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The worst is over, says Moosa

Caswell Tlali & Nat Molomo

MASERU — Business tycoon Osman Moosa, who was convicted of dodging tax this week, says although the future of his business empire is under threat he is happy that the worst is over.
Moosa spoke to the Sunday Express on yesterday, two days after he was convicted of 51 counts related to tax evasion.
He was slapped with 12 years in prison but half of the sentence was suspended and he can pay a M500 000 fine for the other half.
His company, Selkol 1983, was fined M1.5 million and ordered to pay another M4 million it owes in taxes to the Lesotho Revenue Authority (LRA).
Shameen, his son, was sentenced to three years but will not go to jail if he pays a fine of M100 000.
The Moosas and their company were facing a total of 316 charges but they pleaded guilty to 198 following a plea bargain with the prosecutors.
Moosa said although he is relieved that he has made peace with the LRA he is now worried that Selkol might not be able to raise both the M1.5 million fine and the M4 million it owes the revenue authority.
Selkol has to pay the M1.5 million fine immediately while the tax will be paid in four instalments of M1 million each from November.
Apart from that Moosa will have to raise M600 000 to pay his fine and that of his son.
Moosa, who is also the chairman of the Private Sector Foundation, says he will have a hard time coming up with the M6.1 million he requires to put an end to his troubles with the law.
That kind of money, he says, would cripple Selkol which he claims employs 1800 people. Selkol makes furniture for the local and export market.
“This is a major bombshell for Selkol,” he said.
Moosa said he had proposed that the timeframe for paying should be 24 months to allow the company to continue with “normal business but the LRA refused”.
He revealed that the company will have to sell some assets to meet its tax obligations.
He however does not rule out the possibility that Selkol might be forced to cut jobs to remain viable.
Moosa owns Building World (Pty) Ltd, Moosa Holdings (Pty) Ltd, Moosa’s Bargain and City Moosa Cash & Carry.
He also owns a stake in Frasers, a retail chain, and a number of properties in Maseru.
He claims that he was forced to negotiate a plea bargain because “litigation is more expensive than an amicable solution between two parties”. “The company chose to plead guilty to avoid unnecessary litigation,” he said.
“Going to court would be expensive for both Selkol and the LRA. We both hired senior lawyers from South Africa and by so doing we took money out of this country and fed it to South Africans. I paid a senior counsel M50 000 a day.”
“This court case would have dragged on for three to four years with us spending money on lawyers while refraining from making other business decisions pending finalisation of the case. At the end nobody except lawyers would have benefitted out of the litigation,” he said.
“We the Moosa family and (the Sekol) staff are one family. The decisions that we make here have to encompass them (staff) and must be calculated.”
Moosa said despite his skirmishes with the taxman he still supports the LRA.
“I fully support the work of the LRA and I had never wanted to oppose it as a responsible businessman.”
“The long and short of it is that I look forward to working with LRA not against it as the private sector is doing a lot in the development of the economy of this country”.
When asked why he evaded tax in the first place Moosa said he did “not want to open old wounds after making peace with the LRA.”
He claimed he had always wanted to settle his problems with the LRA without going to court.
He admitted that before the LRA “came there was low compliance with tax requirements” but insists that “the situation has changed”.

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