Two separate investigations into the uncanny luck a handful of individuals have had with VAT receipt lottery have found no evidence of wrongdoing or irregularity, Finance Minister Clyde Caruana told parliament on Monday as the House reconvened after the summer recess.
The investigation was launched after The Shift last July analysed more than a year’s worth of VAT lottery results by comparing the number of times the same identity card holders had won the VAT lottery, aimed at encouraging consumers to demand receipts in a bid to stem tax business tax evasion.
The Shift had exclusively reported how a total of 24 people had somehow managed to win the lottery on multiple occasions in under 18 months.
For example, a 64-year-old Cospicua resident won the VAT lottery no less than 13 times in under 18 months, cashing in a total of around €9,000. A 41-year-old man from Siggiewi was more fortuitous and walked away with a total of €18,584 after just four wins. A 71-year-old from Naxxar was almost as lucky, having won the VAT lottery 11 times in the same period.
In all, The Shift uncovered another 23 lucky people who had their winning receipts drawn multiple times since January 2021 even though they were in the running with millions of other participating receipts.
The last article on the subject was published by The Shift on 12 July and by 18 July, according to Caruana, the investigation had been completed and no wrongdoing had been found.
All above board, Caruana insists
Caruana was answering a parliamentary question tabled by Opposition MP Jerome Caruana Cilia, who asked if there was an acceptable level of transparency in the lottery draw and whether an investigation had been conducted into what The Shift has reported.
Caruana informed the House this week that the Internal Audit and Investigations Department had launched its first investigation into the matter that was concluded in December 2021 and “no irregularity was found”.
The IAID then conducted another probe into the lottery draws, which was wrapped up on 18 July 2022 and, Caruana said, “once again, the process was found to be transparent and no anomalies were found”.
Caruana went on to explain how the National Audit Office’s annual report for 2017 had made a number of recommendations for revamping the lottery, which he said had been implemented. Such changes, he said, included a new urn for the draw as its predecessor had not been shuffling the receipts properly.
But lottery experts who spoke to The Shift have claimed it would be close to “mathematically impossible” for the same participant to have his or her tickets extracted more than once in the same draw, which has a pool of some three million fiscal receipts.
They said, “It is not excluded that some participants are posting thousands of receipts, making the possibility of winning much bigger than others”.
The National Audit Office called for a revamp of the lottery in 2018 after discovering multiple shortcomings in its administration, which is what the finance minister referred to, albeit somewhat vaguely.
The system was introduced in the 1990s by then finance minister John Dalli as part of an effort to reduce rampant VAT evasion. Customers were encouraged to send their fiscal receipts to the VAT Department so as to participate in a monthly draw.
Several receipts were drawn each month during a televised event, with winners receiving 100 times their receipt’s value in cash. Receipts continue to be drawn until a €60,000 monthly cap is reached. The televised draw was stopped, however, when the Labour Party was elected to government in 2013.