The Minister of Action and Public Accounts, Gérald Darmanin, unveils in an interview with “Echos” the new anti-fraud arsenal provided for in the finance bill. Back from Panama, he takes stock of the progress of the tax administration three years after the outbreak of the “Panama papers” scandal.
The great debate showed to what extent tax fraud was one of the concerns of the French. While the fight against fraud largely involves better international cooperation, France continues to tighten up its legislative arsenal to limit the loss of tax revenue and guarantee fairness with regard to taxes. The law on fraud, adopted a year ago, paved the way for greater criminalization of tax fraud, in particular with the opening of a mechanism deemed opaque, the “Bercy lock”. Other measures are to come in the finance bill which will be presented at the end of September in the Council of Ministers. Establishment of a tax intelligence unit, responsibility of e-commerce companies on VAT collection, blacklist of platforms: the Minister of Action and Public Accounts, Gérald Darmanin, reveals the outlines in an interview with “Echos”.
You are returning from a trip to Panama. Are trade with this country still unsatisfactory?
Panama has just elected a new government which shows the will to bring the country into common law. In his inaugural speech, the President of the Republic devoted a long time to the need to improve the image of Panama, degraded by the “Panama papers” affair, and to its desire to get out of the blacklists of the FATF or countries like France. I went there with a team from the tax administration to meet the new members of the government.
For the past two years, Panama has participated satisfactorily in the automatic exchange of information, but there is still progress to be made in cooperation between administrations, in particular on important files in connection with the “Panama papers”. We took the opportunity to sign a protocol providing for two meetings per year to facilitate the exchange of information. If this document is respected, we will study the possibility of removing Panama from the French list of tax havens.
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The “Panama papers” contained 500 French files. Three years later, what happened to them?
Of the 500 French cases, 50 are directly linked to Panama and were the subject of requests from us, which made it possible to identify around twenty offshore companies registered in this country. The other files are linked to a Panamanian firm, but the accounts and companies are located in other tax havens. The General Directorate of Public Finances (DGFIP) has made good progress on Panamanian issues as well as on others. At present, we have notified adjustments for 10% of cases, representing an amount of 130 million euros.
“Panama papers”: the tax authorities sent 500 requests for information
Will there be criminal consequences?
Absolutely. The law on fraud adopted last year now allows the administration to file a complaint for suspected tax evasion, without the opinion of the Commission des infractions fiscal (CIF). In the first half of the year, we lodged 28 complaints, 15 of which relate to “Panama papers”. The new tax police of Bercy, just inaugurated, could be seized by justice to try to characterize the fraud. Beyond these cases, we note that the opening of the “lock of Bercy” resulted in doubling the number of files transmitted to justice. There are now automatic transmission criteria, without the opinion of the CIF, which means that the magistrates received almost twice as many tax files in the first half of the year compared to last year: precisely, the administration transmitted some. 787, an increase of 85%.
Tax fraud has risen among the top concerns in the great debate. Can France do more?
The automatic exchange of information is a big step forward, but now we must seize this data and exploit it. Regarding the next legislative developments, we are going to transpose into the finance bill a European directive which requires online platforms like Amazon or Alibaba to collect VAT. Keep in mind that the most massive fraud relates to VAT: 80% of criminal cases.
To go further, we will establish a blacklist of non-collaborative platforms, such as for tax havens, according to four criteria: pay the Gafa tax if the company is liable, pay VAT, respond to the administration tax if requested and pass on user income. This is good news for the French platforms which, for their part, respect the rules.
Does “name and shame” really work? Many French people continue to use platforms that are not always deemed to be tax-efficient …
I receive a lot of mail from people asking if this or that company pays its taxes. Think again, the French are very attached to fiscal citizenship. There will obviously be penalties for those who do not collect VAT. In the longer term, we plan to generalize electronic invoicing, including for SMEs, in order to detect fraud earlier. This is what Italy did.
There will be an article in the finance bill providing for the submission of a report by the government in 2020 for implementation in 2023. We are firm in the fight against tax fraud, but we will give businesses time. to adapt to these new requirements.
And for international tax arrangements …
We are going to improve the functioning of tax advisers who have been paid since 2017. This system has proven its effectiveness, since out of 92 alerts, around 40 were serious, and 13 are undergoing tax audits.
Finally, we want to ramp up tax intelligence. It would be a revolution in the same way as the tax police, it was a taboo word until now in Bercy. The ministry houses two of the six French intelligence services, Tracfin and the DNRED, but they mainly work on money laundering or customs offenses. We asked them to structure a tax intelligence mission that will go beyond the usual administrative techniques.
Can we estimate how much this would bring to the state budget?
We are not closing the budget with an additional anti-fraud forecast, especially since we are now seeking to look more at the money actually recovered than the sums notified. On the VAT, which is the first revenue of the State, we believe that several hundreds of millions, even several billions can be recovered. By November, the Court of Auditors should publish the report requested by the President of the Republic on the estimation of fraud.
One of the promises of the Head of State during the mobilization of the “yellow vests” was to make the managers of large French companies pay their taxes in France. Is it feasible?
Yes, the finance bill will provide for the fulfillment of the promise of the President of the Republic. The law will affect the chairmen of boards of directors and general managers of companies with more than 1 billion euros in turnover. She will say that these leaders must pay their taxes in France, regardless of their domicile. In fact, this concerns few cases, but which are emblematic.
What if the country of domicile also claims tax?
The principle is that there is no double taxation. This question already arises in certain international tax audits. In this case, it is settled between partner tax administrations.