The Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) is investigating operations of the Ghana Oil Palm Development Company (GOPDC), whose majority shareholder, Societe d’Investment Pour l’Agriculture (SIAT), is said to be at the centre of alleged tax evasion to the tune of GH¢214,000.

Consequently, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is to apply on SIAT the Internal Revenue Act 2000 (Sections 145 and 150), which provide a penalty three times the amount evaded to be imposed on individuals and organisations.

Sources within the company, located at Kade in the Kwaebibrem District in the Eastern Region, which disclosed this to the Daily Graphic, said the Belgian company allegedly suppressed the total dividends that were declared and paid by the GOPDC in the course of preparing the company’s annual financial report and succeeded in evading the payment of corporate taxes.

They said SIAT, in the course of doing business in the country, breached Ghana’s Company Code when it introduced in 1996 the African Tiger Mutual Fund (ATMF), with a sole Belgian shareholder by name Henk J. Cornelius Van Gastel, into its shareholding structure without authorisation.

The sources explained that the ATMF’s activities were not registered with the Ghana Investment Promotion Centre (GIPC) as required by Act 478 of the Company’s Code, neither did it file any annual returns and yet it continued to pursue its business activities and succeeded in secretly investing in 400,000 shares in the Ghana Commercial Bank and 875,000 shares in Paterson Zochonis Ghana Limited.

According to one source, which made available to the Daily Graphic a copy of a report of enquiry into the operations of the GOPDC, a clear case of fraud was identified when SIAT paid GH¢20,800 to the Government of Ghana (GOG), which represented 40 percent of dividends declared in 1995 when in actual fact the amount should have been GH¢31,200 as a result of the 60 percent shareholding proportion of dividends that was allotted to SIAT.

It indicated that GH¢3,924,000, representing dividends, was earned by SIAT in which the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) had equity shares, but a team of tax experts reviewing the audited accounts of SIAT found that the dividends earned from GOPDC were not redistributed to enable SSNIT to receive its share, which resulted in SSNIT losing several thousands of Ghana cedis.

The source said the team noted some discrepancies in incomes when a statement of account that was prepared by GOPDC to record all transactions related to the Divestiture Implementation Committee (DIC) and the GOG disclosed GH¢3,263,228 captured as income instead of GH¢3,924,000, adding that more than GH¢480,000 was expended in areas that did not have any direct link with the operations of the company.

It said at the time GOPDC was being registered its shareholders were SSNIT and SIAT, and with its majority share in the company, SIAT was mandated to control both the administrative and the technical management of the GOPDC and as a result took advantage of its position to “squeeze the GOG out of the shareholding structure and at the same time dilute the equitable interest of SSNIT in the project.”

The source stated that serious lapses were established in the monitoring of SSNIT’s investment in the GOPDC, explaining that at the time of the joint venture in 1995 SSNIT’s initial interest in the GOPDC stood at 30 percent but as time went by, the number dwindled to 16.84 percent even though SSNIT was the principal financier of projects.

It added that records available at the DIC established that after the agreement to divest 60 percent of the GOG’s shares to SIAT were concluded, SSNIT, in January 2005 and July of the same year, paid an initial $1,650,000 to partly meet the conditions of the Share Sale and Purchase Agreement (SSPA) but SIAT waited till June 2007 before it paid $2,935,927 towards the fulfilment of the contractual requirement, which raised questions bordering on SIAT’s sincerity towards the agreement.

This development, according to the source, had called for more support for the DIC and the GIPC to undertake continuous monitoring of the operations of foreign companies which acquire divested state properties.

When the Daily Graphic reached Mr Samuel Heming and Mr Lawrence Afrim, Director of Finance and Deputy Managing Director respectively of the GOPDC via telephone from their base in Kade, they each declined to comment.

Source: Daily Graphic

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