Tax in Belgium
Liedekerke Wolters Waelbroeck Kirkpatrick's team stands out for its 'top of the league expertise' in the gamut of contentious and non-contentious tax matters, under the leadership of practice head Jean-Michel Degée. It is praised for being 'professional, well informed and always up-to-date'. In addition, it is 'able to work efficiently within tight deadlines'. The group was strengthened in February 2018 by the arrival of counsel An Weyn, who has vast experience of advising family businesses and private clients, from Tiberghien. In other developments, real estate tax expert Pierre Desenfrans made partner, while Steven Peeters (who is knowledgeable about the tax aspects of M&A, financings, refinancings and restructurings) was promoted to counsel. In addition to real estate tax and other transactional tax work, the firm has a standout reputation for tax disputes; 'its experience can make the difference in difficult and complex litigation'. Transfer pricing litigation makes up a significant portion of the caseload. On a related note, Daniel Garabedian was recently admitted to the bar of the Belgian Court of Cassation, joining Simone Nudelholc as two of only 20 practitioners in Belgium. Laurence Pinte, who has previously headed up the tax department of a listed international group in the financial sector, is also noted. Henk Verstraete moved to Stibbe.
Linklaters has 'great people to work with' on the tax aspects of domestic and cross-border transactions (corporate, capital markets, real estate, finance and restructurings), and also tax audits and litigation (including VAT litigation and criminal tax litigation). Its team also advises on tax structuring pertaining to holding companies, research and development, financing, sales and marketing, and various other business activities. Henk Vanhulle heads up the Belgian tax practice, working alongside Nicolas Lippens and Guido De Wit. Another name to note is managing associate Caroline Borgers, who is 'exceptionally bright, highly efficient and a real pleasure to work with on a personal level'. Another managing associate, Wouter Verhoeye, is also highly regarded. Svjatoslav Gnedasj moved to Eubelius. Clients include Proximus, Belfius Bank and AXA.
Loyens & Loeff's team, which delivers 'value for money', is praised by clients for being 'responsive, flexible and creative'. It forms part of a larger group that has a strong Benelux presence. In addition to having a first-rate reputation in corporate tax, the firm fields specialists in various other areas. Christian Chéruy, Marc Dhaene, Caroline Docclo and Bert Gevers are experienced in assisting clients with filing tax returns, the checking process by the Belgian Tax Administration, administrative appeals and criminal litigation. Practice head Natalie Reypens leads a team that advises clients on a wide range of transfer pricing issues. Saskia Lust and Nicolas Bertrand are particularly knowledgeable about issues specific to family businesses, entrepreneurs and high-net-worth individuals. Gunther Valkenborg specialises in compensation and benefits issues. On the transactional side, Chéruy and senior associate Jérôme Wauthier advised CTH on the tax aspects of its $2.8bn acquisition of Nestlé's US confectionery business in 2017.
Boutique firm Tiberghien is 'a real leader in Belgian tax'. Reflective of its market-leading reputation, 'each partner is a champion in his/her field'. Led by Koen Morbée, the team covers all areas of tax for corporates, private clients and institutions. Morbée has a wealth of expertise in the Belgian tax aspects of corporate, financing and real estate transactions. Bernard Peeters has specialist knowledge of double tax treaties. Claudine Bodeux, who is particularly active in real estate transactions and infrastructure projects, made partner in 2018, along with Robin Minjauw and Griet Vanden Abeele. Another name to note is Stijn Vastmans, who heads up the VAT, customs and excises department. Gerd Goyvaerts, Alain Van Geel, Koen Van Duyse (he has 'a pragmatic approach to the most complex issues') and counsel Ivo Vande Velde are among various other standout practitioners. An Weyn moved to Liedekerke Wolters Waelbroeck Kirkpatrick.
Allen & Overy LLP
Allen & Overy LLP, whose tax practice is headed up by seasoned expert Patrick Smet, is regularly sought out in high-profile tax investigations. It is also held in high esteem by clients in transactional and advisory matters. Smet's team includes counsel Stéphanie Houx, who is knowledgeable about VAT (and other indirect taxes) and real estate tax. Another key figure is senior associate Isabelle Panis, who handles direct and indirect tax matters for multinationals, private equity houses and financial institutions. Ageas, Domo Investment Group, CVC Capital Partners and Immobel are among the active clients. Associate Guillaume Delfosse joined from Tiberghien.
