The Liability of the Member of the Board of the Directors of a Societe Anonyme
Part 2: Other liabilities (others than those resulting from the law on the SAs)
It is important, I appreciate, for both the members and the candidate members of boards of directors, to have a better understanding of the responsibilities they undertake. Equally important, of course, is not to “lose their sleep” to those who like to read articles like the present. However, in the event that I am the cause of such an event, I declare publicly that I am ready to take on the responsibilities and to bear the consequences (despite what Homer had already said in the Iliad (Rhapsody B ): “He who is in power, can not sleep quietly for a whole night”) ..
As already mentioned in the first part of this article, “the extent of the liability of those exercising authority over a Société Anonyme and the risks they face are not, in their entirety, recorded”. Any attempt to record can only be relevant in terms of its completeness. Most importantly, however, it is filled with awe in the range, depth (and weight) of the potential liabilities of the members of the Board of Directors.
Here is an approach that is necessarily limited to the risks to which the members of the Board of Directors of the Société Anonyme are exposed – in addition to those resulting from the recent Law on Sociétés Anonymes (Part 1: The Responsibilities Arising From The New Law On Sociétés Anonymes). The plurality and the ingenuity of the individual (allegedly) injured, extend, in a great way, the extent and size of the potential risks faced by these individuals.
However, it is important to recall, in this case, that “the status of a non-executive member of the Board of Directors does not automatically mean no liability”.
C. Liability towards the State and Public Insurance Organizations
On the basis of the principle of the autonomy of legal entities (principle of separate personhood), the members of the Board of Directors are not liable for the debts of the Société Anonyme.
One of the particularly important exceptions to this rule is when the Société Anonyme has debts to the State and, of course, to the Public Insurance Organizations. In this case, we are witnessing a breakthrough in the rule (the so-called “piercing the corporate vale”).
Such are the cases that are dealt with later on…
2.Liability arising from tax offenses
2.1. Personal and joint accountability of the persons involved in the Management
The Directors, Presidents, Managers, Managing Directors, and authorized to manage Legal Entities are personally and jointly and severally liable with the Company, both at the time of their operation and their merger and (together with the liquidators) at the time of their dissolution (Article 50 of Law 4174/2013- “Code of Tax Procedure”):
(a) for the payment of taxes due, interest, fines and withholding taxes,
(b) for non-retention of deductions and improper taxes and for non-reimbursement of VAT.
(c) for the payment of ENFIA, in the event of interest and fines due to their own actions or omissions
2.2. Criminal liability of those involved (and not) in Management
General – Criminal liability
In order to enforce the tax obligations of individual legal entities (of course also od Sociétés Anonymes) and to prevent tax and customs offenses, the criminal liability of those involved in the management of the legal entities is chosen in a series of legal acts.
In this context (as well as in the case of domestic Sociétés Anonymes), as criminally liable persons, are identified (with almost identical formulas in the individual articles mentioned below) the chairpersons of the Boards of Directors, the directors, the authorized or co-directors, the managers or the general managers; directors and any person authorized either directly by law or by private will or by a court order to administer or manage them. Where all the above persons are absent, the penalties shall be imposed against the members of the boards of such companies if they are in fact temporarily or permanently engaged in one of the above-mentioned tasks.
However, the fact of doing or not doing so is ultimately a matter of substance, which explains the (often unjustified) choice of the competent prosecutors to bring all the members of the boards of directors concerned to before the “procedure of the hearing”. (This is irrespective of the existence or not of executive and non-executive members of the boards of directors). The rationale “let them get their own back before a court” is, in this case, unjustifiably aggravating for the administration of justice. Most importantly, however, it creates extremely high costs at the financial, personal, social, family and professional levels of individuals who can not, in any way, be held accountable.
The crime of tax evasion
The violation of provisions of the Code of Tax Procedure is rigorously dealt with by the provisions of articles 66 et seq. of this law (Law 4174/2013, as they apply after their re-approach by Article 8 of Law 4337/2015 – “Implementing Measures of the Memorandum”). The provision of article 66 of law 4174/2013 defines and deals with the offense of tax evasion with threatened imprisonment or, in the most important cases, with incarceration.
As the perpetrators of an offense of tax evasion committed by a domestic Société Anonyme are also considered to be the persons in any way involved in the management of domestic Sociétés Anonymes and, in the aforementioned circumstances, all the members of their boards of directors (Article 67 of Law 4174 / 2013)
The offense of non-payment of established debts to the State etc.
