Colm: Land fraud, tax evasion allegations 'false and outrageous'
Photo courtesy the Office of the Parliament of Trinidad and Tobago.
Finance Minister Colm Imbert has denied Opposition allegations of the non-payment of millions in stamp duty due on the purchase of a parcel of land in Port of Spain for a building project.
Opposition Senator Wade Mark in making his contribution to the debate on the Miscellaneous Provision Act in the Senate on Tuesday called on the Finance Minister to say whether he bought a property worth $12 million for $1.7 million, denying the country millions in stamp duty.
But, offering a personal explanation in response to the claims in the Upper House on Wednesday, Imbert labelled the utterances by the Opposition Senator as false and outrageous.
“Contrary to Senator Mark's outrageous insinuations, I did not, in my capacity as Minister of Finance or otherwise, purchase any such land in Port of Spain at an undervaluation, nor did I deprive the Treasury of stamp duty nor did I engage in land fraud.”
Imbert explained that he acquired shares in a company that owned a parcel of land in Port of Spain in December 2012, while he was a member of the Opposition.
He noted that the applicable law relating to the stamp duty to be charged on the transfer of shares in a private company makes it clear that in such a case the stamp duty is the greater of $5 per $1,000 of the consideration given (i.e. the payment made for the shares) or $5 per $1,000 of the value of the shares transferred, as determined by the company's auditor.
Imbert said at the time he acquired the shares, the company was not transacting any business. He said the company's auditor, a chartered accountant, valued the 30,000 issued shares in the company at $1 per share at par value which would yield stamp duty of $150 if the value of the shares was the determining factor.
He said the land owned by the company was its only asset, and as a result, the company was being offered for sale at a price of $7.5 million.
Imbert noted that he commissioned a valuation of the market value of the land on Picton Street, and in November 2012, the land was valued by a reputable chartered valuation surveyor at $7.5 million. He acquired the shares the following month.
“One month later, in December 2012, I purchased the 30,000 issued shares in the company for the asking price of $7.5 million. I did not, as Senator Mark has falsely alleged, buy the land or company in question for $1.75 million.”
The Minister explained that the stamp duty for the share transfer was assessed by the Board of Inland Revenue at the statutory rate of $5 per $1,000 since the payment for the shares was greater than the nominal value of the shares. He said this was paid by his attorneys to the BIR one month later in January 2013, when the share transfer transaction was registered with the BIR.
Imbert produced the BIR receipt for the stamp duty paid on the purchase price for the shares of $7.5 million.
Describing the $12 million figure quoted by Senator Mark as “bogus as inflated” Imbert made it clear that he had nothing to do with any transaction pertaining to the sale, purchase or conveyance of title of the land from or to any other person or company before acquiring the shares in the company that owned the land.
The Minister categorically stated that there was no truth to the allegations brought to the House by Mark.
“In summary, there is no truth whatsoever to Senator Mark's false allegations of tax evasion, land fraud, and money laundering with respect to the acquisition of this company by me or its associated land. In addition, there is no hidden trust deed or secret trust of any kind concerning the ownership of the land or the shares in the company.”
He continued: “Indeed, the ownership of the shares in the company is open to public scrutiny in the Companies Registry and has been since 2010, when the company was formed by its previous owners. Further, as a Person in Public Life, I have declared my ownership of the company to the Integrity Commission, and its value, since 2013.”
Imbert said the Opposition Senator made the accusations in the absence of evidence or any factual basis.
“As has occurred before in my case, he cannot produce a single document to back up his false allegations, whereas I have the documentary evidence that confirms that what he has said is simply not true.”