Baker McKenzie CVBA/SCRL is a strong choice for domestic and international tax planning and litigation. Its longstanding clients include Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Tupperware and Johnson Controls. The firm's international reach makes it well placed to provide planning advice on a company's international tax structure across multiple jurisdictions. It also has an excellent record handling the tax aspects of inbound and outbound M&A, private equity and corporate finance transactions, as well as fund structurings. The team includes Géry Bombeke, who heads up the Belgian transfer pricing practice, and Brussels practice head Alain Huyghe, who focuses on tax controversy work. Also recommended are Luc Meeus, and senior associates Thomas Gernay (a recent hire from Tiberghien) and Julie Permeke.
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer
Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer's tax team works with practitioners across the network, and with experts in other disciplines, to assist Belgian and international corporates and financial institutions with tax issues associated with their most complex transactions and restructurings. The firm's outstanding reputation for tax work is reflected by the fact that its longstanding clients include Telenet, AB InBev, Siemens and Greenyard. Practice head Axel Haelterman has an excellent track record in tax litigation, having involvement in a number of landmark judgements, and he is also experienced in transactional and other non-contentious advisory matters. Haelterman and counsel Nikolaas Van Robbroeck are advising the Belgian state and SFPI/FPIM on the tax aspects of the ongoing IPO of Belfius Bank.
Deloitte Legal provides an array of tax solutions to its clients. It has a highly-rated tax advisory team, which is co-led by VAT specialist Danny Stas and international tax expert Tim Wustenberghs, and provides a wide range of services to Belgian and international corporates, and various other clients. It covers international tax planning, corporate transactions, reorganisations and negotiations of tax rulings. In addition to acting for clients on a standalone basis, it also works closely with Deloitte Belgium's tax department, enabling clients to benefit from the full scope of legal and consultancy advice. Elsewhere, Mathieu Ex and others provide bespoke wealth structuring and wealth management advice to ultra high-net-worth individuals and families, while Annick Visschers heads up the tax controversy team. In a recent development, Nancy Muyshondt made partner. Filip Smet and Alexander Baert are notable senior associates.
Bloom Law Firm
Bloom Law Firm has made a significant impact on the market since its inception in 2015. Its high-quality team is regularly sought-out by the Belgian and regional governments for opinions on new tax legislation. It also acts for multinational companies and high-net-worth individuals. Equally strong in tax litigation and advisory matters, the group's expertise spans areas such as personal and corporate income tax, registration duties and inheritance tax, among others. Bart Buelens, who is a VAT specialist, joined in September 2018. The practice heads are Michel Maus, Mark Delanote and Denis-Emmanuel Philippe.
Clifford Chance's tax team in Brussels 'goes hand in hand' with big-ticket, cross-border corporate and M&A deals, as well as financing transactions. It is also notably active in the real estate space, where it provides input on fund structurings, financings and investments. Tax litigation is another mainstay of the practice. Alexandre Ooms leads the team, which includes senior associate Pierre-Olivier van Caubergh ('a smart guy'). Ooms advised French listed company Gfi Informatique on the Belgian and French tax aspects of its proposed €196m acquisition of Belgian listed IT company Realdolmen. KanAm, Mitiska and Cobepa are among other active clients.
Eubelius' Wouter Claes and counsel Korneel Decroix 'provide tax advice in a pragmatic manner', and are experienced in assisting corporate clients with the direct and indirect tax aspects of M&A and real estate transactions. Aside from real estate, Decroix (who is particularly noted for his expertise in complex VAT issues) undertakes work for clients in the public, healthcare and not-for-profit sectors. Another key figure at the firm is tax litigator Svjatoslav Gnedasj, who joined in January 2018 from Linklaters, and co-heads the practice with Claes. A recent highlight for the team involved assisting Triple Living with the tax aspects of its acquisition of Land Invest Group.
