The National Board of Revenue has resumed scrutinising the authenticity of SIM replacement data provided by the country’s leading four mobile operators to check whether the operators dodged tax through SIM replacement process.
A tripartite committee of Large Taxpayers Unit (value-added tax) of the revenue board formed in early March is now verifying the documents of the mobile operators — Grameenphone, Banglalink, Robi and Airtel — for the period between 2011 and 2015, officials concerned have told New Age.
They said the committee consisting of representatives from the LTU, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission, the Association of Mobile Telephone Operators of Bangladesh and related operators had already held two meetings on the issue.
Earlier in 2012, the revenue board conducted an audit on SIMs replaced by the four operators between July 2007 and December 2011 and demanded Tk 2,048 crore as SIM replacement tax from the companies saying that they dodged the amount in the replacement process.
In the process, according to the NBR report, the operators dodged the amount in SIM replacement tax through selling old SIMs to new clients but declaring replacement to original subscribers as there was no tax on replacement till June, 2014 while SIM tax on new SIM was Tk 300.
The operators have always been denying the allegations.
Currently, tax on both new and replacement SIM tax is Tk 100.
In the current move, the NBR smells of tax evasion of more than Tk 1,000 crore by the operators in the investigation period.
Officials of the NBR said according to an NBR order in 2005, mobile operators should furnish documents of SIMs replaced to subscribers against the lost, stolen or damaged SIMs along with monthly VAT returns.
But, the operators did not furnish the documents like subscriber agreement form and subscriber replacement form or users undertaking form or customs service form, they said.
At the meetings, the LTU informed the mobile companies that the committee would examine the documents in random sampling method to check whether the operators dodged SIM replacement tax while replacing SIMs.
It is not possible to inspect all documents against all replacement as the number of replaced SIMs in the five-year period would be more than one crore, the officials said, adding that the operators should accept the random sampling method as they did not furnish the documents on monthly basis.
The LTU also informed that the committee would visit the operators’ offices for physical investigation in this regard, they added.
The AMTOB and the operators rejected both the proposals of the LTU saying that the SIM replacement tax issue was now a sub-judice matter at NBR’s appellate tribunal.
They also requested the LTU to proceed after getting verdict from appellate tribunal on the previous demand.
The LTU, however, did not agree with the request saying that they had a five-year time bar to complete the examination as the taxmen could not conduct any assessment for the period after expiry of the timeframe.
A high official of the NBR said that the LTU had already lost the authority to examine the SIMs for the year 2011 as it went out of a five-year time bar.
The government will lose revenue for days to be delayed in the process, he said.
So, the LTU has decided to continue the investigation and will issue demand notice if any evidence of tax evasion is found, the official said.
It is now waiting for the verdict of the tribunal to accommodate the observations, if any, of the court in issuing a demand notice, he added.
The official said that the tribunal had completed hearing of the case and would deliver its verdict soon.
AMTOB secretary general TIM Nurul Kabir on Saturday told New Age that the operators got surprised to see the move before settlement of the previous dispute.
‘Investors may feel shy to make further investment in the country amid such unpredictability and uncertainly in regulatory affairs,’ he said, adding that the government should resolve the issue holistically for the sake of foreign direct investment.
Kabir claimed that the previous demand was made on fictitious base.
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