A local weekly paper, The Financial Gazette, headlined today with “Econet In A Fix As Tax Dragnet Closes In” and went on to explain an tax issue where Econet is said to have been paying less duty on base stations than they were supposed to since 1998. It’s serious to the extent Econet could be made to pay $600 million by ZIMRA. How did it happen? The Fingaz article is pretty long read so we’ve distilled it for you. We’ll update as needed to clarify anything.
- A Whistleblower, who has been Econet’s clearing company for more than 10 years is telling on them.
- In 1998 duty was waived on parts for base stations. Under duty tariff 8525.2020.
- The Whistleblower says Econet has been allowed to use this waiver on all imported goods and base station equipment since then.
- He says in total Econet has imported 56,500 containers which were cleared as base stations.
- In December 2013, ZIMRA wrote a letter to the Whistleblower’s company requesting to know how the shipping company cleared 59,682 base stations for Econet and yet ZIMRA knows of only 2,500 base stations that Econet has.
- It’s not clear if ZIMRA’s letter was written after Mutambanadzo had blown the whistle or before.
- The whistleblower is a guy named Edward Mutambanadzo, the managing director of a shipping company called Paul Edwards Shipping Company.
- There’s a lot of incentive to blow the whistle on something potentially big, as this case is. Whistleblowers get 10% of the value of the value. That’s a potential $60 million of the $600 mil.
- It’s not clear if, beyond his cash commission, Mutambanadzo had other characters and agendas behind him.
- Normally, the whistleblower would have done his job and gone behind the scenes but seems there may have been some corruption involved.
Possibility of corrupt ZIMRA officials acting for their own gain
- The fingaz says some of the ZIMRA officials on the case undertook to thoroughly investigate the matter on an understanding that the whistleblower would share his loot with them.
- The fingaz also lightly suggests ZIMRA officials may have fed case information to Mutambanadzo so he would whistleblow and they would share the spoils. Such corrupt practices, the Fingaz says, are not without precedence in Zimbabwe.
- ZIMRA officials, apparently made a u-turn on Mutambanadzo and started negotiating with Econet. It’s not clear in the article if these negotiations were similarly corrupt or now as official taxman business.
- Whatever the reason, the whistleblower wasn’t amused so he told on the officials handing over document evidence and audio records.
- Through investigation however, ZIMRA determined that Mutambanadzo’s information wasn’t useful as ZIMRA was already investigating the matter when he blew the whistle.
- ZIMRA also we ahead and suspended Mutambanadzo’s company’s customs account pending the conclusion of Econet’s case:
“Please be advised that Paul Edwards Shipping customs account has been suspended on December 6 and remains suspended pending the outcome of the urgent chamber application brought before the High Court by Econet Wireless Zimbabwe against ZIMRA over classification of goods. The tariff dispute before the High Court arose as a result of misclassification of base station components by a number of clearing agents of which Paul Edwards Shipping was one of them, thereby prejudicing the fiscus of millions of dollars”
Econet’s official comment on all this:
We are aware of these allegations, which are malicious, and the parties who are making the claims. We have written to the authorities to invite them to perform their own investigations and assess the veracity of these claims