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How the taxman nabbed Osman

MASERU — Bilal Osman is a bitter man.

He rues the day he decided to keep diaries on his businesses.

It is those diaries that eventually sank him.

The diaries contained the daily sales as well as opening and closing stocks for his five fuel stations.

In them the LRA found that between July 2003 and April 2004 Osman’s Success Filling Station in Khubetsoana owed M775 298 of VAT plus M2.3 million penalty charges for tax evasion.

The authority says Osman’s sales at Success Filling Station amounted to M15.8 million but he only declared M9.5 million.

At Intercity fuel station, the LRA found that he sold fuel worth M4.2 million but he only declared M2.7 million.

That meant he owed M182 365 in VAT and M364 731 in penalties.

The LRA alleges that Osman’s diary showed that his Mother& Son fuel station in Mohale’s Hoek made M8.4 million but he declared M5.9 million.

The Mohale’s Hoek filling station owes M525 733 in VAT and M1.1 million in penalties.

Osman’s Roadfield filling station’s liability according to the LRA was M57 097 after Osman failed to declare even a cent of sales he made.

Osman has however disowned the figures in his diaries saying they are wrong and the LRA should not have used them as a basis for the tax assessment.

In a letter to Osman the LRA said it made enquiries from his suppliers, BP Lesotho and Caltex Lesotho, but decided not to use the information “because it was unreliable”.

“I now wish to inform you that we have indeed obtained this information from BP Lesotho and Caltex Lesotho in terms of the law,” reads the letter signed by the then LRA deputy commissioner general, Thabo Khasipe.

“I regret to advise that the authority is not going to use this information in as much as it is highly unreliable for all intents and purposes of raising an assessment,” Khasipe said.

Khasipe added that the information supplied to the LRA by Osman and the two suppliers revealed that his fuel stations had sold more fuel than he had declared.

“Unless you can prove otherwise, this indicates that you had other suppliers other than BP Lesotho and Caltex.

“I believe you are aware that queries and objections to assessments do not suspend or stay payment of tax,” he said.

The LRA’s reliance on the confiscated diaries was strengthened by Osman’s brother, Adil Osman, who wrote an affidavit in its support against his brother.

“I aver that the diaries contain official business records and are a complete and correct reflection of business activity that happened in these filling stations,” Adil, who was the filling stations manager, said in the affidavit.

“There is correlation between the information as recorded in the diaries, the drive way sheets and the copies of orders and their accompanying cheques,” Adil said.

“To insist that the records in the diaries are dubious in the light of this evidence is quite unwise and childish,” he said.

Osman’s property was attached for sale by the court sheriffs despite his many objections that the LRA had erred in relying on his confiscated diaries to calculate the amount of tax he owed.

On February 3, this year Osman wrote to the LRA commissioner general Thabo Letjama showing him the discrepancies which his financial consultant had found in the LRA’s calculation of tax debt.

Osman argued that the LRA should allow him to go to a tribunal to address the discrepancies issue.

“They are aware that they have done wrong so they are hiding behind the curtain of time,” Osman told this paper.

He said on January 14 the LRA said it would not stop the sale of his property but advised him to request a tribunal.

Osman then wrote to Letjama seeking a written confirmation that the LRA would not object to a tribunal.

“We followed up the promise with a letter asking them to confirm that they would agree to a tribunal but they refused and the commissioner general looked shocked,” Osman said.

He told the Sunday Express that he was shocked by the LRA’s insinuation that he was selling stock more than the one he was purchasing, saying it was impossible.

“The LRA should provide evidence that I actually did the impossible,” he said.

The letter he wrote Letjama showed figures to the LRA claims he sold are impossible.

For example, he said, the LRA alleged that in a day I purchased fuel that surpassed the capacity of my tanks by tens of thousands litres. 

“On LRA papers your office shows a purchase of 77 000 litres and on the diary and my submission we show M27 000 litres. There is a difference of 50 000 litres for this day. On this site (Success filling station) the tanks’ capacity is only 46 000 total,” Osman wrote to Letjama.

“Please look at this as the starting point of my objection,” he said.

He claimed the LRA also alleged that on another day Success Filling Station received 261 828.3 litres of petrol and it sold 190 679.3 litres on the same day for M686 445.

“There is no way that any petrol retailers in Lesotho can accommodate litrerage of this magnitude,” Osman argues.

“Tankers can’t load more than 42 000 litres,” Osman said.

“The LRA says they took these figures from my diaries but when I checked them they appear nowhere in any of my diaries,” Osman told the Sunday Express.

“I have been harassed unnecessarily. I’m an honest taxpayer. I never thought I would be harassed in my country of birth,” he said.

“I have been as honest as humanly possible. I’ve never tried to deliberately defraud my government or anybody. I’m a highly respected businessman.”

LRA spokesperson Pheello Mphana told this paper that the warrant of execution against Osman had been issued by the court.

It is therefore impossible, he said, for Osman to use other means to have it reversed.

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