Bongiwe Zihlangu & Caswell Tlali
MASERU — The Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA) has seized businesses and property worth millions of maloti from a local businessman nabbed for alleged tax evasion.
Bilal Osman, a Mosotho of Indian descent, is now a broke man after the revenue authority attached his five fuel stations and a trucking business to cover his tax obligations that date back to 2003.
Until the LRA caught up with him last year, Osman was running a flourishing business “empire” that had five fuel stations in Maseru and Mohale’s Hoek.
Each station employed at least 14 people.
Osman’s haulage business had 12 trucks and an annual turnover running into millions of maloti.
All was well until the taxman, accompanied by the police, knocked on his door last November.
Accusing Osman of tax evasion, the LRA investigators ransacked his home and office for evidence.
They took his companies’ records and his personal diaries in which he used to record daily sales from his five filling stations.
A month later the LRA investigators returned to Osman armed with a warrant of execution from the Maseru Magistrate’s Court.
They said they were attaching his businesses and personal property because he owed the revenue authority M11.4 million in income tax and Value Added Tax (VAT).
They said although his real tax obligation was M6.1 million the figure had ballooned to M11.4 million because the authority had added M5.4 million in penalty charges.
They took everything he had but told him that if the attached property did not cover the debt they would come back for more.
So Osman was not surprised when in February they knocked on his doors again.
This time they wanted to attach his late father’s estate. An urgent High Court interdict saved the estate.
But the battle is not over yet because the revenue authority is now investigating if there are other properties registered in Osman’s name that can be attached.
The LRA might target his Mercedes Benz.
“I’m as good a dead. I can’t work,” he said in an interview with the Sunday Express on Wednesday.
“How I wish they can get off my back!”
Osman’s problems with the LRA started in 2005 when the authority assessed his tax compliance for 2003 and 2004 at his five filling stations.
The LRA believed Osman had been under declaring the sales from his filling stations to avoid paying VAT.
The VAT is a 14 percent tax that consumers pay every time they buy a product.
The business has to remit this tax to LRA.
The LRA said it found that by under-declaring his sales Osman was pocketing the VAT that he should have remitted to the authority.
When Osman rejected the allegations the LRA started a thorough investigation.
They confiscated documents from Osman’s office.
From his home the investigators took a number of diaries that contained damning evidence that would later precipitate Osman’s demise.
Osman used the diaries to record deliveries or orders of petrol, diesel, paraffin and oil stock for every filling station.
The diaries showed daily opening stocks for each of his filling stations.
The LRA, according to papers in possession of the Sunday Express, established the amount of debt Osman has from the diaries after comparing information from the drive-way sheets that indicated the opening stock, the closing stock and the sales.