The non-payment of established debts to the State, to legal entities governed by public law, corporations and public-sector bodies is also a criminal offense for those who are in any way involved in the management of Sociétés Anonymes and, under the aforementioned conditions, all members of their boards of directors (Article 25 Law 1882/1990 – “Tax Evasion, Taxation and Other Provisions)
3.Liability arising from customs offenses
On the basis of the Customs Code (Law 2960/2001), a customs debt is a liability of any natural person or legal entity against a Customs Authority for the payment of all duties, taxes, including value-added tax (VAT). ), and other governmental rights, which are commodity-related and charged in accordance with the relevant provisions. For the payment of the customs debt, the representatives of the legal entities as well as the liquidators of Sociétés Anonymes are also personally and jointly liable (Article 29 of Law 2960/2001)
As regards, in particular, domestic companies, jointly and in the specific case (and with their personal property), are jointly liable those who are in any way involved in the management of Sociétés Anonymes and, in the above-mentioned circumstances, all the members of their boards of directors (Article 153 of Law 2960/2001):
The above-mentioned persons are perpetrators or, as the case may be, collaborators of smuggling offenses and are consequently exposed to relevant (not minor) criminal sanctions (Article 153 of Law 2960/2001)
4.Liability arising from the non-payment of Insurance Contributions
In the provision of article 26 of law 1846/1951 (“Institutional law for IKA”) reference is made to the persons responsible for the social security contributions and the way of their payment. This obligation also covers the additional fees, surcharges and other charges payable to the Social Security Institutions – regardless of the time of their assertion.
Both legal representatives, presidents, administrators, managing directors, administrators and liquidators of legal persons are jointly and severally liable to the employer (both during its operation and at the time of its dissolution or merger) (Article 31 v. 4321/2015).
The obligation of these persons does not (automatically) take time after their removal or resignation.
By the provision of article 1 of Law 86/1967, the persons liable for payment are criminalized both for the non-payment of employer’s contributions and for the deduction and non-reimbursement of employees’ contributions.
D. Liability under the Civil Code
Under the provision of Article 71 of the Civil Code: The legal entity (in this case the Société Anonyme) is liable (Article 71) for both acts and omissions of (the natural persons) who represent it, if liability for compensation is incurred and occurred at the time of the performance of their duties. The liability (if any) of the responsible representative, representative/member of the Board of Directors is joint and several.
Under the provisions of Articles 71, 197 & 198 of the Civil Code: This liability refers to the damage caused to the other contracting party in the course of negotiations, regardless of whether or not the contract was concluded. This liability can also be imputed to the member of the Board who acted guiltily in the context of these negotiations.
Under the provision, among others, of Article 914 of the Civil Code: The liability of the members of the Board of Directors may also be substantiated in the general provisions for compensation of the Civil Code. Two are the most interesting cases in this particular section:
(a) The liability of the members of the Board of Directors vis-à-vis the shareholders when related to their actions and omissions and, as such, is affected by the “core of their shareholder rights as they go beyond the limits of normal management and as such should be taken (following an approval) or at least be made aware of the shareholders” (Athens Court of First Instance 12468/2012)
(b) The liability of the members of the Board of Directors vis-à-vis third parties (generally more interesting in the case of an accident at work). Interestingly, based on existing case law (indicatively: Supreme Court 472/2018), the capacity of a member as a non-executive member is NOT sufficient to exempt him from any such liability. What is being investigated, in any case, is the existence of a fault in the face of a member, not his or her status as an executive or not.
E. Liability under the provisions of the Bankruptcy Code
The liability of the members of the Board of Directors arising from the provisions of the Bankruptcy Code is of both civil and criminal nature.
(a) Their civil liability refers to the obligation to restore the damage to creditors (Article 98 of the Bankruptcy Code) in the event that either a bankruptcy petition is not filed in time, or the bankruptcy of the company has been caused by deception or gross negligence.
(b) Their criminal liability (as well as the liability of managers, members of the management and directors of companies in general) is linked to actions that either cause the bankruptcy of the company or make it difficult for creditors to be satisfied or are linked to an omission of their legitimate obligations (Article 171 et seq. of the Bankruptcy Code)
F. Liability under the provisions of the Penal Code – especially the offense of infidelity
The provisions of the Penal Code in the legal form of which it is possible to include acts and omissions of the members of the Board of Directors of the Société Anonyme are scattered.
One of the most commonly threatened is the offense of infidelity under Article 390 of the Penal Code. Based on this provision, the offense of infidelity is omitted by anyone who knowingly damages the property of another, which, by law or legal action, has custody or management. In the case of administrative offenses against the property of a legal person, those who are violating the rules of diligent management – and of course the members of the Board of Directors of the Société Anonyme – are also responsible (and exposed to the corresponding criminal sanctions).
The liability of the members of the Board of Directors (in particular executive directors) is in some cases objective and given. This, of course, automatically implies situations that create such liabilities. It is also assumed that in the context of entrepreneurship, especially in our country, the potential exposure of the legal entity (and the members of the Board of the Directors) to risks seems rather normal and reasonably expected.
In the first part of this article, I concluded: “Not that every member of the Board of Directors is assumed to “get in trouble” yet, it is good to remember that the (exercise) of power is not a simple aphrodisiac”.
But I wonder at the end: Would it be possible for the knowledge (or reminder) of the responsibilities of exercising power and the associated risks faced by those who exercise it, to repress the hormones involved?
Or maybe not?
P.S. A brief version of this article has been published in MAKEDONIA Newspaper (March 10th, 2019).