Tag Archives: merger

Income Tax clearance: M &A or secondary transactions

Obtaining a no objection certificate or prior permission under section 281 of Income Tax Act, 1961 (Section 281 Certificate) is a mandatory ‘conditions precedent’ in a merger, acquisition or a secondary transaction. A general disdain is the time it takes to obtain the permission. Without the permission, the transaction could risk being voided by the tax department.

This article analyses the significance of the Section 281 Certificate, when should it be procured and implications if not procured.

tax certificate

Breaking down Section 281

As per Section 281 of the Income Tax Act (“Act”), in the event an assessee creates a charge or parts with the possession (by way of sale, mortgage, gift, exchange or any other mode of transfer whatsoever) of, any of his assets in favour of any other person, during the pendency of any proceeding under the Act or after the completion thereof, but before the service of notice under Rule 2 of the Second Schedule of the Act, such charge or transfer shall be void as against any claim in respect of any tax or any other sum payable by the assessee as a result of the completion of the said proceeding or otherwise. As per the explanation to the section, ‘asset’ includes shares and securities as well.

The section has the following exceptions in which case, such charge or transfer is not void:

  • if it is made for adequate consideration and without notice of the pendency of such proceeding or, as the case may be, without notice of such tax or other sum payable by the assessee; or
  • if it is made with the previous permission of the assessing officer.

It may also be noted that this section applies to cases where the amount of tax or other sum payable or likely to be payable exceeds Rs.5000 and the assets charged or transferred exceed Rs.10,000 in value.

In a nutshell, section 281 of the IT Act requires an assessee to obtain the permission of the assessing officer before creating a charge on certain assets or transfer of certain assets in the event there are ongoing tax proceedings or pending claims/demands against such assessee. The main objective of section 281 is to safeguard the interests of the revenue against assessees who may fraudulently part with their assets to avoid payment of taxes.

Process for obtaining Section 281 Certificate

The Central Board of Direct Taxes through its Circular No. 4/2011 [F. NO. 402/69/2010-ITCC], dated 19-7-2011 (“Section 281 Circular”), has issued certain guidelines for obtaining the Section 281 Certificate. The format of the application (which also mentions the documents and other information to be provided) is also provided in the said Circular. The assessing officer may, at his discretion, ask for additional documents. The application is to be filed at least 30 (Thirty) days prior to the proposed transaction. The Section 281 Circular also contains the circumstances under which Section 281 Certificate could be granted by the assessing officer, the timelines within which the assessing officer has to grant/refuse the permission under section 281 and the validity of the certificate granted. It is interesting to note that the Circular provides for an approval timeline of 10-15 days.

It may also be noted that the assessing officer would require the approval from the Range Head for granting permission if the value of assets being transferred or on which charge is being created, or the amount of charge being created is Rupees Ten crores (Rupees Hundred Million) or more.

Analysis of Section 281

Going by the strict interpretation of section 281, the Certificate is required only when an assessee creates a charge or parts with possession of any asset, under the following circumstances:

  • If the transfer is made during the pendency of any proceeding under the Act, or
  • After the completion of any proceeding under the Act but before the service of notice under rule 2 of the Second Schedule of the Act.

It appears that strict interpretation seems narrow.

In most cases, in a M & A or in a secondary sale of securities, the purchaser insists on Section 281 Certificate to de-risk a possibility of a tax claim which in turn would impact the purchase consideration. As an extension to that, the purchaser also wants to apriori know of the possibility of tax claims, before releasing the purchase consideration. Hence, Section 281 Certificate is almost always a Conditions Precedent to the transaction. In cases where it takes a long time to obtain the Section 281 Certificate, the purchaser reluctantly moves it as a “conditions subsequent” but with a personal guarantee or specific indemnities from the seller/s to de-risk the possibility of the transaction being considered void by the tax authority.

“APPOINTED DATE” IN CASE OF MERGER AND AMALGAMATION

The Ministry of Corporate Affairs (the MCA) vide its notification dated 21 August 2019, has provided a clarification with respect to interpretation of section 232(6) of the Companies Act (Act). Section 232(6) of the Act states that the scheme under section 232 of the Act shall clearly indicate an appointed date from which it shall be effective and the scheme shall be deemed to be effective from such date and not at a date subsequent to the appointed date. The circular has been brought in furtherance of several queries which have been received by MCA. The two important clarification sought are:

  1. Whether it is mandatory to indicate a specific calendar date as ‘appointed date’ in the scheme? and
  2. Whether the ‘acquisition date’ for the purpose of Ind-AS 103 (Business combinations) would be the ‘appointed date’ referred to in section 232(6)?

