Lawyers indignant as tax authority probes VIPs who took fiscal amnesties

Law firms are indignant as the AT tax authority has started asking inconvenient questions to high-flyers who took advantage of fiscal amnesties to bring money back to Portugal over a decade ago.

These VIPs include some people cited in mediatic corruption investigations: former BES boss Ricardo Salgado, former PT boss Zeinal Bava, former economy minister Manuel Pinho and Carlos Santos Silva – the great friend implicated in the ‘Marquês’ case facing former prime minister José Sócrates.

The amnesties in question go back as far as 2006.

According to Público, AT inspectors are only now asking beneficiaries for a bit more information.

Explains the paper, they are ‘taking advantage of legal margin conceded by a clause in the 2019 State Budget’. This gave them access to statements that up till then had been guarded by the Bank of Portugal and commercial banks that regularised these citizens’ hidden money ‘saving them from the ‘responsibility’ of facing charges’.

Pre- this particular clause in the 2019 State Budget, access to this kind of information had only been possible through the authorisation of a judge, explains Público.

What the changes means is that people who signed up to the amnesties (called RERTs, standing for ‘exceptional regime for tributary regulation’) are expected to ‘provide information under a so-called duty of collaboration’.

‘Among information expected’ is “detail on the infractions” that these people will have committed – albeit that they skipped prosecution.

They will also have to give the tax authority “information about omitted tax facts” and the “description of financial transactions” behind the income that the amnesties ‘legalised’.

Bearing in mind, the very word amnesty suggests ‘an official pardon’, it’s no surprise that lawyers acting for these VIPs are throwing their hands up in theatrical horror.

They say the notion that tax inspectors can start retroactively investigating delicate situations that have long since been ‘regularised’ is not only legally dubious, it poses constitutional questions.

Notwithstanding how one feels about people who may have come by their money in less than squeaky-clean ways, lawyers argue that they should continue to be “shielded by the benefits created by the laws” that encouraged them to declare their hidden wealth in the first place. (The RERTs allowed people to ‘bring their money home to Portugal’ under very favourable tax terms – and of course freed them from the ‘responsibility’ of prosecution.)

One firm, Rogério Fernandes Ferreira & Associados, has gone so far as to say it will be advising its clients uncomfortably probed ‘not to collaborate with the authorities’ full stop.

Explains ECO online, any data collected might be used to create ‘risk matrices’ that could then be used to detect new debts…