PwC Legal has a standout reputation in tax-related dispute resolution, where it handles some of the most complex cases in Belgium and internationally; its sizeable team has extensive expertise in all aspects of direct and indirect tax controversy. In addition, tax policy work is another bedrock of the practice; its strengths in this space see it advise government agencies, multinational companies, revenue authorities, supranational bodies and NGOs, among other clients. Practice head Ine Lejeune has 34 years of experience assisting businesses and business associations with tax policy matters, while Véronique De Brabanter has been active in tax-related administrative and court proceedings for Belgian and international clients for 24 years. Tim Van Sant, who joined in October 2018 from the Cabinet of the Belgian Minister of Finance, is experienced in indirect tax policy and tax litigation matters. Other members of the team include senior managing associates Charlene Herbain, Karolien Vandenberghe and Evy Peters.
Stibbe, which has a leading position in the Benelux market, bolstered its tax offering by hiring Henk Verstraete and three other practitioners from Liedekerke Wolters Waelbroeck Kirkpatrick in July 2018. Verstraete's varied experience includes advising on the tax aspects of corporate and financial transactions, tax litigation, transfer pricing and other tax advisory work. Wim Panis leads the team, which works alongside practitioners active in other disciplines to cover the full spectrum of Belgium and international tax matters for Belgian companies, multinational corporates and financial institutions, among other clients. Panis was part of the cross-practice group, which recently assisted property fund management company Eurocommercial Properties with expanding its retail portfolio by acquiring the Woluwe shopping centre in Brussels. Recently promoted counsel Giovanni Smet advised Monument Re on the tax aspects of a series of acquisitions, notably its acquisitions of ABN Amro Life Capital NV from ABN Amro, the First A Portfolio from Belgian insurer Ethias and of Aspecta Assurance International Luxembourg. On the contentious side, Panis and others are representing Port of Antwerp in a high-profile case, which concerns the Belgian income tax regime for seaports. Of counsel Thierry Denayer is also recommended.
ARGO Law's 'open and transparent' team handles a mix of domestic and cross-border tax work, where it leverages its 'profound knowledge of the law' to deliver 'no-nonsense' advice. It is equally familiar acting for family businesses and their shareholders in private client tax matters, as well advising corporate clients (including private equity funds, listed companies and private businesses) on corporate tax issues; 'it goes far beyond the pure tax structuring that most firms offer'. The firm's private clients can count on the experience of Hannes Casier for advice on inheritance and gift tax, among various other matters. In the corporate tax sphere, Philippe Rens undertakes standalone advisory work for clients such as Van Hool and Reynaers Aluminium, and also plays a key role in corporate and capital markets transactions, as well tax litigation. Rens assisted Sofindev with the tax aspects of its investment in Group Claes. Alain Nijs and Joris Draye recently departed for NijsDraye (an independent law firm that serves high-net-worth families).
Bird & Bird's team has niche experience of tax matters that interface with intellectual property issues. Brent Springael and senior associate Pierre Hechtermans acted for Mediahuis in an application to extend the application of a tax ruling (which stated that the freelance journalist industry was able to benefit from a special tax regime for copyright remuneration) to freelancers in the audio-visual sector. The group also acts for clients including Ironshore, Richemont and Sabam, among many others.
CMS' team provides day-to-day assistance with matters concerning areas such as VAT and tax incentives. In addition, it has expertise in more strategic issues, such as inter-group restructurings, transfer pricing, reporting obligations and tax litigation; 'what makes the practice unique is that it has everything in-house - you can ask any tax question concerning any country and you will always have a complete answer '. Also notable is that the team 'gives you an answer very quickly, and the answers are very precise'. The firm's strong offering ensures that it generates work from many leading Belgian and international companies, including Deliveroo and Airbus. It also acts for the Belgian government; in a notable mandate, Olivier Querinjean and Annabelle Lepièce are advising Service Public Fédéral Finances (SPF Finance) on an ECJ preliminary ruling procedure, which relates to the recovery of state aid granted by the Belgian government to a multinational company. Further showcasing the strengths of the practice, Didier Grégoire and others acted for Gesmall on the development of its business in Iran and Morocco, which involved handling the related international tax aspects. Grégoire was also the lead adviser to a consortium - consisting of Unibail-Rodamco, Besix and CFE - on all tax issues associated with the development of the Mall of Europe in Belgium.
