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French tax cops barred from using Google to probe Google

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French tax cops barred from using Google to probe Google
Photo: AFP
16:14 CEST+02:00
French investigators have revealed the extraordinary lengths they had to go to as they carried out an exhaustive tax fraud probe into Google – including cutting off the internet.

Last week French police and tax officials raided the offices of US web giant Google in Paris as part of an ongoing probe into tax fraud.

The French authorities suspect Google of "aggravated tax fraud and conspiracy to conceal (it)” and the raid which made headlines around the world, was carried out "in top secret" in a bid to avoid any leaks. 

One hundred French officials were reportedly on the scene, as well as police and five financial prosecutors who investigating the web giant on suspicion that it could owe the French tax man €1.6 billion.

It was the result of an exhaustive probe – named Operation Tulip, carried out by French authorities.

Some details of the extraordinary lengths which officials went to in order to keep the probe from Google have been revealed by the lead investigator.

Eliane Houlette, the director of France's financial prosecutors (PNF) revealed that in order to keep the investigation as top secret as possible, her team worked without internet connection and used only one word processor.

And in order to avoid suspicion her team were ordered to never ever utter the word Google and instead use the code name “Tulip”.

It could be a while before the probe reaches court, if it ever does.

During the raid at Google, French officials recovered data that Houlette said could take years to wade through.

French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said at the weekend that France would take the case against Google “to the very end”.

Sapin said the government would not make a deal with the US web giant over tax like the British government did recently.

“There will be a no negotiations, we will apply the law,” said Sapin.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai defended the Internet giant's tax practices during a visit to Paris in February.

"We're a global company. We have to abide by tax laws everywhere, we do abide by local tax laws in every single country," he said.

"We're advocating strongly for a simpler global tax system," he added.

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