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P.U.P. blasts Government and B.T.L.

Posted: Thursday, July 4, 2019. 10:58 am CST.

By Aaron Humes: The Department of General Sales Tax, soon to be amalgamated with the Income Tax Department broke its silence a few days ago to confirm that it is presently conducting an audit of the tax position of Belize Telemedia Limited (B.T.L.)

 The Department says that “B.T.L. is compliant in fulfilling their obligations to file and pay monthly as is required by law and that [they are] presently awaiting the completion of the audit that will determine B.T.L.’s tax position.”

But the Opposition People’s United Party (P.U.P.), bolstered by internal leakage of documents and sources inside the General Sales Tax Department, says don’t believe the hype.

Appearing at a news conference for the first time since its unsuccessful backing of the ‘No’ vote at the May ICJ referendum, Leader of the Opposition John Briceño and his shadow spokesman for Communications and Public Utilities, Kareem Musa, accused the majority state-owned company of:

  “grossly underreporting” its revenue,  seemingly cheating taxpayers of more than $50 million including interest and penalties in six years   the Government covering up B.T.L.’s misbehavior.

Musa says B.T.L. may also owe business tax for 2017 and 2018.

 Belize’s primary telecommunications companies – B.T.L. and rival Speednet Communications/Smart, owned by the Briceño family, are taxed at 19% for G.S.T., in addition to the G.S.T. payable on data services since the 2018 budget. In the case of B.T.L., says Briceño, “[they] set up a marketing company so that that they can sell their talk time where they only pay one point seven five. That is where B.T.L. is playing with the numbers, trying to see how they can avoid paying some of the taxes that they have to pay.”

 Harking back to the Government’s acquisitions of Telemedia in 2009 and 2011 which was eventually settled for $557 million, and the conflicts of interest of executive chairman Net Vasquez and former C.E.O. Anwar Barrow, Musa said, “We can no longer trust the financials of that company anymore.” And according to his sources, he added, there is a letter from Vasquez to Financial Secretary Joseph Waight requesting a waiver of the debt, though Secretary Waight says he hasn’t seen it.

All this has led to Briceño writing the Prime Minister, demanding a formal response on the B.T.L. situation and an independent forensic audit to establish what may be wrong at St. Thomas Street. Already, C.E.O. Rochus Schreiber, who succeeded Barrow, has resigned for alleged personal reasons. Musa commented that he is not clear if that resignation is to get around the provisions of the new Tax Administration and Procedure Act, which stiffens the penalties for directors and other company officials who sanction evasion of taxes.

Despite his own position with Smart, Briceño said, “I think that, I have to divorce myself from my personal interest to what is the interest of the people. … I believe that as the leader of the opposition, I have not only a legal responsibility but a moral responsibility to speak out.”

 

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