The unusual arrangement is the latest in a global effort on the part of individual national tax authorities to obtain information on citizens and tax-resident foreigners who may have taxable assets they have failed to declare.
News of the ruling came at the end of August in an article on the online Spainish news website Público.es, a copy of which was provided to IA last month by a Spain-based source.
It was not immediately known how many, if any, individuals’ tax records have thus far been provided to the Spanish authorities, or whether the identities of any previously unknown tax evaders had been revealed as a result of the unusual arrangement.
El Corte Inglés declined to comment on the report, or to say whether it has complied with the court order.
According to the Público.es article, the Sala de lo Contencioso-Administrativo de la Audiencia Nacional, the Spanish national court, found in favour of the Ministerio de Ecnonomia y Hacienda, or government tax authority, in August, after a lengthy court battle.
In doing so, it rejected an appeal made by El Corte Inglés that the requested information “had no tax significance” and therefore it did not have to hand it over.
The Sala had filed for permission to access the data back in 2008.
‘Significant’ for expats with offshore investments
Paul Barnett, a director at Totus, the financial advisory firm which specialises in looking after expatriates living in Spain, said the action by Spain’s tax office was “significant, because it demonstrates that the Spainish authorities are serious about dealing with individuals who have offshore and non-declared assets”.
“Clients must understand that they need to declare their worldwide income as residents of Spain, and that includes accounts located outside of Spain,” he added.
“We urge anyone who has concerns about their tax status to get in touch with us.”
El Corte Inglés (“the English cut”) is described by Britons who know it as being the Spanish equivalent of John Lewis or House of Fraser. It has some 39 full-sized department stores in Spain, including many in cities popular with wealthy expatriates, such as Marbella, Madrid, Barcelona, Seville and Alicante.
Like John Lewis and HoF, El Corte Inglés is where many Spaniards go to buy furniture and major appliances for their homes as well as clothing and housewares; there is even an in-store travel agency for booking one’s holidays.
This, says Barnett, is why a €30,000 annual bill, although high, could conceivably be run up by some wealthy individuals who, for example, had just bought a large home and needed to furnish it.
El Corte Inglés also owns the Supercor and Opencor supermarket chains, which gives it a presence in most major Spanish towns.