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苹果爱尔兰“总部”探秘

苹果爱尔兰“总部”探秘

Vivienne Walt 2013年11月05日
最近我们去了爱尔兰南部的考克郡,对苹果公司神秘莫测的全球总部进行了一次探访。而它的邻居们同样赫赫有名,都是戴尔、亚马逊、谷歌这样的科技巨头。这个小城为什么能吸引这么多大牌公司?因为它堪称一个避税天堂。
    爱尔兰考克郡的苹果公司办公楼

    苹果这家世界上最大的科技公司最近在考克郡设立了一间规模十分可观的运营中心。这个中心依山而建,地处爱尔兰南部的一个僻静小镇,门口有一个圆形路口,矗立着巨大的耶稣像。此地大概是距离在硅谷库比蒂诺(Cupertino)的苹果公司总部最远的地方了,两地相隔超过5,000英里。

    除此之外,苹果分布全球的五间子公司之一的苹果国际销售公司(Apple Sales International)也设立于这个约有12万人口的考克郡。这家公司主要负责iPad、iPhone、电脑和其他各种产品的全球经销业务。【苹果欧洲运营公司(Apple Operations Europe)、苹果国际运营公司(Apple Operations International)、苹果国际经销公司(Apple Distribution International)和苹果运营中心(Apple Operations)亦都设立于此。】这幢由红砖与玻璃构成的大楼附近并没有四通八达的高速公路,只有大片的草地和空荡荡的足球场,或许还能看到几匹咀嚼着青草的马儿。几英里开外,在布拉尼风雨欲来的天空下,奶牛们依然整天待在草地上,就跟乔布斯1980年来考克郡设立苹果海外运营中心时一模一样。

    从正面来看,苹果公司总部这栋朴实无华的现代三层楼建筑大概会被误认为是一所高中。不过,这里实在人迹罕至。《财富》杂志选择的探访时间是周二上午,保安们很快就注意到了在门口徘徊的记者。于是我们上前询问这里有没有能说得上话的人,保安回答说没有,离此地最近的公共关系部门在伦敦。

    除此之外,在这栋看似不起眼的大楼内进行的业务却在华盛顿掀起了轩然大波,如今这场风波的矛头直指爱尔兰。在五月举行的美国参议院听证会上,苹果公司力证自己规避约合440亿美元的政府税收的方法是在享受爱尔兰低至12.5%的企业所得税率的同时,又被该国税收机制视为无国籍企业,然后通过设立一系列的子公司达到完美避税。通过这种漏洞,苹果和其他公司得以将数十亿的利润顺利从爱尔兰通过荷兰再转移到零征税的英属维京群岛,这就是著名的“双层爱尔兰夹荷兰三明治”模式。而苹果公司始终坚持声称自己每赚40美元就给美国国税局贡献1美元税收。约翰•麦凯因议员(他是一名北爱尔兰移民后裔)虽然承认苹果公司确实是一个纳税大户,但他在五月份也指出苹果公司亦是“美国最大的逃税者之一”。

    这些财务手段并非无懈可击——事实上,细微的调整就可产生极大的影响。爱尔兰财政部长迈可•罗南在10月中旬已经宣布“双层爱尔兰”模式不再适用,都柏林政界似乎下定决心要一改自己“科技巨头避税天堂”的形象。爱尔兰首相恩达•肯尼于上周三晚间在都柏林对《财富》杂志和其他媒体说,他想要在全球范围内打击避税的行动中“做出表率”。

    但爱尔兰早已让科技巨头们赚的盆满钵满。驱车离开库克郡机场的这一路,最先映入眼帘的一片群楼是亚马逊(Amazon)和IBM的运营中心;戴尔(Dell)和马萨诸塞州的云计算公司EMC都在库克郡马洪区有自己的大楼。更多的美国科技公司则涌向了都柏林的硅港区(Silicon Docks),以至于爱尔兰工业发展局(Ireland's Industrial Development Agency),或称IDA,最近甚至专门制作了一个通过照片来展示各公司总部大楼的应用软件, Facebook、微软(Microsoft)和拥有爱尔兰全国最高大楼的谷歌(Google)均在展示之列。

    he biggest technology company on Earth has a sizable portion of its operations here on the outskirts of Cork, a provincial town in southern Ireland, up a hill past a traffic circle marked with a large statue of Jesus Christ on the cross. In other words, this is about as far as one can get from Apple's Silicon Valley base of Cupertino, more than five thousand miles away.

    And yet Cork -- population about 120,000 -- is home to five of Apple's global subsidiaries, including Apple Sales International, which manages the company's gargantuan global distribution and sales of iPads, iPhones, computers, and its many other devices. (Also here are Apple Operations Europe, Apple Operations International, Apple Distribution International, and Apple Operations.) Yet there are no multi-lane highways across the street from its redbrick and glass building. Rather, a pair of horses munches on a rangy patch of grass, near to an empty soccer field, while a few miles away, dairy cows laze on the green fields of Blarney under a stormy sky -- just as they did decades ago, when Steve Jobs flew into Cork in 1980 to open Apple's overseas operation.

    From the front, Apple HQ could well be mistaken for a high school, bland and modern, and just three stories high. And foot traffic is thin enough that when Fortune wandered up to the entrance on Tuesday morning, security guards quickly took notice. Was there anyone we could say hello to, we asked? No, the nearest public-relations staffer was in London.

    Despite that, the activities inside this modest building have provoked a firestorm in Washington, which has now rippled all the way back to Ireland. In U.S. Senate hearings last May, Apple (AAPL) struggled to explain how it had managed to avoid an estimated $44 billion or so in U.S. taxes, by taking advantage of Ireland's 12.5% corporate tax rate, as well as mechanisms that effectively rendered it stateless for tax purposes. One loophole has allowed Apple and others to shunt billions in profits from Ireland through the Netherlands to the tax-free British Virgin Islands, by setting up a web of subsidiaries perfectly tailored to avoiding taxes, in the famously-named "Double Irish with a Dutch sandwich" accounting method. Apple insists it contributes about $1 in every $40 in corporate taxes the IRS collects. And while Sen. John McCain (himself a descendent of Irish immigrants from Ulster) admits Apple is a big taxpayer, he pointed out last May that it was also "among America's largest tax avoiders."

    Those accounting acrobatics could be changing -- if only by a little. Ireland's Finance Minister Michael Noonan declared in mid-October that the country was finally canceling the Double Irish. Politicians in Dublin do seem keen to shake off the image of running a tax haven for tech giants, with Prime Minister Enda Kenny telling Fortune and other journalists in Dublin on Wednesday evening that he wanted to "be on the forefront of the response" in the global crackdown on tax avoidance.

    But Ireland is now stuffed with tech giants. Drive out of Cork's small airport, and among the first buildings you see are large operations for Amazon (AMZN) and IBM (IBM); Dell and the Massachusetts cloud-computing company EMC (EMC) each has a large building in Cork's Mahon district. In Dublin, so many U.S. technology companies are squeezed into the city's Silicon Docks that Ireland's Industrial Development Agency, or IDA, recently launched an app showing photos of headquarters buildings for dozens of companies, including Facebook, Microsoft, and Google, which now has the tallest building in the country.

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