Prior to issuance of the aforementioned clarification for the first query, the MCA has referred to decision of Supreme Court in the case of  Marshall Sons & Co. India Ltd. v. lTO [223 lTR 809] where the court held that the date on which the amalgamation shall take place can be a date prior the filing of the sanctioning of the scheme by the Court, the date of filing of certified copies of the orders of the Court before the Registrar of Companies (the ROC) (i.e. Appointed Date). However, the scheme would be effective from the Appointed Date only after the order of the Court is filed with the RoC. The MCA also referred to the judgement held in Equitas Housing Finance Limited and Equitas Micro Finance Limited in C.P.Nos.l 19 to 121 of 2016 where the court was the of opinion that appointed date need not necessarily be a calendar date but can be a date tied to the occurrence of a relevant event.

Section 232(6) provides the companies a choice to decide and state a date from which the scheme shall be enforceable. The two options available while deciding the date are:

(i) a specific calendar date, or

(ii) date tied to the occurrence of an event such as of license by a competent authority or fulfilment of any preconditions agreed upon by the parties or meeting any other requirement as agreed upon between the parties, etc., which are relevant to the scheme.

In case the parties to the scheme of merger/amalgamation choose the ‘appointed date’ to be a calendar date, such date can be a date preceding the date of filing the scheme with National Company Law Tribunal. If the ‘appointed date’ is significantly dated beyond a year from the date of filing the scheme, a reason for the same has to be specifically captured in the scheme and such reason shall not be against public interest. Where the ‘appointed date’ is date tied to the occurrence of a relevant event to the scheme, such an event shall be specifically indicated in the scheme on the occurrence of which the scheme would be effective. However, in a situation where ‘appointed date’ is a date subsequent to the date of filing the order with the ROC under section 232(5) of the Act, the company has an obligation to file an intimation of the same with ROC within 30 days of such scheme coming into force and being effective.

With regard to the second query, the MCA states that the ‘acquisition date’ shall be same as ‘appointed date’ mentioned under the scheme and shall also be deemed to be the date of transfer of control for the purpose of conforming to accounting standards (including Ind-AS 103 Business Combinations).

Source: http://www.mca.gov.in/Ministry/pdf/GeneralCircular_21082019.pdf

Post-Merger Corporate Governance

Corporate governance is an important aspect for the success and growth of any organisation. A well-structured corporate governance regime becomes even more important post a merger (strategic or otherwise). It might prove to be especially beneficial in the smooth transition and functioning of the business of the merged entity, especially during the early stages after the merger. At the same time, a weak corporate governance structure may be detrimental to the success of the merged entity.

In a merger, the merging entities commonly come together to work and operate as a single merged entity. This would mean the integration of different cultures, mindsets, viewpoints, work ethics, principles, etc. Therefore, post-merger corporate governance becomes important so that all discussions between the key stakeholders of the merged entity are seamlessly documented leaving zero scope for potential conflict in the future. This would also help the key stakeholders to run the business of the merged entity without having to worry about internal conflicts, mismanagement, etc. Also, depending on the end goal or the objectives of the merging entities, there has to be a clear understanding on the type of merger to be undertaken. Refer to our previous post on M & A: Different structures and a comparative to know more about different structures of M&A.

What is Corporate Governance?

Before moving on to the different aspects of corporate governance to be considered post a merger, let us try to understand the meaning of the term ‘corporate governance’. With respect to early-stage unlisted entities, corporate governance generally refers to the internal rules and policies of the organisation, the relationship between the shareholders, the roles and responsibilities of the directors and the top management and the decision-making structure, including the financial and operational decision making. In a nutshell, it includes all aspects which govern the organisation and basis which business is conducted and an organisation is run, both with respect to internal stakeholders, as well as external stakeholders.

Significance of Post-Merger Corporate Governance

Merger of entities, more often than not, would mean the integration of different cultures, mindsets, viewpoints, work ethics, principles, etc. Even though the end goal would be the same, that is, the success and growth of the merged entity, perspectives on the means to achieve the end goal may differ from person to person. However, since the merging entities would no longer be separate entities, it is important that the means to achieve the end goal is also aligned. Thus, while corporate governance is very important for every organisation, it gains even more significance post a merger.

