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Key facts of the case:

Request for a preliminary ruling from the Tribunale di Cuneo (Italy).

Protection of the European Union’s financial interests — Tax offences in the field of value added tax — Duty of the Member States to impose effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties — Criminal penalties — Limitation period for proceedings — Statutory restriction of the overall length of the limitation period in the event of its interruption — National limitation regime which, in many cases, may have the effect of exempting offenders from punishment — Legality of the penalties — Prohibition on retroactivity — Article 325 TFEU — Directive 2006/112/EC — Regulation (EC, Euratom) No 2988/95 — Convention on the protection of the European Communities’ financial interests (‘PIF Convention’).

Results (sanctions) and key consequences of the case:

128. ...I propose that the Court reply as follows to the questions referred to it by the Tribunale di Cuneo:

  1. Articles 4(3) TEU and 325 TFEU, Regulation (EC, Euratom) No 2988/95 and Directive 2006/112/EC are to be interpreted as meaning that they require the Member States to provide for effective, proportionate and dissuasive penalties for irregularities in matters of VAT.
  2. Article 2(1) of the Convention on the protection of the European Communities’ financial interests, signed in Luxembourg on 26 July 1995, requires the Member States to punish fraud in matters of VAT by means of effective, proportionate and dissuasive criminal penalties which must, in serious cases of fraud at least, also include penalties involving deprivation of liberty.
  3. A provision of national law on limitation periods for proceedings which, for reasons relating to the scheme of that provision, has the effect in many cases of exempting from punishment the perpetrators of fraud in matters of VAT is incompatible with the aforementioned provisions of EU law. In pending criminal proceedings, the national courts must refrain from applying such a provision.