European regulators launched inquiries into the tax affairs of Apple, Fiat and Starbucks on Wednesday, saying sweetheart deals the companies allegedly negotiated with governments in Ireland, the Netherlands and Luxembourg could be illegal.

«Under the EU’s state aid rules, national authorities cannot take measures allowing certain companies to pay less tax than they should if the tax rules of the Member State were applied in a fair and non-discriminatory way,» said Joaquín Almunia, the European Commission’s competition commissioner, in a statement announcing the investigation.

Brussels does not have direct authority over national tax systems but can investigate whether certain advantageous fiscal regimes would constitute unjustifiable state aid to companies. In that case, Joaquín Almunia explained that the EU could seek both to close the tax loophole and seek funds back, making a “decision on recovery”.

Both Ireland and the Netherlands said they were confident that there had been no breach in state aid rules.

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