ILONKA RAYCHINOVA: TAXES MATTER

by Bozhidara Georgieva; photography by Nelly Tomova

The founder of Raychinova and Partners TAX & LAW, on how to safely navigate the waters of tax administration and legislation

Ilonka Raychinova

Nobody likes paying taxes. But when talking with Ilonka Raychinova, founder of Raychinova and Partners TAX & LAW, one starts to realise that this field of law is exciting and extremely important for both businesses and individuals who want to make the most of their ideas and the market while avoiding any breaches of the Bulgarian and European legislation. Mrs Raychinova's expertise is impressive. Before starting her own firm, she gained precious experience as head of the Indirect Taxes department at the Finance Ministry. She was also a Deputy Minister of Justice. We talked to Mrs Raychinova soon after a number of companies successfully used her team's help to mitigate the economic and financial effects of the Covid-19 crisis.

When and why did you decide to specialise in tax law?

It was not a conscious decision. Tax law found me and won me over. When I applied for the first time to work at the Tax Administration, I was told that I was not right for the job. I am a Scorpio, so you can imagine the impact of these words on me. Six months later I was already working at the Finance Ministry tax administration division. After a year and half, I headed the Indirect Taxes Department, and became boss of the people who had told me I did not belong there.

It was a hard start, but I went to many trainings and specialisations, including at École nationale des impôts in Paris and the Academy of European Law in Trier. I studied comparative tax law at the Catholic University of Leuven, and under representatives of the European Commission and the IMF. This was how taxes became my job and passion. And when one combines work and passion, miracles do happen.

This gave me the idea to create my own team with in-depth expertise to consult businesses and individuals with incomes all over the world. In the 1990s, there was a lack of such specialists in Bulgaria. So, when I left the Finance Ministry, I wrote on my business card "tax lawyer."

What did you gain from your experience in the Finance Ministry and the Justice Ministry?

These positions took a lot from me, but also gave me a lot. I learnt to work in big-scale projects, to be a bold decision maker, to consult large businesses, to manage and motivate big teams. I gained valuable knowledge on how the state machine operates and how state experts think. This gives you a new approach in defence strategy, and teaches you how to use the mistakes of state administration and where to look for them. Very often, we are better aware of the state administration's inner rules and regulations than the tax inspectors. But the most important thing I learnt was protocol and bureaucracy. These are priceless for a business. As the French say, "bureaucracy protects."

What did you learn during your tax lawyer career?

That businesses, companies, owners and managers are not aware that their accountants and legal experts should not do tax planning, optimisation and protection. This is an interdisciplinary field that asks for specialised knowledge, training and experience in law, accounting and economics. When it is underestimated, the results can be not only disappointing, but also devastating for a business, regardless of how successful it is actually on the market.

How did you manage to build a team of specialists in different fields of tax and law?

When I left the Tax Administration, in 1998, I started with former colleagues: lawyers and economists with expertise in tax law, tax protection (direct, indirect, local, European, international), and procedural safeguards. I have always believed in expertise. Time has proven me right.

Then I started to hire and train young colleagues. Demand of tax law experts suddenly jumped. Nowadays tax regulation concerns each aspect of business and social life, with the inevitable consequences and risks. Entrepreneurs and citizens who want to avoid unwanted surprises should consult their tax lawyer or expert before signing a major deal. My team knows how to protect these people from mistakes. This is what makes Raychinova and Partners TAX & LAW truly unique: our team offers full care for the client's business and careful approach for each detail in it. This has led to our team lawyers who specialise in commercial transformation, contributions, strategic business consulting, double taxation avoidance, crisis consultation and protection against civic confiscation by the Bulgarian Commission for Combating Corruption and Confiscation of Illegally Acquired Property (CCCCIAP).

I have a great team I am proud of. Of course, some people discovered tax law was not for them, and there were some betrayals along the way. But the most worthy and knowledgeable people in my team are still with me. In my work and life I apply a set of traditions, rules and ethics and I require the same from my team. I have never feared change and challenges. Principles and knowledge guarantee that even in the greatest turmoil, quality of people and quality of work remain constant. This makes us stronger than ever.

What are the most common problems with application of and compliance with tax law a company in Bulgaria experiences? How can you help?

