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ECJ Case C-242/18 (UniCredit Leasing) – Judgment – Financial lease; deduction of input VAT

On 3 July 2019, the European Court of Justice gave its judgment in Case C-242/18 (UniCredit Leasing). The case deals with the VAT exemption for financial services.

Unofficial translation

Facts (simplified):

‘BA Kreditanstalt Bulus’ EOOD (hereinafter ‘Bulus’ or ‘the lessor’), whose rights came from Unicredit, entered into a lease-purchase agreement with ‘Vizatel’ OOD (hereinafter ‘the lessee’) under which the lessor undertook to purchase land designated by the lessee, to construct a building on the land and to make it available to the lessee.

This contract was concluded for a period of eleven years beginning at the beginning of the month following the physical delivery of the object of the contract, in return for a monthly rent. It stipulated that the lessor could terminate the contract early in the event of non-payment of at least three rents by the lessee and demand the payment of compensation equal to the sum of all rents not paid for the entire duration of the lease.

Bulus issued VAT invoice for the lease. However, the lessee ceased to pay these invoices, and therefore Bulus unilaterally terminated the lease agreement because of improper performance of its obligations by the lessee.

Bulus applied to the Bulgarian tax office for reimbursement of the VAT calculated on its invoices to the lessee. The Bulgarian tax authorities denied this request.

Unicredit, which came to Bulus’ s rights, appealed against the decision.

The Bulgarian Supreme Administrative Court decided to refer the following questions to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling:

‘(1) Does the VAT Directive allow, in the event of the termination of a financial lease, a reduction in the taxable amount and a refund of VAT calculated in a corrective notice which came into force using the sum of the monthly rents for the full duration of the contract as the tax base?

(2) If the answer to the first question is in the affirmative, in the event of the termination of a financial lease because of partial non-payment of the rent due, which of the following is the case referred to in the VAT Directive can the lessor invoke against a Member State in order to obtain a reduction in the taxable amount of VAT of the amount of rents due but not paid for the period from the cessation of payments the termination of the contract, since this termination has no retroactive effect, this being confirmed by a clause of the contract?

(3) Does it follow from the interpretation of Article 90 (2) of the VAT Directive that a situation such as that in this case does indeed derogate from paragraph 1 of that Article?

(4) Does the interpretation of Article 90 (1) of the VAT Directive mean that the term ‘termination’ used in that provision includes situations in which, in the context of a contract lease without option, the lessor can no longer claim the rent payment from the lessee because he has terminated the said contract for culpable non-performance by the lessee, but, in accordance with the contract, he is entitled to compensation corresponding to the sum of all unpaid rents that will become payable by the end of the lease term?’

Judgment:

The ECJ rules as follows:

1. Article 90 (1) of the VAT Directive must be interpreted as meaning that termination of a leasing contract, a reduction of the tax base to the value added tax calculated on a flat-rate basis by a notice of correction on all rents due over the entire duration of the contract, even though this notice would have entered into force and thus constitute a ‘stable administrative act’ establishing a tax debt under national law.

2. Article 90 of the VAT Directive must be interpreted as meaning that, in a situation such as that at issue in the main proceedings, the failure to pay part of the rents due under a credit agreement lease for the period from the cessation of payments to the non-retroactive termination of the contract, on the one hand, and the absence of payment of compensation due in the event of early termination of the contract and corresponding to the sum of all unpaid rent until the end of this contract, on the other hand, constitute a case of non-payment liable to fall under the derogation from the obligation to reduce the taxable value added tax base, provided in paragraph 2 of that article, unless the taxable person has a reasonable likelihood that the debt will not be honored, which it is for the national court to verify.

Source: Curia (French version, not yet available in English)

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