The American industrial giant General electric is the target of a criminal complaint in France, filed Monday, May 30 by an inter-union of Belfort, where the gas turbine manufacturing plants are located. This complaint was filed against X with the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office (PNF) for laundering of “tax fraud”, “breach of trust”, “false” and “use of forgery” as well as “aggravated concealment”. “Through the expertise, we are able to demonstrate that the mechanisms used by the company are criminal and contravene the standard and the law which governs tax practices”says Alexis Sesmat, spokesperson for Sud Industries GE.
The various unions behind the complaint accuse General Electric of having set up a tax optimization system that borders on tax evasion. According to the investigation they have been conducting since 2018 on the accounts of the gas turbine activity, based in Belfort, the American industrial giant – which bought the energy branch of Alstom in 2015 under the leadership of Emmanuel Macron, then Minister ofEconomy – organized the evacuation of 800 million euros in Switzerland or in the American state of Delaware, which is a tax haven. According to them, this money was taken from the profits of the gas turbine activity, between 2015 and 2019, which threatens the site itself and has direct industrial consequences on the Belfort site.
“Since 2015, the Belfort entity has been in deficit due to the plundering of its resources. This artificial deficit is then used to moderate wages, lower investments in the productive tool, justify social plans and relocations … With a very uncertain industrial future.”Philippe Petitcolin, member of the CFE-CGC / Sud inter-union
With the system that the unions accuse GE of having put in place, the French tax authorities lose several hundred million euros in taxes, even if the shortfall is difficult to quantify precisely. However, this system works under the shelter of an agreement with the tax authorities, denounce the unions. This is a “trust protocol” which allows a company to have a tax scheme validated before using it in order to benefit from less precise controls afterwards. This form of “self-control” does not only benefit General Electric.
The Belfort inter-union claims to have alerted the tax authorities and asked the management of General Electric to comply, in vain. GE does not comment on the complaint and merely reaffirms that it respects the tax rules of the countries in which it operates. As for Bercy, the Ministry ofEeconomy and the tax administration indicate that large companies remain closely followed, but tax secrecy is invoked in order not to say more, neither on the names of the companies which benefit from this protocol, nor on the results of its checks. The tax authorities have nevertheless launched a tax audit on GE, but it only covers the period 2017-2019.
NGOs like Oxfam or Attac are alongside the unions in this legal action. For Éva Joly, the report drawn up by the unions as part of their investigation “means that the company is preparing to close this site because it can say: ‘You see, it’s not profitable’!” The former examining magistrate of the Paris financial center and candidate for the presidential election will be the lawyer for the unions.
“This is perhaps the most serious: using the accounts in an oriented way so that profitability is artificially reduced. If the accounts are not rigged, Belfort is in balance.”Alexis Sesmat, spokesperson for Sud Industries GE
According to Alexis Sesmat, the group is even trying to implement ‘a job blackmailing, saying: ‘AAttention, you are threatening us, so we may have to restructure as a result of your legal actions.”
This complaint is presented as a war against tax evasion, estimated by the NGO Attac at 80 billion euros per year. The plaintiffs hope it will inspire unions in other companies, both tax evasion “has become commonplace” according to them. “We want to show that tax evasion is not inevitable so that, in other multinational groups, our union counterparts can enter into an identical approach and challenge these practices”hopes Alexis Sesmat.