There has to be a clear understanding on the structure of the corporate governance post-merger, which could primarily be recorded discussions and step plans to achieve the objectives of the merger. For example, if the main objective of a merger is market expansion of the business, it would be good to have a clear step plan detailing out the potential markets, key people to target the same, timelines and other operational parameters which could eventually determine achievement of results as agreed amongst the key stakeholders. If a merger involves employee movement, a clear plan for the transitioning of employees, in terms of location, identification, compensation plan, positive interactions across teams and often (in new age companies) regular counselling on challenges faced may prove to be tremendously beneficial in the long run.

Also, post the merger, it is always better to have each and every discussion documented. Such discussions (including the informal discussions) should also be conducted at the board level, which would help in ensuring that the important stakeholders are part of these discussions. The objective is not to increase bureaucracy but to ensure that the operations are seamless. This might not seem to be important especially during the initial stages after a merger. However, the importance of documenting every discussion comes into play when, at some point, the difference of opinion arises. In order to avoid tense and awkward situations at that point of time, if every decision or discussion in relation to the business and operations is documented and is taken with the knowledge of all the key stakeholders, it would to a large extent help in solving the issue at hand in a much more efficient and faster manner.

A merger would, in most circumstances, result in a change in the board composition and management. The board of the merged entity will play an important role in effective management and quick transition. The composition of the board (and the committees of the board) is usually determined prior to the closing of the transaction and is documented in the transaction documents. The composition of the board (and the committees of the board) will have to be properly thought through and well planned. Every member of the board/committee needs to understand their respective roles. It is important to ensure that there is equal representation for all the key stakeholders. The members of the board/committees have to be diverse, experienced and should have a clear understanding of the goals of the merger. Also, it is important to conduct review meetings to ensure that the goals or targets are being met and if not, analyse on the reasons and improve on the same. The board/committee meetings may be conducted on a regular basis.

It may be a good option to appoint an independent director to the board. This will help in situations where there is a difference of opinion between the various members of the board since the independent director will be a neutral party and would be able to give unbiased opinions. The independent directors bring objectivity and an independent opinion to the decisions made by the directors. They can also help in bringing more transparency to the proceedings of the board and also ensure that the interests of the shareholders are given due regard. However, an independent director can play a major role in ensuring good corporate governance only as long as he/she functions independently. His/her decisions should not be influenced by the other board members. Refer to our previous post on Independent Directors to know more about independent directors and their independence.

Conclusion

Even though there is no specific statute or law governing corporate governance as a whole in case of unlisted companies, there are various provisions under the Companies Act, 2013, SEBI guidelines, etc. which indirectly strives to have a good corporate governance system like provisions for appointment of independent directors and their roles and duties, appointment of audit committees, role of directors, etc.

To achieve the goals and objectives of the merged organisation and for a smooth transition, a well-structured corporate governance is vital.

 

Author: Paul Albert, Associate at NovoJuris Legal

M & A: Different structures and a comparative

Acquisition of an entity can be undertaken in a number of ways such as an asset transfer, stock purchase, share swap, etc. It is critical to have certainty on the mode or structure of acquisition from the initial stage itself since the definitive agreements and the implementation steps for effectuating the acquisition will largely depend on the mode of acquisition. An acquisition transaction can be structured in different ways depending on the objective of the acquiring entity or the buyer. In this article, we have attempted to provide a brief overview and comparative of some of the different structures of acquisition.

