New Supreme Court ruling on statute of limitations on tax penalties

On 7 March 2023, the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (“CSJN”) handed down a judgment in the case “Alpha Shipping S.A. v. Provincia de T.D.F. A. e I.A.S. s/ contencioso administrativo – medida cautelar”, where it was debated whether the statute of limitations for fines arising from non-compliance with provincial tax obligations should be governed by provincial laws or by the Criminal Code of the Nation.

In passing judgment, the CSJN held that: “… the sanction applied to the plaintiff – whose prescription is sought here – is of a criminal nature because, “‘although in cases of fines there may be a fiscal interest in their collection, this does not alter their primarily punitive nature’, from which it follows that the principles of criminal law are applicable to the matter, as prescribed by art. 4 of the Criminal Code”.

In view of this, the CSJN concludes that: “… this is so because the principles and rules of criminal law are applicable in the field of administrative sanctions, provided that the solution is not provided for in the specific legal system and insofar as those principles and rules are compatible with the legal system structured by the special rules in question, so that the provisions of that body of law must be applied”.

The CSJN reviewed the classic doctrine on prescription, recalling that, in this case, by virtue of Articles 31 and 75 Section 12 of the National Constitution, prescription is governed by the substantive codes.

The CSJN upheld the Extraordinary Appeal and revoked the tax fines on the grounds that they were time-barred.

With this precedent, the CSJN ratifies that the statute of limitations for local fines is governed by the rules of the Criminal Code of the Nation, by application of articles 31 and 75 paragraph 12 CN. Therefore, any local ordinance that deviates from the time limits, form of calculation and grounds for suspension and interruption thereof is unconstitutional.

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