Vikna Rajah is a member of Rajah & Tann’s Executive Management Committee and head of the firm’s Tax and Trust & Private Client Practices.
Vikna advises clients on complex income tax, GST, stamp duty, property tax and tax treaty issues, and specialises in contentious civil tax disputes with IRAS, tax structuring and criminal tax litigation. He has a track record of successfully and effectively resolving multi-million dollar disputes with IRAS and is regularly instructed by multi-national companies, other top-tier law firms and Big 4 accounting firms.
Vikna has been consistently recognised as “Highly Regarded” in the “tax controversy” practice area by ITR World Tax 2021 – 2023 and a ‘Litigation Star’ by Benchmark Litigation Asia Pacific 2021. He is ranked ‘Distinguished Practitioner’ in tax by Asialaw Profiles 2020 – 2023, ‘Leading Individual’ in tax by The Legal 500 Asia Pacific 2017 – 2023, and a leading tax lawyer by Chambers Asia Pacific 2017 – 2023. He led the Tax Practice to clinch Singapore’s Tax Disputes and Litigation Firm of the Year by the International Tax Review 2017. He is praised in legal directories as being an “experienced litigator” with “extensive tax knowledge”, and “an extremely intelligent man” who is “excellent to work with”. He also combines “very deep technical expertise with acute commercial acumen”, while “carefully listening to his clients and putting himself in their shoes”.
Vikna is also acclaimed as a leading Trust & Private Wealth lawyer in Southeast Asia and is recognised as the go-to lawyer for novel, complicated cross-border estate planning and structuring. He is regularly engaged to advise leading trust companies and ultra-high net worth families to create family offices and multi-generational trusts that best address their succession planning needs, thereby ensuring the smooth transition of the management and ownership of operating companies to preserve their value. To date, Vikna has advised on the setting up of approximately 100 family offices in Singapore.
Vikna has been named as one of the world’s Leading Experts in Private Client Practice by Who’s Who Legal since 2017 and ranked as a Band 1 Lawyer in Private Wealth law by Chambers Net Worth 2021. Most recently, he won “Lawyer of the Year” for Trusts and Estates in Singapore by The Best Lawyers in Singapore 2022, as well as “Private Client Lawyer of the Year” at The Asia Legal Awards 2017. Vikna is recognised as one of the Top 15 Private Wealth Lawyers by Asian Legal Business 2022 and one of the world’s Top 250 Private Client Lawyers by Legal Week’s Private Client Global Elite 2018. Vikna is also ranked as a Leading Individual for Private Wealth by both The Legal 500 Asia Pacific 2023 and the Chambers High Net Worth Guide 2022. The Private Wealth Practice which he leads was recently awarded Best Private Client Team in Southeast Asia by WealthBriefingAsia Awards 2022, and has consistently been ranked Tier 1 by The Legal 500 Asia Pacific from 2017 – 2022.
Notable Cases & Transactions
Civil Tax Litigation
- Successfully acted for Herbalife International, one of the world’s largest global multi-level marketing corporations, before the Singapore High Court, which reversed the GST Board of Review’s decision on whether discounts granted to direct sellers constitute consideration for services supplied by them. The High Court’s landmark decision in Herbalife International Singapore Pte Ltd v Comptroller of Goods and Services Tax  SGHC 54 will have far-reaching implications on how IRAS will tax the multi-level marketing industry moving forward. The case is also notable for being the second GST case in Singapore’s history to reach the High Court.
Successfully acted for an investment holding company which actively traded a portion of shares in its portfolio, by persuading IRAS to segregate the different shares based on their holding periods, resulting in approximately S$50 million of investments being classified as capital in nature.
- Successfully acted for a wholly-owned subsidiary of a US-listed American company on the deductibility of certain platform contribution transaction payments made under a cost-sharing arrangement amounting to over S$200 million.
- Acted for a Singapore company before the Income Tax Board of Review and Singapore High Court on whether a cement silo is considered a plant for capital allowances purposes.
- Advised a Chinese video game developer and publisher on whether payments amounting to approximately US$100 million made in return for game software under certain agreements between related parties would qualify for a capital allowance claim in Singapore.
- Acted for a data centre company in a GST dispute with IRAS concerning the importation of servers and leaseback of such servers to overseas customers, specifically whether the leasing services could be zero-rated.
- Successfully acted for a Singapore real estate development company by persuading IRAS that the company was not a property holding entity, thereby avoiding the imposition of additional conveyance duties with respect to an ownership change in a joint venture for a residential development worth S$1.1 billion.
- Successfully acted for a commodities trading company by persuading IRAS to reverse its initial position and allow deductions on the license fees made to miners based outside Singapore which amounted to over US$900,000.
