Tanzanian investor evades tax, goes into hiding

Saturday September 22 2012

Miners at work. Tanzania government is threatening to revoke the licence of Aureus Company Ltd, a mining firm, over tax evasion. Photo/FILE

Miners at work. Tanzania government is threatening to revoke the licence of Aureus Company Ltd, a mining firm, over tax evasion. Photo/FILE Nation Media Group

By ADAM IHUCHA Special Correspondent

The Tanzania government is threatening to revoke the licence of a mining firm over tax evasion.

Aureus Company Ltd, which operates two gold smelting plants on the outskirts of Mwanza city in western Tanzania, is accused of evading payment of Tsh12.472 billion (nearly $8 million) in taxes.

Deputy Minister for Energy and Minerals Stephen Masele told The EastAfrican that Tanzanian security agencies and Interpol are searching for its owner, Mark Rene Roelandts, in Belgium and Spain, as he is believed to be hiding in one of the two countries.

An audit by the Tanzania Mineral Audit Agency revealed that through false accounting from 2006 to 2010, Aureus understated figures for gold production, exports and profits.

A report of the audit, shows that the company also smuggled a total of 63.27 kg of gold, worth Tsh2.763 billion ($1.758 million) to individuals in the Italian Mafia.

The firm also failed to pay Value Added Tax amounting to Tsh9.085 billion ($5.796 million); Pay As You Earn tax of Tsh252.683 million ($160,838.475) and royalty fees amounting to Tsh371.026 million ($236,023.237) for all operations and gold exports during that period.

According to Mr Masele, the Tanzania government is “outraged” by the investor’s action. He said: “A red line has been crossed. The government will nullify the firm’s mining licence, in addition to taking other legal measures against the company.”

The deputy minister said that, on September 9, Aureus flouted the rule requiring that production chains and export processes be closely supervised and monitored by a government agency.

Aureus acquired the plant from Mineral Extraction Technologies Ltd, which had been accused of using gold bars to help Italian groups, including the right wing Northern League (Lega Nord), launder money.

Police found that the party’s treasurer, Francesco Belsito, was in business with a man who had been investigated for links to the Calabrian mafia, the Ndrangheta. Belsito was found to have gold bars originating from Tanzania.

The financial scandal forced the head of the Northern League, Umberto Bossi, to resign.

The party, which has investments in Cyprus and Tanzania, is also being scrutinised for possible links to organised crime.

Investigators say they have found a link between the tax evasion and the Italian party and a gold smuggling ring. The cash from the sale of the gold is believed to be deposited in accounts in Switzerland under a fictitious name.

Earlier in the month, Tanzania police arrested three officals of Aureus Ltd — plant supervisor David Gommeren, a Dutch national, production manager Gidion Ludwick, a South African, and Andrey Vash from Israel, after Members of Parliament accused the firm of exporting minerals illegally.

Mr Roelandts has, through his lawyers Mark Associates Attorneys, disputed the allegations. In a letter to the National Assembly Speaker, Anne Makinda, Mr Roelandts’ lawyers termed the accusations “malicious and defamatory.”

The lawyers said their client was “neither a spy nor a tax evader as alleged. Neither is he an illegal immigrant nor a smuggler as claimed by MPs.”

Additional reporting by Mike Mande