Apple's long history of using tax shelters is finally coming under European scrutiny. EU regulators have begun "formal investigations" into Apple's tax practices, which are responsible for funneling company revenue into Ireland since 1980, saving Apple $74 billion between 2010 and 2013.

According to The Wall Street Journal, antitrust regulators are probing Apple's relationship with Ireland over concerns that those billions in savings amount to "illegal state aid."

"In the current context of tight public budgets, it is particularly important that large multinationals pay their fair share of taxes," said EU antitrust chief Joaquín Almunia. [...]

At issue are so-called transfer-pricing arrangements, under which companies can redistribute profit within a group by charging for goods or services sold by one subsidiary to another, typically located in different countries. Experts say transfer pricing can help companies to minimize their tax bills.

Mr. Almunia said that such arrangements could violate EU rules on state aid if certain companies are allowed to engage in transfer pricing that doesn't reflect market terms.

Both Apple and Ireland deny there is any preferential agreement between the two. Apple insists, "[we pay] every euro of every tax that we owe." If the investigation lands in court, Ireland intends on defending themselves "vigorously."

[WSJ, Photo: Flickr/Steve Rhodes]