The Chief Executive Officers of seven Lagos-based engineering, telecommunications, cable television, and trading conglomerates were arrested at the weekend by officials of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) over alleged non-remittance of various taxes totalling N2.17billion.
The companies involved include Pivot Engineering Limited, an Ikeja-based power engineering subsidiary of the Honeywell Group largely owned by Oba Otudeko (owing about N610million); UTC Nigeria Plc, a leading processor and marketer of baked goods (owing about N278million), and John Holt Nigeria Limited, one of Nigeria’s leading assembly conglomerate and trading companies (owing about N33million).
The others are HITV Limited, one of Nigeria’s leading cable television firm (N310million ); Sweet Sensation Confectionery Limited, one of Nigeria’s fast food chain (N156million), Reliance Telecommunications Limited (N593million) and Entertainment Highway Limited, N196million.
The arrest of these top officials was the outcome an enforcement drive by the FIRS to recover arrears of taxes accruing to the Federal Government from Company Income Tax (CIT), Education Tax (EDT), Withholding Tax (WHT) and Value Added Tax (VAT) still outstanding against various companies.
Following series of notices served on the management of the affected companies, some of them had admitted to their outstanding tax liabilities when the enforcement team led by an Assistant Director of Legal and Prosecution Department of the Service, Abu Stephen, called at their offices.
At Sweet Sensation, the Chief Accountant, Opedemowo Olayemi, told the tax team that the company was owing N60 million for VAT alone, Dada Arokoyu of UTC and Muyiwa Fojude of Pivot agreed that their companies had outstanding tax liabilities to settle with the FIRS, though they did disclose the exact figures.
When the team visited HITV Limited and Entertainment Highway Limited, their offices were locked, with only security men at the gates left to attend to the enforcement team. The security men told the tax team that GTBank sealed up the premises following a court order.
When the team visited Reliance Communication it was gathered that the company was sealed on the instructions of its Indian Chairman of the company, Anil Ambani.
“The arrest is a warning to other organisations and individuals in the country on the need to ensure deductions and remittance of their tax obligation as provided by Part V1, Section 40 of the FIRS Establishment Act 2007 are remitted to the government as and when due,” Mr. Stephen said.
“Any person who, being obliged to deduct any tax under this act or the laws listed in the First Schedule to this Act, but fails to deduct, or having deducted, fails to pay to the Service within 30 days from the date the amount was deducted or the time the duty to deduct arose, commits an offence and shall, upon conviction, be liable to pay the tax withheld or not remitted in addition to a penalty of 10 per cent of the tax withheld or not remitted per annum and interest at the prevailing Central Bank of Nigeria minimum re-discount rate and imprisonment for period of not more than three years,’’ he warned.