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Corporates find new route to save ECB tax
November, 28th 2006
Corporate acquisitions in India are setting a new trend in raising funds through the external commercial borrowing (ECB) route and at the same time saving on the withholding tax. 
Air-India, which is in the process of raising funds overseas to purchase Boeing aircraft, is planning to opt for lease financing rather than a direct purchase. 
Towards this, the public sector airliner and its consortium of lenders are setting up a special purpose vehicle (SPV) in a foreign country which would lease the aircraft to A-I. The SPV would help A-I avoid paying withholding tax on overseas funds arranged. 
This is because the SPV will be launched by the lenders in such a country from where leasing aricraft to Indian companies are exempt from withholding tax under the current laws of international taxation. 
Usually, withholding tax is imposed by the government on the borrowings raised by domestic corporates from foreign banks. 
Sources say another reason for working out the SPV structure could be the fact that India was not one of the signatories to the cape town convention on aviation protocol. 
While the country for setting the SPV is yet to be decided, the shares of the SPV will be held either by the overseas lenders or jointly by A-I and the lenders. 
Therefore, going forward, if there is any problem in repayment, these lenders should not face any legal hassles in getting the issues sorted, said the sources . The discussions are understood to be held at Chicago led by US EXIM. 
Similarly, in the case of Tata steel that is in a battle to acquire UK-based Corus Steel at a total cost of around $8.5 billion, is in the process of setting up three holding companies overseas for the purpose of finance. 
One such company will be based in the Netherlands and locations of the other two will be in countries where corporates are exempt from paying withholding taxes on their overseas borrowing, said a banking source. 
The plans are yet to the finalised. The company at present is arranging a bridge loan of around $1.4 billion which would be repaid from the total external commercial borrowing of around $6 billion. Rest will be managed through the company's own equity, said the source.
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