Aria Technology loses tax appeal

The Court of Appeal has ruled Aria Technology’s efforts to avoid £300,000 tax bill after HMRC found £750,000 of the firm’s input tax was not creditable.

The ruling marks the third consecutive loss in court for the company over its efforts to avoid paying its full VAT bill.

Lord Justice Singh dismissed ATL’s appeal against HMRC’s 2008 assessment of ATL’s tax bill.

The senior Court of Appeal judge said: “The appellant is to pay the respondents’ costs of and incidental to the hearing. Such costs to be assessed if not agreed within 42 days. Permission to appeal to the Supreme Court is refused.”

ATL was allowed to appeal against an earlier judicial ruling that it took part in a VAT carousel operation on just one legal ground: that two 2008 letters from HMRC official Timothy Bailey setting out the tax bill as well as ATL’s options to appeal against it did not, legally, count as a formal “assessment” of tax due.

If the letter did not count as a formal “assessment” of tax due, ATL’s barrister Michael Firth argued, everything HMRC did after that point was wrong. What it had done through Bailey’s letter, in Lord Justice Singh’s summary of Firth’s courtroom arguments, was “not accept the VAT return as filed by [ATL] as being correct”. This was different, the barrister said, from an assessment of tax due.

Lord Justice Singh dismissed this, ruling: “A notification of an assessment can be contained simply in a letter”, also dismissing the suggestion that Bailey’s previous admission to the First-Tier Tribunal at a much earlier stage in this case, namely that he didn’t think he had made a formal assessment of ATL’s VAT bill, was determinative.

ATL used to be the corporate entity behind the PC component reseller website, now operated by Velo Systems Ltd, another of sole ATL director and shareholder Aria Taheri’s companies. Taheri has always denied that his company took part in fraud. He also denies the FTT’s finding that he personally knew or ought to have known of the fraud.