Asset Purchase

  • In an asset purchase transaction, the acquiring entity takes over, either all or certain identified assets of the target entity or the seller. The first step in an asset purchase transaction is to determine what the assets and liabilities being taken over would be. Similarly, the definitive agreements should clearly lay down the assets/ liabilities being taken over and those which are not.
  • One of the major advantages of an asset purchase transaction is that the buyer can pick and choose the assets and liabilities which are to be acquired. The buyer may also choose not to take over any liabilities but purchase only the assets.
  • Another important aspect which has to be taken into consideration is with respect to the employees. In an asset transfer transaction, consent of the employees has to be taken if they are part of the acquisition transaction. Compliance to various labour laws has to be met. If the employees are not part of the transaction, then retrenchment compensation under Industrial Disputes Act, 1947 has to be examined. Please see our previous post on Employee Rights in M&A to know more on this.
  • In an asset purchase transaction, tax is calculated basis depreciable assets and non-depreciable assets. Capital gains tax is applicable basis the difference between the cost of acquisition and sale consideration. Depending on the holding period of the asset, either long term capital gains tax or short-term capital gains tax is applicable. In case of depreciable assets, depreciation is allowed as deduction.
  • Stamp duty is levied, in an asset purchase transaction, on the individual assets being transferred. Stamp duty is usually a percentage of the market value of the assets.
  • Losses or any other tax credits cannot be carried forward in an asset purchase transaction, as the target entity itself is not being acquired in this case. After an asset transfer, the shell entity remains and it is often a commercial consideration of whether the promoters of the acquired entity need to compulsorily shut down the shell entity or if it can be used for other business purposes. If the target entity continues to exist, considerations of ongoing business, usage of any remaining intellectual property, etc. become major discussion points between the parties involved.
  • Slump Sale: Slump sale refers to the sale of the entire business of an entity as a going concern without values being assigned to individual assets. As per section 2(42) of the Income Tax Act, 1961, ‘slump sale’ means the transfer of one or more undertakings as a result of the sale for a lump sum consideration without values being assigned to the individual assets and liabilities in such sales. In case of a slump sale, the seller is liable to pay tax on the profits derived on the transfer at rates based on the period for which the undertaking is held. If the undertaking is held for more than 36 months, the capital gains will be taxed as long-term capital gains and if the undertaking is held for less than 36 months, capital gains will be taxed as short-term capital gains.

Share Purchase

  • Share purchase is a type of acquisition in which the buyer takes over the target entity by purchasing all the shares of such target entity. The entire liability of the seller is taken over by the buyer in such an acquisition.
  • An advantage of structuring an acquisition as a share purchase, is that there would not be any major disturbances caused to the business of the seller since there is no requirement of entering into fresh contracts, licenses, etc. Losses and other tax credits could also be carried forward.
  • If the shares being sold are held for more than 24 months, capital gains will be taxed as long-term capital gain tax. If the shares being sold are held for less than 24 months, the capital gains will be taxed as short-term capital gains tax. Indexation benefits will be as applicable.
  • In the event of transfer or issue of shares to a non-resident, the Foreign Exchange Management (Transfer or Issue of Security by a Person Resident Outside India) Regulations, 2017 and the pricing guidelines have to be complied with.
  • Determination of fair market value pricing is important in such case, due to the applicability of pricing guidelines (in case of non-resident involvement) and also as per Section 50CA and Section 56(2)(x)(c) of the Income Tax Act, 1961, that provide for deeming provisions and taxation (in the hands of both transferor and transferee) basis full value consideration, in case of transaction price being less than FMV/full consideration.
  • Deferred Consideration: Since in a complete share purchase acquisition, the buyer also takes over the liabilities of the target entity, it is common to have deferred consideration models, in order to set off any future liabilities from the total consideration package. However, in case of such share purchase acquisition coming under the ambit of the Foreign Exchange Management (Transfer or Issue of Security by a Person Resident Outside India) Regulations, the Reserve Bank of India, vide Notification No. FEMA 3682016-RB, has mandated that not more than 25% of the total consideration can be paid by the buyer on a deferred basis within a period not exceeding 18 months from the date of the transfer agreement. As mentioned in the said Notification, for this purpose, if so agreed between the buyer and the seller, an escrow arrangement may be made between the buyer and the seller for an amount not more than 25% of the total consideration for a period not exceeding 18 months from the date of the transfer agreement, or, if the total consideration is paid by the buyer to the seller, the seller may furnish an indemnity for an amount not more than 25% per cent of the total consideration for a period not exceeding 18 months from the date of the payment of the full consideration.

However, this brings in difficulties in transactions where for commercial reasons, the buyer and the seller may mutually agree to tranche based or deferred consideration, which as per the mentioned Notification, can only done within certain specified parameters.

Share-Swap

  • Another method of structuring an acquisition deal is through a share swap arrangement. In a share swap arrangement, if one entity wants to acquire another entity, instead of cash consideration, the shares of the buyer entity may be exchanged for the shares of the seller entity. An acquisition can be structured such that the entire consideration is through share swap or it can also be partly through share swap and partly through cash consideration.
  • If a foreign entity is involved in a share swap deal, the FDI and ODI Regulations become applicable. One of the most important consideration to be mindful of, is that the FDI regulations states that the price of shares offered should not be less than the fair market value of shares valued by SEBI registered Merchant Banker. Please refer to our previous post on M&A through Share Swap/Stock Swap Arrangements for more details in this regard.
  • The taxation in a share swap transaction works such that the shareholders swapping the shares are subject to taxation, basis the difference between the value of the shares being swapped. The concern here is that the shareholders will have to pay taxes when they have not received any actual cash consideration, but only shares of another entity by exchanging the existing shares they held.

