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India Could Tax GE, AT&T, After Vodafone Ruling

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- India's tax authorities could probe General Electric (GE), AT&T (T), SABMiller, Sanofi-Aventis (SNY), and Mitsui (MITSY) deals in India after receiving a favorable verdict on a Vodafone (VOD) acquisition.

During 2007, Vodafone bought Hutchison's (HTX) stake in the Hutchison-Essar joint venture for $11.1 billion. After the deal, India's tax authorities contended that Vodafone was liable to pay capital gains tax on the deal as it involved the transfer of assets in India through an overseas transaction.

However, Vodafone maintained it wasn't obligated to pay the tax as Vodafone International Holdings BV, a Dutch subsidiary of the group, acquired the stake from Cayman Islands-based CGP Investments, which, in turn, held Hutchinson's India assets. On Wednesday, the Bombay High Court ruled that Vodafone pay a $2.6 billion tax from the acquisition.

Vodafone currently is the second-largest cellular service provider in India and crossed 100 million subscribers during April. India is an important market for Vodafone as it accounts for around 7% of the group's revenue share.

This verdict could have a substantial impact on similar transactions in the past by international companies. In 2004, GE sold a 60% stake in Genpact, India's largest business process outsourcing firm, to private-equity firms General Atlantic and Oak Hill Partners. The transaction was completed in the U.S. and was never taxed in India. India's tax authorities have filed a case, which is pending in the Delhi High Court.

AT&T, through its Mauritian subsidiary, in 2005 sold a 16.5% stake in Idea Cellular to Tata Group for $150 million. The dispute is pending before the Bombay High Court, and AT&T finds itself in a similar quandary as Vodafone.

In 2006, SABMiller acquired a 100% stake in an Indian subsidiary of Australia-based Fosters. The deal was completed on foreign soil and the company is locked in a legal battle in India.

In 2009, France-based pharmaceutical company Sanofi Aventis acquired a 90% share in India-based Shantha Biotech through a special purpose vehicle Merieux Alliance for $770 million. The case is before the Bombay High Court.

In the metals and mining space, Japan-based Mitsui sold a 51% stake in Sesa Goa to Vedanta Group (mini-BHP in making) through U.K.-based Finsider. As with other acquisitions, it was an overseas transaction, and the matter is pending before the Goa High Court in India.

Karvy Global Services (www.karvyglobal.com), a subsidiary of the Karvy group (www.karvy.com), provides specialized research in asset classes including stocks, mutual funds and insurance to leading Wall Street firms.

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