Tax fraud and the rule of law


This article presents a new conceptual framework for research into tax fraud. Informed by research approaches from across tax law, public economics, criminology, criminal justice, and regulatory theory, its proposed analytical framework assesses the effectiveness, and the legitimacy, of current approaches to combating tax fraud. The last decade has witnessed significant intensification of antitax fraud policy within Europe, with an upsurge in both legislative and administrative measures that purportedly target tax fraud. Using VAT as a case study, it is argued that these measures display a fundamental misunderstanding of the phenomenon of tax fraud, and in particular of the various costs it carries, by concentrating upon combating the revenue costs of fraud, rather than the fraud itself. Whilst measures deployed to combat revenue costs, and those deployed to combat the tax fraud, will often coincide, this will not always be the case. In those cases where they do not coincide prevalence is consistently given to enforcement measures addressing revenue costs, rather than combatting the fraud itself, even where the effect is to aggravate other costs of tax fraud, such as distortions to competition, or tax inequity, or to create an incentive to future non-compliance. A concentration solely upon the revenue costs of fraud can no longer be regarded as either deterrent or punishment, but merely as a compensatory mechanism for the lost revenue. These developments in anti-tax fraud policy demonstrate a significant shift –one that appears to be motivated by public finance concerns– from tax fraud suppression to tax fraud management. The article concludes that this shift not only undermines tax equity and overall tax compliance, but may also lead to selective tax enforcement, thus representing a significant risk to the rule of law.