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Thursday, 29 February 2024

Navigating the Nuances: The Administrative Court's Interpretation of Loan vs. Equity Characteristics

Michiel Boeren

Michiel Boeren

Executive Director
Madeline Morel

Madeline Morel

Senior Associate
Maxime Grosjean

Maxime Grosjean

Senior Associate

On 23 November 2023, in case number 48125C, the Luxembourg Administrative Court overruled a decision rendered by the Administrative Tribunal on 23 September 2022.


  • In this decision, the Court faced the task of determining the tax classification for an interest-free loan that was granted to a Luxembourg company which had claimed deductions for notional interest.
  • The Court reaffirmed the 'substance over form' approach in tax matters, emphasizing that economic reality takes precedence over the legal form of a financial instrument.
  • Factors such as the maturity date, the use of the borrowed funds, the existence of shareholders rights such as voting or profit participation, the presence of guarantees, and the level of subordination are notably deemed important by the Court for the qualification of the instrument as debt or equity.
  • These characteristics must be assessed in a global analysis within the context and market practices in which the transaction occurs.
  • Beyond the characteristics of the instrument, the actual behavior of the parties involved remains also important and cannot be only assumed.


In this case, a Luxembourg-based company (the 'Company') received an interest-free loan ('IFL') from its shareholder, financed by a profit-participating loan. Although the IFL did not involve interest payments, the Company deducted notional interest for tax purposes in line with its transfer pricing documentation. Tax authorities challenged this deduction, arguing that the loan should be classified as equity rather than debt. This dispute escalated from tax assessments to the Tribunal, which ruled in favor of the tax authorities. Subsequently, the Company appealed to the Administrative Court.


The main dispute centered on the tax classification of the IFL extended to the Company, with a particular focus on its characteristics as a loan. The tax authorities argued that, according to Luxembourg tax law, the principle of 'substance over form' mandates that the economic reality of a transaction should determine whether a financial instrument is classified as debt or equity. On this basis, they considered that the IFL should be treated as equity, similar to a hidden capital contribution, since a capital increase would normally be the preferred financing method for genuine business reasons and since the decision to structure it as a loan was mainly motivated by tax advantages. The Tribunal sided with the tax authorities, ruling that the IFL bore more characteristics of equity than debt, evidenced by:

  • Maturity dates of 8 and 10 years;
  • A limited recourse clause;
  • No interest;
  • An option for the lender to convert the loan into shares.

Readers can refer to our preceding newsflash for more context on the Tribunal’s decision.


The Court's approach in assessing the nature of the loan focused on the economic characteristics of the transaction. The Court examined how the loan integrates into the company's overall operations, including the lender's role as a shareholder, to discern any intent to disguise the true nature of the fund provision.

In its analysis of the IFL, the Court could consider the following main points:

  • Maturity Date: a duration of 8-10 years is not particularly long and does not imply the lender's intention to invest.
  • Debt-to-Equity Ratio: the existing regulations at the time of the transaction allowed for a minimal equity requirement, thus the significant loan amount compared to equity does not by itself suggest disguised equity.
  • Profit Participation or shareholder rights: the lack of entitlement to income or liquidation surplus, along with the absence of shareholder rights such as voting, does not indicate equity.
  • Subordination: the loan was subordinated to a bank debt of the company, however, subordination of intragroup loans to bank debt is a common practice and required by financial institutions.
  • Limited recourse clause: although it transfers investment risk to the borrower, limited recourse clauses are commonly used and do not eliminate the mandatory repayment obligation.
  • Actual Repayment: The Company's repayment before the maturity date demonstrated the loan's nature as a debt.

Overall, the Court concluded that most of the relevant characteristics of the IFL supported its classification as a debt instrument, thus affirming the Company's ability to deduct the notional interest.

The tax authorities did not dispute the principle of deducting notional interest on a debt instrument, which was also treated as income at the shareholder's level, nor its conformity with arm's length standards, therefore the court did not further explore this matter.


A transaction, even if formally structured as a loan, may receive a different tax treatment if its characteristics align more closely with equity. The decision provides helpful clarifications on the relevant criteria of distinction and their interpretation by the highest administrative jurisdiction. It also highlights the importance of thoroughly evaluating the substance of financial transactions, in their specific context and regardless of their formal structure, to ensure consistent tax treatment.


For any further questions or assistance, please do not hesitate to contact your trusted Tiberghien advisor.

Michiel Boeren

Michiel Boeren

Executive Director
Madeline Morel

Madeline Morel

Senior Associate
Maxime Grosjean

Maxime Grosjean

Senior Associate
Tiberghien Brussels

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