Almost four years ago and amid the pressure exercised on the Greek State by its European partners and the IMF by means of economic adjustment programmes and loan agreements broadly known as “memoranda”, a new tax procedural code was adopted. The main aim of the Greek Government – and a bet against all odds–was to apply a more efficient tax implementation regime. Traditionally, tackling tax evasion had been a dead end; any pre-election statements of the various governments against professional tax evaders were not followed by substantial actions and, therefore, the fiscal gap in the state budget grew in geometric proportion. In any case, the need for tax collection cannot just echo as “wishful thinking”, since effective tax collection mechanisms are imperative for the viable function of each state. In this context, a new legal regime adopted into Greek reality and capacity seemed the ultimum refugium.
By virtue of L. 4174/2013(the “tax procedure code”), a new more flexible and agile tax imposition scheme was adopted. A vast number of tax audits were to be conducted on a “fast track” mode; new technologies were implemented and incorporated into the fiscal mechanisms and tackling once and for all tax evasion turned into a first page note on the political agenda.
However, no one could rule out the possibility of audit reports being occasionally incorrect and tax payers being threatened with major penalties even where it is evident that no tax violation has been committed. The Greek legislator opted for introducing a quick and in-depth re-examination of the audit reports in the light of a “quasi-judicial” recourse as counter balance for the new taxation possess. Moreover, the constitution of an out-of-court tribunal with extensive authorities would allow for the decongestion of the already cramped Administrative Courts; it should be noted that judicial recourses against tax imposing acts are scheduled almost five years after submission).
The “quasi-judicial” recourse was the solution. This regime was introduced by virtue ofart. 63 of the tax procedure code. What is stated thereto is that each taxpayer who wants to challenge an act or omission of the tax authorities shall be entitled to file the recourse before the authority which issued (or omitted to issue) the relevant act. Subsequently and by virtue of the relevant authorization transferred to the Governor of the Independent Public Revenues Authority, circular No. 1064 /27.4.2017 was issued, providing in full detail for the process of exercising the right to file the recourse. The “quasi-judicial” recourse must be filed within 30 days following the date of the notification to the taxpayer of the relevant act. The competent authority to hear the recourse is the Directorate for the Resolution of Tax Disputes, a quasi-judicial body with full power to modify or even fully annul the challenged act. The decision thereof must be issued within 120 days upon filing; otherwise it shall be regarded as tacitly rejected. What is more, the recourse is a precondition for filing a judicial recourse at a later stage, since direct recourse before an administrative court is forbidden. Filing the recourse suspends payment of the 50% of the imposed tax and penalties. However, the applicant is free to file for a full tax imposition suspension application before the same authority.
Recent experience has proven that the introduction of such new regime has rectified many irregularities of the tax imposition scheme. At no cost (apart from the legal fees, in case a taxpayer wants to be represented by a lawyer), anyone can ask for the reexamination of their tax case. As the Directorate has extensive power to investigate into the accuracy of the audit reports, to ask for complimentary evidence and under complete transparency, the regime of “quasi-judicial” recourse must be praised as an important development of the Greek Administrative Law. As tight time frames are set for the issuance of the final decision, anyone can expect that their case will be heard and resolved within a short period of time, whereas the right to file a judicial recourse is reserved. Not to mention that the introduction of the new tax recourse regime seems also very appealing to prospective investors who are confident that any dispute against the Greek State on tax issues will be resolved in a timely manner – at least, thus, there is one reason more on why to invest in Greece.
Panagiotis Drakopoulos, Senior Partner
Dr. Evangelos Margaritis, Senior Associate Greece