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Data analysis from Paris raid on Google will take months, possibly years

French police raided Google’s offices on Tuesday, escalating an investigation over suspected tax evasion.

FILE: The logo for US technology company and search engine Google is displayed on screens in London on 11 February, 2016. Picture: AFP.

PARIS - Analysis of data seized by investigators in last week's raid of Google's Paris headquarters could possibly take years, French financial prosecutor Eliane Houlette said on Sunday.

Dozens of French police raided Google's offices on Tuesday, escalating an investigation over suspected tax evasion.

"We have collected a lot of computer data," Houlette said in an interview with Europe 1 radio, TV channel iTele and newspaper Le Monde, adding that 96 people took part in the raid.

"We need to analyse (the data) ... (it will take) months, I hope that it won't be several years, but we are very limited in resources".

Google, which said it is complying fully with French law, is under pressure across Europe from public opinion and governments angry at the way multinationals exploit their global presence to minimise tax liabilities.

"HEAVY OPERATION"

Tuesday's raid was carried out as part of an investigation into aggravated tax fraud and the organized laundering of the proceeds of tax fraud. The probe, triggered by a complaint by the French tax authorities, started in June last year but was only made public on Tuesday.

"This is a heavy operation," the judicial source said, referring to how many people took part in the raid. "It's quite an unusual one."

Should it be found guilty, Google faces either up to €10 million in fines or a fine of half of the value of the laundered amount involved.

Budget Minister Christian Eckert, who declined to confirm or deny the sums involved in the Google case on Public Senat television, said France had raked in €3.3 billion in back taxes and penalties from just five multinationals in 2015.

Separately, French tax authorities are seeking some €1.6 billion in back taxes from Google, a finance ministry source said in February.

It wasn't clear to what extent the judicial investigation made public on Tuesday was related to the tax authorities' case or was part of a larger probe into Google's tax practices.

A Reuters investigation in 2013 found that while Google said it didn't sell in countries like Britain and France, it advertised "sales" jobs in London and Paris which it said would involve "negotiating deals" and meeting "sales quotas".

The group agreed in January to pay 130 million pounds in back taxes to Britain, prompting criticism from opposition lawmakers and campaigners that the sum was too low.

According to the last available statutory financial filing, Google France posted a profit of about €12.2 million on revenues of €225.4 million in 2014 and employed 534 people in the country.

Parent company Alphabet posted net profits of $14.1 billion in 2014 on revenues of $66 billion and had a total headcount of 53,600.

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