From November 28th 1995 to January 18th 1999, the tax department audited the accounts of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW) in France. On February 8th 1996, the minister responsible of the tax department, Mr Alain Lamassoure, publicly supported at the national assembly, the harassment of minority religion by tax (“the tax department, whose actions on several occasions resulted in a certain repression of the activity of sects”) .
On May 14th 1998, the department decided to tax at the rate of 60% the donations from believers of JW for years 1993 to 1996, refusing to tax-exempt them. The department applied also a penalty rate of 80% which resulted that the donations to JW were taxed at rate of..108% and fixed the annual interest at 9% on late payments.
On July 4th 2000, the tribunal of Nanterre rejected the applicant’s claim. On February 2002 the appeal court of Versailles confirmed the ruling. On October 5th 2004, the supreme court rejected the appeal of the applicant (03-15709) on the ground that the Jehovah’s Witnesses were not recognized and authorized by the government as a religion.
On February 24th 2005, the applicant lodged its case (see below) to the Court arguing that the tax rate of 108% on donations to JW was a discrimination in violation of articles 9 and 11 of the Convention with article 14. He added that the tax rate in itself was a violation of article 1 P1 and that the use of a tax to harass a minority religion a violation of articles 18 and 1 P1. The applicant submitted also allegation of violations of articles 6-1 and 13.
On June 17th 2008, the Court found inadmissible all the allegations of violations of the Convention except the one of articles 9 and 14. On September 21st 2010, the Court found admissible the allegation of violation of article 9.
On June 30th 2011, the Court found a violation of article 9 of the Convention on the ground that the tax rate of 108% applied to the donations to the applicant was not foreseeable and therefore not “according to law”. The Court will rule on damages at a later date. The applicant was represented by Me Philippe Goni (Paris).
According to Me Philippe Goni (comments), this is the first time that the Court found that the French Republic violated article 9. He added that this raises serious questions about the “passiveness of the national courts” . He requested that the tax department annulled the whole demand of tax and penalties (more than €50 millions) and reimbursed the amount already seized.