Technology giants Microsoft Corp and Hewlett-Packard Co used offshore units to shield billions of dollars from US taxes by taking advantage of loopholes in the tax code, a US Senate panel said on Thursday.
Describing tax avoidance as rampant in the technology sector, the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations said tech companies used intellectual property, royalties and license fees in tax havens such as the Cayman Islands to skirt US taxes.
"The high-tech industry is probably the No 1 user of these offshore entities to transfer intellectual property," Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the panel, said at a news conference. "The tax practices and gimmicks range from egregious to dubious validity."
The investigative panel's findings came hours ahead of a hearing Thursday, at which Levin is slated to reveal further details and to take testimony.
Witnesses set to testify include tax executives from Microsoft and Hewlett-Packard, a tax executive from Big Four accounting firm Ernst & Young, and senior officials from the US Internal Revenue Service.
Levin has been investigating offshore tax evasion for years and often issues reports calling attention to the issue.
The committee said that from 2009 to 2011, Microsoft shifted $21 billion offshore, almost half its US retail sales revenue, saving up to $4.5 billion in taxes on goods sold in the United States.
It also said the software giant shifts royalty revenue to units in lower-tax nations such as Singapore and Ireland, avoiding billions of dollars of additional taxes in the US.
A spokesman for Microsoft could not be reached for comment.
The panel said Hewlett-Packard funded US operations with a stream of intercompany loans, using an exception in the law for short-term loans, to avoid billions of dollars in taxes.
A spokesman for HP could not immediately be reached for comment.