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Sandals speaks out on withholding tax claim and asks: Why were no efforts made to collect?

SANDALS Resorts International (SRI) has once again refuted claims that it avoided or withheld payment of withholding taxes due to the government and people of Saint Lucia.

In a statement issuied yesterday, the Caribbean’s largest hotel and tourism operation noted what it described as “sustained efforts to try and tarnish the good name and reputation of our company by parties who continue to misrepresent the issue of a $24M Withholding Tax claim by the Inland Revenue Department of Saint Lucia on insurance costs — a matter which was finally and appropriately resolved in 2017.”

According to the Sandals statement, “SRI objected to these assessments in accordance with its statutory rights under the Income Tax Act and consistently maintained, in correspondence and discussions with Inland Revenue and the Ministry of Finance, that the assessments were not justified and were incorrectly determined and so should be withdrawn.”

The regional grouping said its objections “were based on professional advice on this matter and a legal ruling in 2011 by the OECS Supreme Court that is relevant to withholding tax assessments in Saint Lucia.”

According to the statement, “It is important to note that US$15M or over 62% of the claim was in penalties and interest, after it was allowed to continue to drag out by the former administration, in spite of the ruling and in spite of assurances that were given to our financial representatives Grant Thorton.”

The group said this is “clearly stated” in a letter sent to its Regional Financial Comptroller in March 2016 by Senior Partner in Grant Thornton Mr. Richard Peterkin, “who noted that at the request of the Chairman of SRI, he met with the then Prime Minister (Dr. Kenny Anthony) on two occasions prior to the last elections, to discuss concessions relating to a proposed 150-room expansion at Sandals Grande.”

The hotel chain said the issue (of the Withholding tax assessments) “was specifically raised and despite assurances from the then Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister that the matter would be addressed, there was no communication from Government to Inland Revenue, which continued to accumulate significant interest on the old assessments.”

The SRI statement also said, “It is important to indicate that there were never any legal efforts to collect these taxes claimed to be due.”

The statement insisted that “Both the former Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister agreed that the incentives would be granted; and both were fully cognizant at the time that this included addressing the withholding tax issue.”

It also asks, “If these claims were valid, why were no legal efforts made to collect them for so many years, an action which allowed the interest and penalties to grow to more than double the actual claim?”

It also said, “Since the former Prime Minister was fully aware of the circumstances surrounding this matter, it is very unfortunate that members of his party are among those being allowed to consistently misrepresent this issue to the public of Saint Lucia.”

SRI says: “Sandals never and does not owe the government of Saint Lucia any outstanding money. Rather, this dispute with Inland Revenue over withholding taxes on insurance premiums was an old and exceptional matter that required resolution if SRI was to be able to finance new investments on the island.

“Indeed, the only purpose served by delaying it was to have derailed the expansion works that were planned for the Sandals Grande Saint Lucian.”

The SRI says the resolution of the issue last year “has now allowed us to proceed with plans to invest close to US$250 million in a new hotel (including real estate) which will provide 1,000 construction jobs over two years and over 600 full-time jobs when finished, for the people of Saint Lucia — not to mention the many farmers, taxi drivers, tour operators, vendors etc. who will benefit from the additional activity.”

According to SRI, “In spite of continued efforts to distort this issue, with the apparent intention of causing harm to Sandals Resorts and its 1,800 team members — 98% of whom are Saint Lucians — we wish to assure both our team members and the people of Saint Lucia that Sandals Resorts remains a true friend and partner who this year celebrated its 25th anniversary in Saint Lucia.”

The statement continued, “We assure you further that the Sandals Resorts in Saint Lucia — as we are in all territories — is fully compliant with all taxes, statutory deductions and payments in line with the concessions granted to us and which have been similarly granted to many hotels in Saint Lucia.”

The statement concluded: “We are and will remain committed to the growth and development of Saint Lucia and its people — and will continue to play our role in the enhancement of the island’s hospitality sector!”

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