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Economy

Paradise Papers: France's Dassault accused of aiding tax dodgers

media Taking off- a Dassault Falcon 8X AFP

French planemaker Dassault and Europe's Airbus appear to have helped customers dodge millions of euros in sales tax, according to the Paradise Papers revelations. The European Union is currently screening about 50 countries as it draws up a blacklist of tax havens.

Dassault was complicit in schemes to dodge Europe's VAT sales tax for at least three customers, Le Monde newspaper claimed on Tuesday.

Having bought the Falcon business jets in France, the customers should have paid 20 percent VAT.

But they did not do so, registering the sale in the Isle of Man and disguising their real ownership through shell companies, thus depriving the French exchequer of nearly 27 million euros.

The cases Le Monde cites are:

  • Russian oligarch Oleg Tinkoff, who bought three planes from Dassault in 2013, 2014 and 2016, at increasingly high prices, and is said to have saved 18.5 million euros;

  • Yemeni businessman Shaher Abdoulhak Besher, who allegedly saved 4.4 million euros on the purchase of a plane in 2012;

  • Indian company GMR Aviation, which allegedly saved 3.9 million euros on a purchase in 2013.

How the dodge works

Acting on the advice of Swiss lawyers Meyer Avocats and Appleby, Ernst & Young, the company based in the Isle of Man whose records are the source of the allegations, Tinkoff passed the sales through various shell companies, including one, Stark Limited, created specifically to register his first purchase in the tax haven in the Irish Sea.

Claiming that it was acquiring the plane to rent to a client, the company did not pay VAT in France.

The client in question was another Tinkoff-owned company, based in the British Virgin Islands, which also never paid the tax.

Le Monde cites an email from a Dassault employee as proof that the company was fully aware of the operation.

It also claims the company opened temporary subsidiaries in the Isle of Man seven times between 2009 and 2012 to facilitate the sale of Falcons to customers who concealed their identities.

Dassault insists that it observed all the necessary procedures and reminded the paper that the Isle of Man has the same VAT status as a European Union member state, so far as the bloc's rules are concerned.

The French branch of Airbus, which is 11 percent state-owned, is implicated in at least one similar scheme, according to Le Monde.

Russian billionaire God Nisanov saved nine million euros in VAT on the purchase of an Airbus A318 in 2012, it says.

Europe drawing up tax haven blacklist

As European finance ministers met in Brussels on Tuesday, European Finance Commissioner Pierre Moscovici told French radio that the bloc is looking into about 50 countries with a view to drawing up a blacklist of tax havens.

"There won't be 50 in the end," he told France Inter. "But I want the list to be credible."

The Isle of Man is one of the countries being screened, but, to overcome reticence on the part of Luxembourg, Malta and Ireland, who have low-tax regimes, no EU country is being examined.

The Paradise Papers are "both good and bad news", Moscovici commented. "Bad news because it shows that there are still practices by well-off people or companies who are ready to do anything to not pay tax, good news because it pushes public opinion to mobilise and public deciders to move even faster."

French government under pressure to act

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire promised to make a number of proposals to "increase transparency" at the Brussels meeting in a parliamentary debate on Monday evening.

Tax avoidance is "an attack on democracy", he told MPs, because it undermines "consent to be taxed".

During the debate left-winger Jean-Luc Mélenchon challenged the government to "pass from indignation to action".

He called for an end to the finance minister's right to decide whether a tax dodger is prosecuted, a proposal rejected by President Emmanuel Macron's government in previous debates, a ban on banks operating in tax havens and the outlawing of "incitement to tax fraud and evasion".

A special unit set up by the previous, Socialist, government in 2013 will have brought in more than eight billion euros by the end of 2018, according to the national audit office.

The body, which handles tax dodgers who come clean in return for a reduciton of fines, collected more than seven billion euros between 2014 and 2016, is expected to collect 1-1.2 billion euros in 2017 and "a little less" in 2018.

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