Lactalis, the privately-owned French dairy major, is under investigation for potential tax fraud in a case dating back to 2018.

The local Le Monde publication reported the Paris home of Lactalis CEO Emmanuel Besnier was raided yesterday (6 February) by a French police department in connection with the probe. The dairy company’s headquarters in the town of Laval in the Pays de la Loire region and an office in the capital were also visited by police, according to Le Monde.

Parquet National Financier (PNF), or the National Financial Prosecutor’s Office, confirmed to Just Food the “searches” were conducted by “OCLCIFF investigators (BNRDF) in the presence of PNF magistrates”. However, PNF did not confirm the location or nature of the premises.

A PNF spokesperson said in a statement provided to Just Food: “In 2018, I can confirm that the PNF opened an investigation into the charges of laundering aggravated tax fraud on suspicions of a reduction in its taxable profit by the Lactalis Group.

“In 2019, the PNF received a report from the Confédération paysanne and in 2022 mandatory tax denunciations from the tax authorities, which led to the extension of the investigation to cases of aggravated tax fraud.”

PNF said the “amount of duties likely to have been evaded over the period 2009-2020 is estimated at this stage at several hundred million euros”.

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It added: “The purpose of the investigation is precisely to ascertain whether fraud has been committed and, if so, to assess more precisely the amount of duties evaded.”

The dairy major responded to Just Food when asked for comment: “Lactalis confirms that searches were carried out on its premises on Tuesday 6 February 2024.

“The searches were conducted smoothly and in an orderly manner and are part of a procedure that relates to events from several years ago that have already been examined by the authorities.”

As a privately-owned company, Lactalis does not publicly issue figures on its financial performance, although its website says revenue in 2022 amounted to €28.3bn ($30.4bn). It claims to be the world’s largest dairy business with 270 operations around the world in 51 countries.

This publication has also reached out to the police department concerned, which Le Monde reported was the National Fiscal Offenses Repression Brigade, or BNRDF. It seems BNRDF is also known, or is connected with, the National Brigade for the Repression of Tax Delinquency (OLCIFF), which comes under the purview of France’s interior ministry.

Le Monde wrote that the PNF investigation was launched in 2018 following ‘revelations’ made in the French press, including Mediacités, Ebdo, Les Jours and Mediapart.

Those reports suggested that Lactalis ‘had been using several financial subsidiaries in Belgium and Luxembourg to allegedly artificially siphon-off the group’s profits to reduce its taxable income in France’, according to Le Monde.