November 20, 2023
Saudi Arabia approves new operating procedures of the General Secretariat of Zakat, Tax and Customs Committees
On 23 October 2023, Royal Decree No. 25711 dated 08/04/1445H promulgated the New Operating Procedures (New Procedures) of the General Secretariat of Zakat, Tax and Customs Committees (GSZTCC), codifying various practices followed by the GSZTCC and introducing specific provisions for customs-related disputes.
The New Procedures were published in the Official Gazette on 27 October 2023 and are effective from the date of their publication.
In December 2019, Royal Decree No. 26040 dated 21/04/1441H (18 December 2019) approved the Operating Procedures for the General Secretariat of Tax Committees (GSTC).
Prior to the issuance of the New Procedures, the GSTC has followed various practices that remained uncodified. In addition, there were no operating procedures that specifically apply to customs related disputes.
To improve the existing state of affairs, the New Procedures were issued.
Highlights of the New Procedures
The New Procedures introduce a provision stating that the registration of cases, filing of memorandums, and undertaking of other litigation procedures may be done either electronically or in person.
The New Procedures clarify that all statutory timelines in relation to disputes are to be calculated from the day following the day the decision being appealed is received.
The term "Subject Jurisdiction" is introduced in addition to "Territorial Jurisdiction" in the New Procedures. The Committees are now arranged according to "Subject Jurisdiction," with specific Committees specializing in tax and zakat cases and others specializing in customs-related cases. In general, cases may be heard in any "Territorial Jurisdiction," except for cases relating to customs smuggling crimes.
The New Procedures affirm that the assessments of the Zakat, Tax and Customs Authority (ZATCA) are deemed void and invalid if the assessment does not meet the statutory requirements stipulated in the Zakat, Tax and Customs Regulations.
The Articles of Association of the plaintiff, along with the ZATCA's objection number and a copy of the appealed decision, are now required to be included in the case file when registering a case.
Cases relating to customs smuggling are registered electronically via the GSZTCC portal, in accordance with specific requirements under Saudi Arabia's Law of Criminal Procedure and its Regulation.
When registering a case at the first level of appeal, the plaintiff must submit any missing requirements within 15 days from the date of receiving notification of the missing requirements. The case is considered "dismissed" if the requirements are not submitted within the 15-day period. However, the plaintiff may reserve the right to register a new case, without impacting the statutory timeline.
The New Procedures treat cases in which documents are missing when registering an appeal before the Appellate Committee differently — if the missing documents are not provided within 15 days, the specific Appellate Circuit may reject the appeal outright.
The appellee is given 30 days to respond to the appellant's claims, with a possible extension of 30 days. The appellant is given 10 days to respond to the appellee's viewpoints. If the appellant provides no response, the case is submitted "as is" for study by the competent circuit within the GSZTCC.
The New Procedures reduce the timeline for issuing decisions from 60 days to 30 days, although this timeline may be extended by 15 days, if needed.
If an expert opinion is required, the GSZTCC will assign an expert without the intervention of either party to the dispute. In the event the expert's fee is not paid by either party to the dispute, the competent circuit may suspend the proceedings until the fee is paid.
The New Procedures clarify that material errors may be rectified either directly by the circuit issuing the decision or based on the request of either party to the dispute. If the circuit rejects a request to rectify errors, the affected party may appeal that rejection.
The competent circuit may, at its own discretion, reverse its decision after it is announced and before handing it over to the parties to the dispute, without holding an additional hearing, as long as the reasons for the reversal of the decision are documented in the updated minutes of the hearing.
The New Procedures dictate that the Appellate Committee should only review the decision issued by the Resolution Committee (first level of appeal) if the decision is based on formality deficiencies. If the Appellate Committee deems that there are no formality deficiencies, it may send the case back to the Resolution Committee to decide on the case on its "subject."
The New Procedures clarify that in the cases where a committee decides a case in absentia, the party affected by the decision may submit an objection to the same committee within 30 days of the notification.
A case is deemed dismissed if the competent circuit requests information or documentation that is critical in concluding the decision and the plaintiff concerned does not respond to the request within 15 days or within the timeline specified by the circuit — whichever is longer. An additional 15 days may be granted by the circuit at the request of the plaintiff.
The New Procedures state that a case may temporarily be suspended until all Mutual Agreement Procedures (MAP) proceedings are completed.
The New Procedures establish that, in certain situations in which a case is dismissed, the statutory timelines for the proceedings would be suspended.
If the New Procedures do not cover a particular procedure, the parties and their counsel may refer to the Law of Civil Procedure, the Law of Criminal Procedure, and the Law of Procedure before the Board of Grievances and their regulations effective in Saudi Arabia.
Taxpayers, zakat payers and businesses should assess the applicability of the New Procedures to their specific case and undertake relevant actions accordingly.
For additional information with respect to this Alert, please contact the following:
Ernst & Young Professional Services (Professional LLC), Riyadh
Ernst & Young Professional Services (Professional LLC), Jeddah
Ernst & Young Professional Services (Professional LLC), Al Khobar
EY Consulting LLC, Dubai
Ernst & Young — Middle East, Bahrain
Ernst & Young LLP (United States), Middle East Tax Desk, New York
Published by NTD's Tax Technical Knowledge Services group; Carolyn Wright, legal editor