In a historic decision that promises “immediate consequences”, a representative of the Public Treasury (Fazenda Pública) has ruled that Portugal’s tax authorities have “no right or legitimacy” to “execute drivers’ debts relating to toll fines”.
The decision, reported over the weekend, has been described as both “courageous and rigorous” by lawyers fighting for over 91 cases involving fines of up to €1.5 million.
It also follows hundreds of separate complaints by drivers who have seen tiny infractions balloon into fines of thousands of euros as ‘court charges’ and ‘interest payments’ are gratuitously tagged on to them.
In January this year a Braga court threw out a number of cases, while experts in fiscal law said the tax authorities’ stand on toll dues was a “screaming illegality”.
As left-wing MPs appealed to the European Community, consumers’ association DECO asked the national Ombudsman (Provedor de Justiça) to analyse the law, to see if Portugal’s “Autoridade Tributária e Aduaneira” was truly acting within its remit.
As lawyer Sandra Azevedo of Porto firm João Magalhães e Associados has declared, it was not and is not.
“The representative of the Public Treasury has affirmed expressly in a courageous and rigorous way that the tax department is not the creditor and that it has nothing to do with the process of fiscal execution of debts to non-public entities,” she told Correio da Manhã on Saturday.
Thus the responsibility for recovering toll dues should now fall to the companies running the concessions.
As CM points out, the concessions will have to appoint their own lawyers, much as any other company trying to get its creditors to pay overdue debts.
What it will mean, however, is that an overdue payment of €1.35 will be unlikely to balloon to well over €100 with interest increasing that amount every two weeks.
By NATASHA DONN [email protected]