There are the giants of the net and the big industrial groups but also SMES and even the self-employed: tax optimization tends to develop beyond the single circle of multinational corporations, facilitated by the rise of specialized firms.
Patterns of import-export companies, owners of start-up businesses, the liberal professions : the recent scandals, including that of “the Paradise Papers”, have brought to light the extent of the mechanisms used to evade taxes and the variety of the companies concerned. “When we talk about tax evasion, we think of multinational corporations. But the problem also affects the smaller companies,” stresses Manon Aubry, a spokesman for Oxfam France, who recalls that several leaders of SMES have been pinned in recent years.
“These are practices that tend to generalize”, is full of Christian Chavagneux, columnist at Alternatives économiques, and author of the book tax Havens. “There is a form of democratisation of the tax optimization”, adds the journalist, citing the scandal of Luxleaks, in 2014, where the majority of the companies in question were “companies of intermediate size”. Not simple, however, to assess with precision the extent of the phenomenon, in the case of a domain that is opaque by definition. “There are probably few SMES involved, but it is far from being a common practice,” says the secretary general of the CPME, Jean-Eudes du Mesnil du Buisson.
“SMES do not have anything to envy to the multinational companies”, ensures that the reverse Paul Duvaux, a tax lawyer in Paris, who is said to see a “frequent recourse” to the tax arrangements in the small bosses. “These are legal practices: they only make use of the tools at their disposal,” he insists.
Marginal phenomenon or a general trend? For Manon Aubry, the truth lies probably between the two. “The issues in financial terms are much more important in multinational companies. But the cost of access to these devices is low enough that the SMES are interested in it also”, says the spokesperson for Oxfam, which calls into question the specialized firms. On the internet, many companies offer their services to business leaders, in the image of bethelfinance.com, which offers on its website a wide choice of tax optimization: “a subsidiary in luxembourg”, “european headquarters irish” or “creation of offshore companies”.
“All of these techniques are used by large groups, and are therefore perfectly legal. Our goal is to offer to SMES,” explains the firm, which promises its customers “privacy” and “security”. This offer of service, sometimes goes up to the canvassing proactive. “When I created my company, the first letter I received was an email offering me to open a offshore account to charge for my services abroad,” said under cover of anonymity, a computer expert in paris. According to this forty-something woman, which explains will be offered then by his accountant to work in the umbrella company with a service company in computer engineering (SSII) based in Ireland, “it is a common practice”: “in the lot, some accept, of course”.
Paradise for all
All sectors, however, are not housed in the same boat. “The use of tax havens mainly concerns the professions that can be done at a distance and that do not require a physical work place, such as the activities of the council and the sale by correspondence,” says Paul Duvaux.
“It is easier to do tax evasion when you work on the internet that when one is a PMU by example”, grant Manon Aubry, who is concerned about the consequences of the dematerialisation of the economy. Oxfam calls for “more transparency and more regulation, particularly in the control of intermediaries”. Beginning sign of change? In July, the head of a firm, “France offshore”, has been sentenced to five years in prison with three suspended. In the media, this company, which operated between 2008 and 2012, was dangling the “tax paradise for all”, with mounts of paperwork passing through Latvia.
“There is still progress to be made, but things are progressing,” insists Christian Chavagneux, who considers that it is important not to take for granted the arguments advanced by the proponents of the tax optimization. “Their defense, that is to say +it’s legal+. But often, this legality has not been tested before the courts. So it is all relative”.