Olivier Bertin heads up DALDEWOLF's tax group, which has extensive expertise in assisting clients with tax optimisation strategies in the context of corporate reorganisations and joint ventures, usufruct and bare ownership schemes and the incorporation of individual businesses, among others. It also represents clients in matters involving tax authorities; the scope of the work includes negotiations over tax regularisation, debt forgiveness/discharge plans and tax litigation. Yaël Spiegl, who made partner in January 2018, has notable specialisms in VAT and real estate taxation. 'Other than strictly resolving an issue, the tax team also anticipates potential difficulties in related areas'.
DLA Piper hired Philippe Hinnekens from Laurius in May 2018 to head up its tax practice in Brussels, succeeding the former head Ortwin Carron, who left the firm to practise independently. Hinnekens' arrival is part of a major expansion of the firm's tax offering in Europe, which has seen the firm hire practitioners in other key jurisdictions, such as Italy, France and Austria. The team (which also includes Gregory Komlosi) advises clients on direct and indirect tax issues connected with Belgian and cross-border corporate restructurings, joint ventures real estate transactions, and various other matters. Al Jazeera Media Network, Pfizer and The Institute for European Environmental Policy are among the clients of the practice.
EY Law (formerly known as HVG advocaten-avocats) is part of a much larger international network of legal practices, which spans 80 countries. Its tax team is led by tax controversy specialist Leen Ketels, who assists clients with tax audits, administrative appeals and tax litigation. On a related note, the firm's close association with EY Tax Consultants enables clients to benefit from the full scope of legal and consultancy advice on preventing tax controversies and implementing best practice management strategies. The synergies created by the assocation between the law firm and EY Tax Consultants are also reflected in other areas, including group restructurings, M&A transactions and administrative appeals. In addition to acting for corporate clients, Ketel's team serves private clients in various personal and business tax planning matters. Senior associates Elisabeth De Nolf and Ahmed El Jilali are names to note.
Since 2008, Mayer Brown has had a European transfer pricing centre, which is headquartered in Brussels and is led by Astrid Pieron. It works across offices to assist clients with optimising their transfer pricing strategies across multiple jurisdictions. The European transfer pricing centre is a key part of a much larger global transfer pricing practice. Elsewhere, Pieron and others assist clients with handling tax issues related to finance and M&A transactions. In addition, tax litigation is another mainstay of the workload. ING, Santo Domingo Group and Cacib are key clients.
Led by Christiaan Barbier, Monard Law's team handles contentious and non-contentious tax matters for private individuals, corporate clients and public authorities. In the corporate sphere, it provides strategic tax advice in the context of mergers, acquisitions, reorganisations and the development of stock option plans. Frédéric Lettany recently acted as tax counsel to Rexel Belgium on its carve-out acquisition of Figibel's electrical appliances business and on its acquisition of DES Elektro. Hilde Van den Keybus advises private clients on estate and succession planning (including inheritance-related) issues. On the contentious side, the team assists clients with tax audits, administrative proceedings and other tax litigation. Reinhold Tournicourt is also recommended.
NautaDutilh's hire of Ken Lioen from EY in August 2017 to head up the tax practice has seen the firm's profile grow in the market, with it winning a number of new clients and consolidating relationships with existing ones. Lioen's team assists clients with setting up management incentive plans, group reorganisations, tax issues in M&A and finance deals, VAT and registration tax matters, and tax litigation, among many other areas.
Osborne Clarke's practice head Laurent Donnay de Casteau, who has circa 20 years of experience of corporate, indirect and personal tax matters, 'always makes himself available to talk' and provides 'first-class advice'. De Casteau and senior associate Olivier Lambillon are increasingly sought after to handle tax issues with an international dimension for industry-leading players in sectors that are of core strategic focus to the firm, such as digital business, retail, real estate, life sciences, private equity and finance. In addition to advising clients on the strategic tax aspects of cross-border corporate structurings and restructurings, the team also provides assistance with tax-related aspects of M&A and private equity transactions, as well as tax litigation. In 2018, De Casteau and Lambillon advised TiGenix on the tax treatment of stock option plans, as well as other tax issues, in connection with a proposed €520m public takeover of the company by Takeda.