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Economy

Big business main culprit as France nets record 21.2 billion euros from tax dodgers

media French Budget Minister Christian Eckert AFP

France uncovered a record 21.2 billion euros in tax fraud last year, the economy ministry announced on Thursday, more than a quarter of the sum coming from tax-dodging big companies, while another 2.65 billion was from individuals with secret bank accounts abroad. But not all the money has been recovered yet, although the amount pocketed by the state has also risen.

At 19.3 billion euros, 2014 was already a record year for fraud tracked down by tax inspectors, the total having risen steadily from 15.2 billion euros in 2009.

But 2015 saw an 18 per cent year-on-year rise to 21.19 billion euros, the finance ministry announced as Finance Minister Michel Sapin and Budget Minister Christian Eckert visited the headquarters of the DVNI, the division responsible for chasing up companies with a turnover of more than 154.2 million euros.

"We have to lay to rest this idea that income from tax inspection comes from hammering small taxpayers," Eckert said. "It's not true! Income from tax inspection comes essentially from big companies."

Pursuing big business brought in 5.8 billion euros in 2015, up from 4.2 billion euros in 2014, while identified income tax fraud rose from 2.3 billion euros to 2.7 billion euros.

No doubt encouraged by the UBS and Luxleaks revelations as well as promises of leniency, holders of secret foreign bank accounts have continued to come forward, yielding 2.65 billion euros in tax and fines in 2015, more than the government's target of 2.4 billion euros.

A 159-strong unit devoted to handling foreign account holders has netted 4.55 billion euros - 90 per cent of it coming from Swiss accounts - from the 44,894 cases it has handled since it was set up in 2013 after the resignation of budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac, now himself facing trial for tax evasion.

Its work has also been helped by anti-tax evasion agreement at last year's G20 meeting in Antalya, Turkey.

But not all the money owed has been paid yet.

The ministry has collected 12.2 billion euros, itself a 17 per cent rise on 2014.

That sum is more than the budgets for justice, culture and foreign aid and as high as the interior ministry's security budget, Eckert said.

But, while noting progress in the fight against tax fraud, the country's top fiscal body, the Cour des Comptes, judged the end result disappointing, with less than half of debts settled two years after they were recognised.

The number of cases examined has gone down from 51,740 to 50,168 but the fact that they brought in more cash proves they were better targeted, the ministry argues.

The weakest point is the VAT sales tax.

Only 100 million euros have been recovered, while VAT fraud is estimated to be as high as 14 billion euros a year.

Some estimates put the total cost of tax fraud to France at about 60-80 billion euros, according to the ministry.

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