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'$220,000 not declared'

FREDERICE ELBOURNE and MONIKA SINGH
Monday, February 25, 2008

INTERIM Finance Minister Mahendra Chaudhry failed to declare for tax more than $220,000 earned in Australia between 2000 and 2003, according to two former senior tax officials.

In a letter to the Police Commissioner in August last year, Lepani Rabo and Joseva Leano claimed they had been suspended by the Fiji Islands Revenue and Customs Authority because they held Mr Chaudhry's tax files.

Both were later dismissed from FIRCA.

Mr Rabo, then the chief auditor of FIRCA's risk and compliance division, first wrote to the acting Police Commissioner on August 16, claiming that Mr Chaudhry had breached the Income Tax Act.

On August 22, Mr Rabo was suspended by FIRCA management for using "abusive language".

He then asked for and got a meeting with Commodore Bainimarama the following day, August 23. Mr Leano joined Mr Rabo at the August 23 meeting in the Prime Minister's Office.

At the meeting was Fiji Ambassador to China, Sir James Ah Koy.

Commodore Bainimarama reportedly advised the two to take their complaints to the Police Commissioner.

They sent another letter to the Police Commissioner on the same day.

Mr Rabo's August 16 letter lodged a complaint with police, claiming Mr Chaudhry had breached the law by not filing his tax returns between 2001 and 2003.

"FIRCA auditors, after a long battle, managed to get Mr Chaudhry to lodge his returns through his tax agent, G Lal & Co," Mr Rabo told the Police Commissioner in the letter. "Although the returns for 2001-2003 were lodged they did not include all his taxable income.

Mr Rabo said that FIRCA auditors adjusted Mr Chaudhry's tax returns to reflect the omitted income "and the result was over $100,000".

However, he said, Mr Chaudhry did not explain the sources of funds on which the interest income had been earned.

"Today, we still do not have any records in his tax file," Mr Rabo wrote.

"As an interim minister, this is a serious matter and a full audit should be taken into his income tax affairs to determine the sources of funds."

The second letter to the Police Commissioner was written by both Mr Rabo and Mr Leano.

Mr Rabo reported in this letter that he had been suspended by CEO Jitoko Tikolevu, then a senior manager.

"The reason for the suspension was the allegation that I used abusive language.

"I believe the real reason for my suspension lies somewhere else. "The true reason for my suspension is because I had in my possession the audit file of the interim Minister for Finance.

"The file was handed to me by my colleague Mr Leano before he was sent on special leave for two weeks. "The reason given for Mr Leano's leave was that he had abused his powers as general manager risk and compliance.

"We believe that the reason for (Mr Leano) being sent on special leave was because of his original possession of the same audit file of the Minister for Finance.

"Mr Leano's statement surrounding him being sent on leave is already in the possession of intelligence officers from the Fiji Military Forces attached at Home Affairs."

THE CHAUDHARY FILES
Income that FIRCA officials claim Mr Chaudhary failed to declare for tax

YearIncome declaredOmitted IncomeAdjusted total income
2000$41,530.83$2,815.22$44,346.05
2001$46,469.86$34,711.18$81,181.04
2002$63,614.67$65,823.84$129,438.51
2003$64,415.99$118,887.22$176,283.21

Related stories:

Previously (Sunday, 25 February):

Saturday, 24 February:





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