The Google tax shenanigan took yet another risible twist as the company's European boss told the UK's Public Accounts Committee (PAC) that he could not disclose his salary because he did not have the figure. The President of Google Europe, Matt Brittin, faced a grilling by MPs on 11 February following the fallout from last month's £130m (€165.8m, $187.9m) "sweetheart" settlement to cover a decade in back taxes.
PAC Chairwoman Meg Hillier asked a squirming Brittin how much he earns five times, drawing laughter from watching MPs. On the first occasion, Hillier asked: "What do you get paid, Mr Brittin?"
"If that's relevant, I'll happily disclose that to the Committee, what I understand is that –" he replied in an attempt to move swiftly on. A livid Hillier did not accept his response and asked him several more times. She eventually said: "You don't know what you get paid, Mr Brittin?" to the sound of derisory laughter.
Hillier said that Brittin must have "tin ears" if he could not understand why the public are angry at Google's £130m settlement in the UK, which is the company's second-biggest market. She said: "We are here for the taxpayers in Britain. Do you hear the anger and frustration out there that with these huge figures, you settled for a figure of £130 million? You're living on a different planet to most of our constituents." Chancellor George Osborne hailed the settlement as a victory.
Brittin responded: "I understand the anger and understand that people, when they see reported that we are paying 3% tax, would be angry. But we're not. We're paying 20% tax." But that is of taxable profits, not of sales, according to the BBC. The tech giant's global tax chief, Tom Hutchinson said Google did not negotiate the figure with HMRC.
The session offered yet more farcical statements from Brittin, who claimed: "We're paying the tax bill the taxman has asked us to pay in the UK. We can't legally pay more tax in the UK, there's no mechanism –". Again, he was cut short – this time by Conservative MP Richard Bacon, who immediately said: "That's actually not true. That's simply not true, you can hand in extra money to the consolidated fund any time you like."
Speaking after the hearing, Hillier said she was not happy with the answers and added that more truth was needed. "I came away from the committee feeling frustrated," she told The Memo. "Talking about tax can be endlessly frustrating, and today we didn't get to hear enough of the truth.
"Instead of the clear facts, we saw Google stressing its commitment to transparency over and over, without actually revealing what we needed to hear," she continued.
"During today's meeting they kept repeating that they pay 19% tax globally but offered nothing to back it up. They also claimed not to know how much Sundar Pichai, Google's CEO was paid, despite it being plastered across the news earlier this week. Even more surprisingly, their Head of Finance claimed not to know how much profit they had made in the last 5 years," Hillier said.
"That was why I asked Matt Brittin (Google's Head of Europe) how much he was paid, which he failed to reveal despite being asked 5 times. Hearing this made me feel like they are detached from the real world."