MASERU — Prominent businessman, Osman Moosa (pictured), and his son are facing 180 counts of tax evasion, fraud and theft.
Moosa and his son, Shameen, are accused of not paying income tax and value added tax (VAT) between 2003 and 2007.
Their company Selkol (Pty) Ltd, on whose board they also sit as directors, is also facing the same criminal charges.
Selkol is a popular furniture making company and supplies major retail shops in the country. Selkol is a member of Moosa’s Group of Companies that include Building World (Pty) Ltd, Moosa Holdings (Pty) Ltd, Moosa’a Bargain and City Moosa Cash & Carry.
Moosa is the chairman of the Private Sector Competitiveness Forum, an organisation that advocates better operating environment for investors in Lesotho.
The duo has so far appeared in court twice to answer their charges.
They are currently out on a M15 000 bail and M100 000 surety each.
They are expected to appear before the High Court for a summary trial on a date yet to be finalised.
Their case was transferred from the magistrate’s court to the High Court on December 10 last year after the Director of Public Prosecution, Leaba Thetsane, deemed the charges too serious to be in the lower court.
In court papers the crown says the Moosas owe the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) M1.6 million in income tax.
The crown says between 2004 and 2007 father and son allegedly intentionally failed to declare M11.4 million of the company’s sales.
Between 2003 and 2006, the crown alleges, the Moosas failed to remit VAT worth M1.3 million.
They are reported to have also deceived the LRA officer into believing that they had paid the required tax even though they had not done so.
The Moosas were never arrested but they voluntarily went to court when they received a telephone call from the police that they were to appear before the magistrate.
Their lawyer argued that they deserved bail because they were running companies that employed 3 000 people.
Moosa told the Lesotho Times in an interview that the LRA took him by surprise when it dragged him to court at a time when he was expecting the taxman to bring proof that Selkol owed it tax.
“I am fully behind LRA because I understand its mandate of collecting revenue and therefore I could not refuse to pay tax,” Moosa said.
“It is my responsibility as a citizen and as a businessman to pay tax and as a chairman of the Private Sector Competitiveness Forum I encourage others to pay tax.”
“I was just waiting for the LRA to give me proof that Selkol owed them that much so that we could pay when all of a sudden they took us to court. We could not refuse to pay.”
It is possible that mistakes happened but that does not give the LRA any right to demand tax from Selkol without proving that the amount it claims is indeed owed, Moosa said.
“I’m not saying LRA is wrong but I just need verification that I owe them that much,” he said.
Moosa declined to give the details of the case saying it is still in the hands of the courts.
“It is improper to discuss matters that are still in the hands of the courts,” he said.
With revenue from the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu) dwindling Lesotho is trying to improve the tax administration by reining in tax dodgers.
Finance Minister Timothy Thahane recently warned that 2011 was likely to be a difficult year for Lesotho as Sacu revenues continued to decline.
Over the past few years 60 percent of Lesotho’s budget has come from Sacu.
But the global economic recession and reduced imports into Sacu have changed that.
A recent working paper by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that smaller Sacu members like Lesotho and Swaziland might have to increase
taxes and improve tax administration to make up for the gap left by Sacu.
The paper also said the government might have to cut expenditure and increase service charges. Without Sacu, Lesotho has to rely on taxes for revenue.
Yet over the years the country has battled to rein in tax evaders.