Taxis without Taxes: How Big Taxicab Companies Commit Tax Evasion

The list of taxi cab permits on the Sofia Municipality’s site includes persons with 200-300 cars or more. Their “services” are shared by the big taxi cab companies OK SUPERTRANS, RADIO CV TAXI, YELLOW 333 and others. The result is tax and worker benefits evasion for millions each months. This system has been in operation for years in gross violation of the law to which the tax and municipal authorities have been turning a blind eye.

In order to reach this conclusion, Bivol analyzed the information from the official list of the issued taxicab transportation permits on the territory of Sofia Municipality, a list that is maintained on the grounds of Art. 24a, para. 5 of the Road Transport Act.

The results are startling. Thus, by the end of February 2019 in Sofia there were 105 taxicab companies – carriers and 1,488 taxi drivers with valid licenses with 5,914 vehicles registered to them. Even this fact alone raises questions because there is no economic logic to have an average of three cars per driver. It is normal for a car to be operated by several drivers, who take shifts, while the list shows exactly the opposite.

Employees of the year

A closer look at the details sheds light on a curious phenomenon. Someone named Georgi Mladenov has 391 cars registered to his name, of which 201 for OK Supertrans, 71 for Mega taxi, 45 for Panda Taxi, etc. He is followed by Tihomir Georgiev with 274 cars – 57 for OK Supetrans, 40 for Yellow, 33 for Radio CV Taxi and so on.

It turns out that a dozen drivers have almost half of the taxicabs in Sofia. Most of them are in OK Supertrans, but the other big carriers also use the scheme.

It is quite obvious that several large taxicab companies use the same scheme because the same drivers with many cars appear in companies that should be competitors.

Another interesting criterion is how many cars are there per driver in the big carrier companies. According to this criterion, the absolute champions are Mega taxi 2000 (4 drivers for 134 cars) and Panda Taxi (16 drivers for 130 cars). In Yellow, each driver has eight cars, in OK Supertrans – six. Radio CV Taxi and Super Plus have four cars per driver, Taxi Express and For One Euro – three.

At the other end, there are OH Citytrans, where 281 drivers drive 291 cars and OT Citytrans, where 258 drive 264 cars. There are no surprises for independent drivers and small businesses.

The carriers’ scheme

A limited number of drivers who have no overdue taxes are entered in the business register on behalf of and with the consent of a major carrier and then relinquish the issued permit to at least one uninsured person who usually also benefits from welfare and has no interest in declaring their work as a taxicab driver. We also should take into account the fact that in the majority of cases, one car is operated by two and sometimes by three people, working on day and night shifts.

The result of the scheme is huge losses for the treasury from unpaid social security and health insurance contributions.

These drivers without employment contracts and without benefits in reality work in conditions of income insecurity and lack of social protection. Many of these people will never be able to fulfill the conditions for entitlement to a retirement pension and will end in the social assistance system, as a burden to all other honest taxpayers. Undeclared labor leads to lower pension rights and more limited access to health care.

In this way, public finances suffer from resource syphoning, which leads to shrinking tax and social contributions (“tax gap”) and an unfair burden on public services.Given the current situation in the taxi cab industry and the failure of the State to deal with the shadowy economy and the undeclared labor, the competition between individual carriers is being distorted by the unfair competition between those who obey the law and those who breach it.

The scheme in the taxi cab sector in Sofia will remain in place until licenses with missing driver data stop being issued.

Only the first and last names of the driver are visible in the register of Sofia Municipality. Perhaps the justification for this is the protection of personal data, but everything should be entered and monitored in the Municipality’s own database. Moreover, municipal data are confirmed by another register, the one of the State Automobile Inspection (DAI), which under the Road Transport Act shall be in effect for all carriers and taxi drivers at their own expense. In this register the drivers appear with their three names. Periodically, the DAI conducts actions to check for illegal taxi cabs, but apparently large and visible fraud does not bother the Inspection.

Disregard for the law and “at own expense”

The Road Traffic Act (Article 24a) provides that the permit for taxicab transportation of passengers for each individual car shall be issued by the mayor of the municipality or by an official authorized by the mayor.

The permits are issued to a carrier registered under the Road Traffic Act (OK SUPERTRANS, YELLOW 333, PANDA TAXI, RADIO CV TAXI, FOR ONE EURO, EURO TAXI 3, etc.) that has submitted an application to the mayor of the municipality in which it will carry out the taxicab transportation of passengers activity and if the vehicle meets certain requirements.

The driver’s data in case he or she carries out the activity on behalf of a registered carrier but at its own expense must be recorded in the permit. The legal requirement is that

The permit is personal and not subject to transfer.

However, the data from the public register clearly show that at any given moment a huge number of taxi drivers in Sofia give rides to customers in violation of the law. Otherwise, two thirds of all registered taxicab (licensed) cars should not be in operation because of lack of drivers with legal permits.

Moreover, by law, a registered driver should not have overdue tax and social security contributions unless they are deferred in adherence to the law. This requirement also applies to a driver who works on behalf of a registered carrier but at its own expense.

However, there is a modest list of declined permits on the site of Sofia Municipality due to overdue taxes. Accidentally or not, OK Supertrans has the most declined permits, followed by several other companies.

The question also arises why not all licenses are denied since these companies have overdue tax obligations.

Georgios steals from taxes and social benefits, and stages protests against the rule of law

Three years ago, taxicab drivers staged protest rallies and blocked a major junction in the Bulgarian capital because of the government’s effort to impose tax and benefits payments. Former lawmaker Grozdan Karadzhov, in a live interview with Nova TV, listed the owners of the big taxi companies as a “bad apple bank”, a group of lawmakers, a group of prosecutors and a former National Security Agency (DANS) agent.

Bivol’s analysis showed that the end beneficial owner of the largest carrier OK Supertrans on paper is the fabled Georgios Georgiou – the destitute Cypriot who, according to documents, owns a huge business in Bulgaria as a smoke screen for Tseko Minev and Ivaylo Mutafchiev – the majority shareholders in First Investment Bank (FIB or Fibank)

Three years later, data show that large taxicab companies have not turned into more diligent taxpayers. Nevertheless, there is more transparency – the State and the municipality are obediently publishing facts about the huge abuses. Thus, they admit that they know about them, but will continue to do nothing to collect the taxes and social security benefits due to them, whose amount over the years has reached hundreds of millions.

Photo: Protest of taxicab carriers ©BGNES

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