Tags: buffett | tax | netjets

Government Sues Warren Buffett Firm Over Taxes

Tuesday, 27 Mar 2012 11:07 AM

Legendary investor Warren Buffett, who grabbed headlines and ruffled feathers by saying that the rich don't pay enough in taxes, is being sued by the government to pay more taxes, the New York Times reports.

Or at least one of his companies is.

The government has filed a lawsuit against a unit of Buffett’s investment vehicle Berkshire Hathaway, seeking $366 million in unpaid taxes and penalties, the newspaper reports.

The unit in question is NetJets, a private aircraft company that caters to the wealthy, the very people riled by Buffett's tax proposals.

The company and the government are at odds over whether a certain tax applies to NetJets users.

Commercial airline passengers pay a ticket tax of 7.5 percent of the ticket price plus $3.80 for each leg of travel, according to the Times.

However, NetJets operates like a time-share, meaning the users buy into the aircraft, so the debate centers around whether or not those users have to pay the ticket tax since they aren't actually buying tickets.

"It’s funny — it’s a great irony," Keith G. Swirsky, a lawyer at GKG Law who runs the firm’s aviation practice, tells the Times.

"He’s got an excellent argument," says Swirsky, who is not involved in the case, adding "he shouldn’t pay taxes that are not properly due."

Last year, Buffett sparked a national debate and even tax policy changes when he said his secretary pays more of a percentage of her income in taxes than he does due to different rates, loopholes and other traits embedded in the country's tax code.

President Barack Obama has proposed raising taxes on the wealthy, dubbed a "Buffett Tax" by the media.

In 2011, NetJets posted a $227 million pretax profit thanks to turnaround policies seeking to pare down $1.9 billion in debts.

"A few years ago NetJets was my number one worry: Its costs were far out of line with revenues, and cash was hemorrhaging," Buffett wrote in a recent annual letter to Berkshire shareholders, Reuters adds.

"These problems are behind us."

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