Apple has operated almost tax-free in Ireland since 1980, welcomed by a government keen to bring jobs to what was then one of Europe's poorest country, former company executives and Irish officials have said.
Chief Executive Tim Cook faced criticism from a Senate sub-committee on Tuesday over the iPad and iPhone maker's tax practices, which had been shrouded from full view behind secretive tax-exempt Irish-based corporate entities.
Apple, one of Ireland's top multinational employers, denied avoiding billions of dollars in US taxes and said its arrangements helped fund research jobs in the United States. The committee revealed that Apple's Irish companies, which are not tax resident in any jurisdiction, allowed the group to pay no tax on much of its overseas earnings in recent years.
Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the sub-committee, said Apple had sought "the Holy Grail of tax avoidance". A former company executive and Irish officials said that the almost tax-free status dates all the way back to Apple's arrival in County Cork 32 years ago.
Now, the company employs 4,000 in Ireland and is the country's biggest multinational employer. "There were tax concessions for us to go there," said Del Yocam, who was vice -president of manufacturing at Apple in the early 1980s. "It was a big concession,"
"We had a tax holiday for the first 10 years in Ireland. We paid no taxes to the Irish government," one former finance executive said.
Apple wasn't an exception, although it was among the last to enjoy such favourable treatment. From 1956 to 1980, Ireland attracted foreign companies by offering a zero rate of tax, according to the Irish government's website. Eligible companies arriving in 1980 were given holidays until 1990.
"Any multinational attracted into Ireland that was focusing on the export market paid zero percent corporation tax," said Barry O'Leary CEO of IDA Ireland, which is charged with attracting investment into Ireland.