Companies in Bulgaria do not understand that they should seek an opinion from their tax consultants before they sign a deal or make a decision, not after that. Very often the decision would have looked completely different or wouldn't have been done at all, if participants were aware of its tax dimensions in advance. This is why I would say that the main problems in application of and compliance with tax law are either lack of knowledge, or its underestimation.

It is fashionable to say that Bulgaria has bad laws, courts and administration. However, when you treat problems irresponsibly, carelessly and without the needed knowledge, even the best-functioning public systems would appear unjust to you. This is why it is crucial to call your tax lawyer when starting a new company or business, in commercial transformation, signing of a major deal and making important life decisions. We, with the required professional care, competency and confidentiality, will consult you, will give you options and will support you during the decision making and realisation. Afterwards, we will protect you from the National Revenue Agency. If this becomes a part of a business's everyday activities, then it will become better and tax authorities will change their notion towards it. Such practices gain the respect of both clients and partners.

Raychinova and Partners TAX & LAW

Nowadays, taxes are no longer a simple means of filling the state coffers. Today they are a major regulator of social relations, protection of social and economical equality, guarantee for fair market competition, and even a means to fight organised crime. This, however, has resulted in expansion of tax regulation that asks for in-depth expertise and tax experts.

Common business mistakes in this respect include working without knowing the tax consequences (i.e. being overconfident); thinking that your accountant is obliged to take care of your taxes (i.e. wanting someone to take care of your money for free); thinking that the lawyer who drafts your contracts will take care of your taxes, too (i.e. thinking that an orthopedist will help you with your stomach ache). Such approach leads to accumulation of problems through the years that eventually become "time bombs" ready to blow with the first inspection by the National Revenue Agency. And such inspections are bound to happen.

This is why a timely partnership with a tax lawyer or consultant is crucial for a successful business. Good tax planning is an investment in business success. Only with a tax consultant who clarifies the risks before you and protects you from unwanted consequences are you able to protect yourself from unwise actions and to build a truly sustainable company.

What should be known about the activity of the Commission for Combating Corruption and Confiscation of Illegally Acquired Property (CCCCIAP)?

Managers and CEOs are liable for tax evasion, false tax declarations, failure to issue invoices, irregularity in accountant-keeping, use of false documents and of tax input deduction without grounds. If the manager or the CEO is indicted for such a crime, the CCCCIAP is in its right to start an inspection. It covers 10 years back and aims to find whether there is a significant discrepancy (over 150,000 leva) between the individual's incomes and expenditures. If the CCCCIAP decides that this is the case, it will ask for the imposition of a guarantee in advance and will initiate confiscation of illegally acquired property.

Individuals caught in this procedure have quite limited rights, deadlines are rather short and defence is particularly difficult and asking for specific expertise. Each action without consultation with a specialised lawyer can have grave consequences. It is crucial to stay in touch with the criminal lawyer during the defence in front of the National Revenue Agency and CCCCIAP.

I and the team of Raychinova and Partners TAX & LAW have experience, expertise and successes in some of the biggest cases of this type in Bulgaria.

How the Covid-19 pandemic affected the business environment in Bulgaria? What relief, help and consultation do your clients receive?

Business environment in Bulgaria knows crisis and financial crashes caused by the market, natural disasters or state policies. Our team is also specialised in business consulting in times of crisis. The pandemic was one of those. We did not stop working during the lockdown. Our team reorganised to home office work and continued consulting our clients on their regular activities, inspections and audits. We also offered companies information, help and cooperation for application for the financial stimuli to overcome the business effects of the fight with the Covid-19 pandemic. Many of our clients are already approved and will soon receive their funding. During the crisis we prepared information and uploaded it on professional websites to reach a wide circle of companies, including ones without their own tax lawyers and consultants.

On the other hand, a crisis makes the weak points in a business structure and activity stand out. The owner might not spot them, but we definitely do. This is why I believe that times of crisis are times for change and redefinition of the business model. Here is where my team can help. Our expertise in complete business planning allows us to offer solutions with a 360-degree perspective that make the business stable even in turbulent times.

We, law practitioners, love saying that law is a sea. You are not able drink so it is better to learn swimming in it. The same goes for taxes. This is why I rely on a team with high expertise who can cover each aspect of a tax problem. This allows me to find a solution at places which another person will easily overlook. 

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