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Poland cracks down on corporate tax avoidance

Poland cracks down on corporate tax avoidance


WARSAW: Poland is chasing chief financial officers who go too far in reducing their companies’ tax burdens as it plans to boost corporate tax revenue by a third.

Pawel Gruza, a deputy finance minister who spent 15 years advising businesses how to minimise their tax load, intends to reverse a 30% drop off in corporate income tax over the past decade, he said in an interview. Rebuilding the tax base to its 2008 level would mean more than $3.5bn in additional budget revenue per year.

Gruza has already overseen a 20% increase in inflows from value-added taxes this year, narrowing the budget deficit and shoring up the government’s financial-market credibility amid a boom in welfare spending.

“We should change the habits of CFOs, who must start taking to account risks they’ve been neglecting when applying optimisation schemes,” said Gruza, a former consultant at Ernst & Young. “The era of aggressive tax optimisation is over.”

While Poland has had success in fighting VAT and excise-tax fraud in industries such as fuel distribution and electronics, inflows from corporate tax as a portion of gross domestic product remain at about half of the average of the OECD club of industrialised nations.

The government led by the Law & Justice party, which stands accused by the European Union of eroding the rule of law, won elections in 2015 after pledging to force companies, especially those with foreign owners, to “share” more of their profits with Polish citizens. Deputy Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said last month that mounting EU criticism of democratic standards was backlash for the government’s pursuit of economic patriotism.

Last month, parliament changed the corporate-tax code to limit the risk of excessive transfers of income abroad. It set a tighter cap on the cost of financing from parent companies abroad and for licenses sold to Polish units, while trimming the use of entities registered in tax havens. There’s also a new levy on revenue from commercial real estate.

The regulations come a year after the introduction of the General Anti-Abuse Rule, which allow the tax-man to interpret regulations with more flexibility in its search for tax evaders. This has already brought some results.

The effective income tax rate for the 20 companies on Warsaw’s benchmark WIG20 stock index increased 4 percentage points to 24% in the first half of the year, compared with the same period of 2016, according to data collected by Bloomberg. That’s higher than the 19% levy on company profits as some Corps paid back taxes for previous years and lenders faced an additional industry tariff.

Debt collector Kruk said in September that its effective tax rate may rise “significantly” next year, while UK-based loan provider International Personal Finance said Polish tax changes may wipe out a fifth of its profits. Retailers CCC or LPP have in past years abandoned arrangements transferring trademarks or licenses to entities registered abroad.