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Tangled Web at BTL – Who is Lying?

Tangled Web at BTL – Who is Lying?
July 05
08:47 2019

Friday, July 5th. 2019 –

Following reports last week that Belize Telemedia Ltd. owed upward of $29 Million in unpaid taxes to the General Sales Tax (GST) Department, BTL Chairman Nestor Vasquez told the Reporter this week that the company does not owe a “single penny” to GST and that an audit had been completed, proving so. In conversations with the Financial Secretary, the acting GST Commissioner and the previous Commissioner, however, they each confirmed an ongoing audit of BTL and did not deny that BTL had an outstanding debt.

Vasquez, when asked about comments from Financial Secretary Joseph Waight that a GST audit of the company’s finances was ongoing, said firstly BTL does not owe any money to the GST Department and secondly that there is no audit of BTL currently underway. According to Vasquez, there was an audit which was conducted and completed months ago but there was no determination BTL owed any outstanding sums.

Furthermore, Vasquez said he spoke to Waight following his comments to the media last week and informed him “…you are wrong, the answer is simple, we do not owe you a penny,” emphasizing that comments to the contrary were “inaccurate.”

Former GST Commissioner, Betty-Ann Jones, who retired earlier this year, would only confirm that during her tenure an audit of BTL had been conducted. She would not entertain any further questions, however, current acting Commissioner, Evan Brown confirmed to the Reporter that a GST audit of the BTL was indeed ongoing. He said he was not at liberty to divulge any further details. Yet, if there was no audit and if the answer was as simple as BTL suggests, then why would the three most knowledgeable government officials regarding the matter not just state definitively that there is no outstanding debt owed by the company?

BTL issued a press release this week confirming its position that it does not owe any money to the GST Department. The company says it has made all of its monthly payments to GST consistently. Following our conversation with Brown, the GST Department issued a release informing that an audit is currently being conducted. The Department then declared its position, “that BTL is compliant in fulfilling their obligations to file and pay monthly as is required by law,” before concluding “The Department is presently awaiting the completion of the audit to determine BTL’s tax position,” which seems a clear contradiction.

The Reporter also sought further clarification from the Financial Secretary, however we were informed he was out of the country and would not be back in office until next week. Notably, two days after news broke about BTL’s purported tax woes, BTL’s Chief Executive Officer, Rochus Schreiber, resigned from that position. A press release said the resignation is for personal reasons but there has been chatter that Schreiber is leaving amid high tensions. His resignation also comes on the heels of new legislation passed by the government which applies criminal liability to directors of corporations which withhold and are non-compliant with tax payments. The company’s former Chief Financial Officer, Ivan Tesecum, has been reported as a likely replacement for Schreiber as CEO.

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