Tax info leaks under investigation
Aglobal accountancy body has started the process to hear a complaint of unethical behaviour and abuse of office by the (Guyana) tax chief, Khurshid Sattaur.
The complaint, made last month by Kaieteur News, was filed after a number of damning emails disclosed a shocking plot to use audits of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) to silence outspoken media houses and more specifically Kaieteur News.
In those emails, the Commissioner-General allegedly breached secrecy regulations and leaked confidential tax information pertaining to Kaieteur News and other media houses, including Stabroek News.
Already, Kaieteur News has forwarded details to the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) which is based in London. The complaint follows one filed last month to the local accountancy body, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Guyana. That body has already started the process to hear the complaint against Sattaur.
ACCA is the global body for professional accountants. Members of ACCA are required to observe proper standards of professional conduct.
ACCA will take disciplinary action against its members, firms and registered students where there is evidence of a sufficiently serious failure to observe those standards. Once ACCA has received a complaint, it may decide to proceed with its investigation, despite a later request that it may be withdrawn.
Any negative findings against the embattled head of GRA by the bodies will definitely have a long-term impact on his professional standing and credibility within the accounting community.
ICAG, in a reply to the complaint, last month disclosed that indeed, the Commissioner-General is one of its members. “The Council of the Institute considered the contents of your letter and the associated attachment at its meeting of 14th October 2014. It has been agreed that the matter will be referred to the Investigations Committee of the Institute in accordance with our bye-laws (sic).”
It is not often that one hears about a complaint against a member of the accounting profession. This one has significance because it involves the head of the country’s tax collection agency.
The official complaint, which was prompted by the illegal release of confidential tax information, said that Sattaur is guilty of misconduct in office by his acts.
Glenn Lall, the Publisher of Kaieteur News, said that Sattaur, as a Chartered Accountant, was in breach of a statutory Declaration of Secrecy, and of the law, when he provided information concerning the tax affairs of several newspaper publishing companies to former President, Bharrat Jagdeo, in September.
The Publisher also included copies of leaked emails that Sattaur had exchanged with Jagdeo and Attorney General, Anil Nandlall.
“While only of tangential importance, the emails demonstrate that Mr. Sattaur, who is the Commissioner-General of the Guyana Revenue Authority, is using his position in an improper manner amounting to professional misconduct,” the complaint by Lall indicated.
Those emails, published over recent weeks by this newspaper, revealed a shocking plot by top government officials, in collaboration with Sattaur, to go after a number of private newspapers and news entities that have been highly critical of projects and the way taxpayers’ dollars are being spent.
Kaieteur News has been at the brunt of the offence by Government which has been under increasing criticisms for a number of questionable contracts and deals with investors.
Sattaur had become angry after the newspaper published a report which questioned the appropriateness of his three children and other relatives working under him in key positions at that state agency. He admitted in those emails sent September, that he had used the threat of tax audits to successfully silence Frederick Kissoon, a popular, longstanding columnist in Kaieteur News.
The Opposition has signaled intentions to have Sattaur investigated by parliament for those tax leaks to the former President. There have also been several calls for him to resign.
Last month, GRA, led by Sattaur, filed private criminal charges against Lall and his wife after seizing two SUVs belonging to a remigrant couple who are family friends of the Publisher.
GRA contends that the Lalls are the real owners. However, the Publisher made it clear that he and his wife would normally use the vehicles as part of a fleet, in face of security concerns.
Significantly, the vehicles were taken away from the home of the remigrants.
The charges and an increasing number of lawsuits from people close to and attached to the government, as well as the emails, are strong evidence of government backing a plan to silence an outspoken newspaper, Lall said.
More recently, there was the recorded conversation between Attorney General Anil Nandlall and a Kaieteur News senior reporter. In that conversation Nandlall spoke of people coming to the newspaper offices to shoot up the staff and the publisher.
(Kaieteur News, Guyana)