think about what you actually said on November 12 which was that ‘anyone who buys advertising from us in Europe buys from Google in Ireland, from our expert teams’. That is not what the whistleblower told us and that is not what the documentation demonstrated.
“I think you should think really carefully about what you said to us and whether or not that holds true.”
Mr Brittin said the evidence related to the period before he joined the company six and half years ago and that suggestions that Google was trying to “disguise” the way it operated were “just not true”.
“I stand by what I said. I described very clearly how we operate,” he said.
Mr Brittin said Dublin was Google’s largest operation in Europe with 3,000 staff and that any advertiser in Europe contracts with Google in Ireland.
“When we came to Europe we set up Dublin as our European headquarters pretty rapidly. We set that up because we wanted to be able to contract with customers across the whole of Europe, not just the UK,” he said.
Mrs Hodge said the committee had been contacted by a “stream of whistleblowers” who had provided evidence suggesting that sales activity was taking place in the UK, telling Mr Brittin: “We will continue to have whistleblowers until we get to the bottom of the truth about all this.”
She added: “I would ask you to reconsider what you are telling us, because it doesn’t make sense to your own staff, it doesn’t make sense to the committee, it doesn’t make sense to any of your clients.
“The only people it seems to make sense to are Google - you are the last man standing on this.”
Mr Brittin said that, although sales staff in the UK were promoting Google and encouraging people to spend money, the transaction would take place with Ireland.
“What people are not doing, any customer that spends with us, they have to buy from Ireland because that’s where the intellectual property sits.”
He added: “I stand by everything I said last November. I think the body of what I said, if you look at every quote I said, I described exactly what we do.
“Everything I have told you about how we operate today, in November, is how we currently operate.”
But Mrs Hodge said: “We all accept the billing is in Ireland. If sales activity is taking place in the UK, you are misleading both Parliament and the taxpayers in suggested that is not happening.
“I challenge you again to think about what you said and whether you were actually misleading our committee in what you were telling us.