Forum on Combating VAT Fraud - A Totally New Experience on the Event Horizon of IOTA

Erika Szabó's picture
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‘Because you really have that feeling something is building up.’ – remarked brilliantly Vanessa Bianchini, one of the tax officials who participated in the IOTA`s recently organized Forum on Combating VAT Fraud in Budapest. This event was the very first technical activity in 2022 where tax professionals from the IOTA member countries could physically come together since the outbreak of the pandemic – what, beyond its fascinating presentations, absolutely made this Forum even more exceptional.

As the attendees perceived that seeing each other again, interacting with colleagues, discussing about various topics during the coffee breaks and also, having fun together on the social events are exactly the main elements of that unique experience which had fallen victim to the coronavirus in the last years and could not be replaced virtually.

It is always easy to get involved in a conversation over the justly famous coffee breaks between two plenaries, so I took the opportunity and asked some attendees to share their first impressions of the event with us. In the following interview they reveal their takeaways from the first hybrid technical event of the year.

 - Erika Szabó/IOTA: Could you please introduce yourself briefly and tell us a bit about your professional background?

- Vanessa Bianchini: My name is Vanessa Bianchini, I work for the Italian Tax Administration. In particular, I belong to the Antifraud Unit of the Central Office. This not my first experience in IOTA Forum, it was really great to be a participant.

- Andrea Damiani: My name is Andrea Damiani, I work as well as Vanessa for the Italian Tax Revenue. I am a tax auditor. For me this is the first time here, at IOTA, and it is a big and great experience for me and I am very glad, it is a pleasure to be here.

- Guri Ellen Stange: My name is Guri Ellen Stange, I work for the Director of the Taxes in Norway. I am a lawyer, working at the Legal Department as I work with cross-border VAT Fraud issues, administrative corporation and I`m also supporting the steering group that is compared to the agenda on this Forum.

- So Young Kim: My name is So Young Kim, I`m a senior tax auditor working for the Tax Crime Intelligence Unit at the Norwegian Tax Administration. I do intelligence analysis, and case investigations, and I`m also involved in several projects related to cross border VAT Fraud issues.

- ES/IOTA: How are you feeling yourselves? This is the first in-person physical activity since the outbreak of the pandemic. How does it feel to get back to the new normal after two years of digital operation? What are your first thoughts, first impressions about this newly developed hybrid event?

- VB: Well, I am very glad to be here again, meeting all colleagues that I have shared other experiences before with, but also new colleagues. After two years and a half it has been a great pleasure to be here again. I wouldn’t say that the online meetings are not useful, but this experience is completely different. So I am really glad and I think behind the hybrid format, there is a great chance to bring together more officials that are not able to come physically. I want to underline the importance of being back in presence, sharing experience during coffee breaks between the plenaries. It is easier to fix a lot of outcomes, because you can put them into a conversation. It is much more stimulating, so I am very glad to be here again.

- AD: I agree with Vanessa. I think that is very important to be here with colleagues, because you can share your thoughts, you can speak to each other and you can have fresh impressions in different point of views on the topics. I think it is very important to improve our competence, our skills. I believe in the power of sharing knowledge. In this way, IOTA is really contributing to the progress of member tax administrations. I also want to underline the importance of the moments of the social events, you can make friends, in some occasions you can get to know more about those people that you`ve seen only online on the website. I am very glad to be here.

- GS: Now, after the Forum, I feel really excited, because there have been so many good presentations, so many good discussions and… as Vanessa said, we can see people face to face, having discussions with colleagues during the coffee breaks about what they do now, what they presented and so on. These types of discussions are not possible on online events, so for me, it has been a very good experience to be here physically again.

- SYK: I can share exactly the same thoughts as the others said previously. I think, to be honest, I almost forgot how important the social interaction was at the workplace and it is also very good that we could still work with those tools that we used during the pandemic, namely the online meetings. I think it is very good to combine both physical and digital meetings because many things can be solved digitally, but not everything. I would say it was a brilliant idea from IOTA side.

- GS: I also think that, after having this physical event, we could observe that there were even more questions after each presentation on the plenary sessions. It seems it is easier to be active when you are physically attending and presenting at an event.

- ES/IOTA: What are your main takeaways from the Forum? In the last 2 years we have not had the chance to meet and see our colleagues on the podium delivering presentations. What new things did you learn during the three days of the event?

- VB: As far as I am concerned, I will take away first of all the concrete interactions, then the very good connections with colleagues, especially with the new ones. It was so easy to share thoughts and opinions even with those people I have never met before. This would not have been possible on an online meeting. So for example with a colleague from Belgium we deepened the concept of horizon VAT fraud. As I said, there have been many interactions, connections and a lot of  questions and answers. So I will take a lot of things to share with my colleagues internally.

- AD: I think the cooperation was very important, too. Having real human relations, it is extremely important, especially after the pandemic. It has been 2 years or more in our office since we could not meet each other. I think it is very good to have this experience now, with this hybrid method that could represent a new format for future events.

- GS: My takeaways? As my colleagues have said, learning and meeting new colleagues have been the highlights of the Forum. I also think that, it is so much easier to take in knowledge from that person who is standing in front of you and explaining complicated VAT fraud schemes. It gives you a deeper knowledge, deeper understanding. There are a lot of inputs to bring back home to my office, both into my own work and to share with colleagues. Especially the presentation on NFT gave me new learning to be used directly in one of my cases. So this really shows the value of participating in the IOTA VAT Fraud Forum.

- SYK: I can also add few comments: building personal relationships, sharing knowledge is very important, and having fun together because that is really what makes you more engaged and motivated at work. During the social events, coffee breaks you can easily build your professional and personal network not only with colleagues from other tax administrations, but with the IOTA organizers as well. Having this special experience gives you new ideas, motivates you, which is very important. That is something that we cannot get from an online meeting. Next time if I see an invitation from IOTA, I would like to participate in that event.

- VB: I would like to add one more thing: team building. It is about building a community and IOTA is doing an astonishing work. I think that makes the difference. Because you really have that feeling something is building up.

- SYK: You read my mind, Vanessa. I could not agree more.