Acqui-hire

  • In an acqui-hire transaction, typically, a relatively bigger entity, acquires the talent pool of a relatively smaller entity and this has gained significant prominence in the early stage ecosystem in India over the last couple of years. An acqui-hire may also be combined with an asset purchase transaction. The consideration in an acqui-hire is usually based on the talent of the employees, seniority, etc.
  • One of the main advantages of an acqui-hire transaction, from the perspective of the buyer, is that the employees already have experience, the buyer need not spend time, effort and energy in training them.
  • Another advantage of an acqui-hire is that the employees are usually subject to non-compete clauses with their employer and therefore, lateral hiring of employees may not be always possible especially when the acquirer is in a competing business as that of the target company. In an acqui-hire, the non-compete clauses would typically get waived.
  • Shares held by the existing investors of the target company and the way it is dealt varies on a case to case basis and it is mostly a function of discussion between the promoters, the existing investors and the potential buyer, given the economic condition and sustainability of the target company, if the acquisition does not go through.
  • Since the main objective of an acqui-hire is to acquire the employees, the employment agreement entered into with the acquired employees becomes very important. Adequate precaution needs to be taken to ensure that all important clauses such as earn out, non-compete, stock options granted to employees, etc. are included in the employment agreement.
  • Some of the consideration points of an acqui-hire deal would be conducting interviews of the employees selected to be acquired, and assess suitability. Also, there is always the possibility of the acquired employees leaving upon the expiry of the earn-out period, which then needs to be structured in a very balanced manner. This requires a very evaluated cost benefit analysis of the earn out versus the minimum time period for which an employee would be required to continue in the purchasing entity.

Cross-Border Merger

  • Cross-border mergers are one of the ways adopted by entities to expand their operations to a foreign country and entering into new markets. A cross-border acquisition means acquisition of one entity by a foreign entity.
  • Cross border mergers in India are mainly dealt with under the Companies Act, 2013 and the Foreign Exchange Management (Cross Border Merger) Regulations, 2018 (“Merger Regulations”). As per the Merger Regulations, the separate approval of RBI is no longer required as long as the cross-border merger is undertaken in accordance with the Merger Regulations.
  • Cross-border merger may be either ‘inbound merger’ or ‘outbound merger’. Inbound merger means a cross-border merger, where the resultant company is an Indian company. An outbound merger means a cross-border merger where the resultant company is a foreign company. A resultant company means an Indian company or a foreign company which takes over the assets and liabilities of the companies involved in the cross-border merger. There are separate set of compliances required for inbound merger and outbound merger under the Merger Regulations. For example, in case of an inbound merger, the compliances with respect to pricing guidelines, sectoral caps, reporting requirements, etc. under the Foreign Exchange Management (Transfer or Issue of Security by a Person Resident Outside India) Regulations, 2017 ought to be adhered to. Also, subject to the foreign exchange management regulations, the Indian entity is allowed to hold assets in the foreign country. Also, the Merger Regulations give both the Indian entities and foreign entities a time period of 2 years to comply with the foreign exchange management compliances. Please refer to our previous post on Cross-Border Mergers-Key Regulatory Aspects to Consider for further details regarding the regulatory aspects to be considered in case of cross border mergers.
  • One of the major concerns regarding cross-border mergers is with respect to taxation. While an inbound merger, where the resulting entity is an Indian company, is exempt from capital gains tax as per Section 47 (vi) of the Income Tax Act, 1961, there is no such exemption given in case of outbound mergers. Also, in case of outbound mergers, the branch office in India may be considered as a branch office of the foreign entity. In such a scenario, the branch office in India may be considered as a permanent establishment of the foreign entity in India and global income of the foreign entity may become be subject to tax in India.

Disclaimer: Structuring an M&A transaction is complex and requires a case to case evaluation of objectives, consideration, taxation at each stakeholder level, etc. The purpose of this article is to disseminate information only and readers are requested to seek profession advice shall for any individual requirement.

 We do not practice in tax matters. Any reference to tax matters herein is indicative and for reference purpose only.