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France seeking back tax from big Web firms: minister

PARIS (Reuters) - France, which is studying ways of curbing legal tax avoidance by big Internet firms, has decided to go after all of them to seek payment of back taxes, Industry Minister Arnaud Montebourg said on Thursday.

The government had decided, Montebourg said on France 2 television, "to launch tax retrieval procedures covering all of the Internet giants".

He did not elaborate and it was not clear whether the comment, made in a wide-ranging interview about French industry, referred specifically to existing tax investigations of the Internet search engine and retail giants Google and Amazon , or was suggesting a broader campaign.

President Francois Hollande's government is considering how it could change the way it taxes global Internet groups, including a new levy on the personal data of web surfers that the likes of Google and Facebook use to make money.

French politicians, like peers elsewhere in Europe, are raising pressure on web companies who, they say, collectively avoid paying millions in value-added and corporate taxes by exploiting loopholes in European Union laws and different tax regimes across the region.

Google has been under investigation by the French tax authorities since June 30, 2011, when its Paris offices were searched and computers and documents were seized.

Tax authorities are examining whether its practice of charging French advertisers via its European headquarters in Ireland led it to underpay taxes in France.

Google has said its practices in France conform with local law and that it is co-operating with the authorities.

Amazon said in November it had received a $252 million demand from the French tax authorities for back taxes, interest and penalties in relation to "the allocation of income between foreign jurisdictions".

(Reporting By Brian Love; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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