- Acted for a Singapore fibre network infrastructure provider in relation to IRAS’ disallowance of financing and corporate costs that were included in the valuation of certain fixed assets for capital allowance purposes.
- Acted for a leading Chinese software analytics company in respect of a capital allowances claim for the purchase of intellectual property rights and dispute with IRAS concerning the payment of royalties to a related party.
- Successfully acted for a non-profit professional institute in relation to an input tax claim arising from the construction of a S$50 million student hostel. Persuaded IRAS to reverse their initial view that the input tax claim of approximately S$4 million was not claimable, leading to the input tax claim being allowed in full.
Successfully represented an aircraft leasing company in a dispute with IRAS in relation to an aircraft held under foreign trusts by two of the company’s Singapore subsidiaries. Persuaded IRAS to reverse its advance ruling and find that the Singapore subsidiaries qualify for the concessionary income tax rate available to qualified lessors under the ITA.
Criminal Tax Litigation
- Acted for an individual in the first GST evasion case to be decided under the new sentencing framework laid down by the High Court in Public Prosecutor v Pua Om Tee (MA 9019 of 2021). Successfully managed to reduce the proposed term of imprisonment by 6 months.
- Acted for the accused in a case involving fraudulent GST evasion by under-declaration of the value of imported goods, where the Courts imposed a fine of five times the value of the tax evaded, half the amount the Customs Prosecutor was seeking.
- Acted for the accused in relation to charges under section 37J of the ITA and successfully reduced the charge of wilfully with intent to obtain a Productivity and Innovation Credit (“PIC”) cash payout to a lesser charge of providing false information without reasonable excuse to obtain a PIC cash payout.
Trust & Private Wealth
- Advised a leading bank-owned professional trustee company on their exit from the Singapore market and drafted bespoke trust deeds to effect the appointment of a new professional trustee company in respect of approximately 90 private trusts.
- Led the sale of Heritage Trust Group, one of Asia’s leading trust companies, to Equiom Group (South East Asia) Pte Ltd.
- Established a complex succession planning trust for one of the most prominent Asian families with three generations situated across the globe and over S$1 billion in assets.
- Advised one of the top 10 richest men in Malaysia on a complex succession planning trust involving over S$3 billion in assets.
- Advised one of the top 10 richest persons in the world on a complex family office structure involving a trust which was subsequently approved for a Section 13R scheme tax exemption.
- Advised the World Bank, Japan Government and Singapore Government on the establishment of a first of its kind Singapore law governed trust structure for the Southeast Asia Disaster Risk Insurance Facility (“SEADRIF”).
- Advised on the setting up of a charitable society on the giving of qurdanhasanaunder Syariah law, the first such charity in Singapore.
- Advised one of the world’s leading trust companies in a cross-border multi-million dollar dispute concerning disbursements from a trust tainted with allegations of fraud and dishonesty on part of one of the beneficiaries. The matter also required us to advise on the disclosure obligations under Singapore law on the part of the trustee as a result of US tax law.
- Advised on the consolidation of an ultra-high net worth family’s charitable trusts.
- Advised a ranked Forbes China Rich List individual on his overall relocation into Singapore as well as the establishment of a complex family office structure.
- Chairman, International Fiscal Association, Singapore Branch
- Member, Inquiry Panel, Law Society of Singapore
- Member, Tax and Trust Committee, Law Society of Singapore
- Member, Rotary Club of Singapore (Raffles City)
- Member, School Advisory Committee, Raffles Girls’ Primary School
- Member of the Board of Trustees, National Cancer Centre Research Fund
- Member, Institution Fund Committee, National Cancer Centre Singapore Cancer Fund
Publications and Speeches
Singapore Branch Reporter for the 2021 International Fiscal Association Cahiers de Droit Fiscal International on the topic: “Group Approach and Separate Entity Approach in Domestic and International Law”.
Singapore Branch Reporter for the 2018 International Fiscal Association Cahiers de Droit Fiscal International on the topic: “Anti-avoidance Measures of General Nature and Scope – GAAR and other Rules”.
Author for the Anti-Avoidance chapters of Lexis® Practical Guidance (Tax).
Author for the Singapore Chapter on Corporate Tax for the International Comparative Legal Guide.
Co-Author of a Practice Note titled “Establishing a Business Presence in Singapore”, published by Practical Law Global (Thomson Reuters).
Author for the Singapore Chapter of Planning and Administration of Offshore and Onshore Trusts.
Speaker for the Harvard Law School Lunchtime Talk Series on the “Exchange of Information Among Tax Authorities – Strengthening the Rule of Law in Asia”.