A Switzerland-based Ghanaian businesswoman, Victoria Tiorkor Awuley has accused the Ghana Revenue Authority of taking an amount of GH¢149,344 out of US$191,985 as a tax deposit from a loan she has procured from her Switzerland partners without any justification.
According to Ms. Awuley, after the GRA has taken the unjustified GH¢149,344 as a tax deposit, they returned the rest of the money to her partner without even her knowledge.
Ms. Awuley says she suspected a grand scheme by some officials at the Anti Money Laundry Unit of the Ghana Revenue Authority, the Financial Intelligence Centre, and Stanbic Bank to take all the transferred funds (US$191,985). She supported her judgement with the fact that even the amount, US$173,281.92, which was returned after the GRA’s deduction took almost two months for it to reflect in her Swiss partner’s account after series of pressure was mounted on the GRA, FIC and Stanbic Bank on the whereabouts of her money. She emphasized that the whole activities of the two-state institutions and the bank was shrouded in secrecy.
Victoria Awuley said she was “shocked as to why these people just deliberately want to frustrate her business”.
“Which country is this? no bank or government institution is ready to give any start-up business a loan. But you go to make your efforts in a forign land to get a loan to come back and establish a business to provide jobs for your people too and these same institutions that will not support you will now take that one too away from you? no!” – Victoria Awuley poured out her frustrations abou the situation
According to documents made available to Awake News, Ms. Awuley on February 4, 2021, entered into a One Million United State Dollars (US$1,000,000) loan agreement with her Switzerland partner to help her establish a sand mining business at Prampram in the Ningo-Prampram District of the Greater Accra Region. The loan according to the agreement sighted by Awake News is to be remitted to Victoria’s account in batches.
Prior to the disbursement of the first amount, Victoria and her Swiss partners had travelled to Ghana to conduct a feasibility study on the said business leading to Victoria having to register a sole proprietorship known as Vast Sky Enterprise.
Since May 2021, Victoria’s Swiss partner had transferred US$417,000 in eight different transactions into Victoria’s bank account with Stanbic Bank which she had successfully withdrawn through her attorney who was representing her interest in Ghana. The amount was used to lease a parcel of land, and to purchase pieces of equipment among others for the commencement of the business.
Speaking to Awake News, Victoria said on May 18, 2022, she received an invitation letter from GRA to assist in an investigation of her account with respect to “Tax complaints and Money Laundering checks spanning March 2021 to April 2022”. Attached to the said GRA invitation was a notice from the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) suspending the said account after an amount of US$191,985 as part of the loan was credited to her account. Victoria however stated that prior to the GRA’s investigation, she had never received the said FIC suspension notice from eighter FIC or her bankers.
The Anti-Money Laundering Unit of GRA headed by Mrs. Hawa Yaboah after inviting Vic’s attorney for the investigations concluded in a letter dated May 23, 2022 that she was liable to pay a gift tax of an of amount GH¢636,692.95 saying the funds received were a personal gift.
Victoria through her lawyers informed GRA that the said transactions on her personal account were for business and not personal gifts. The lawyers then submitted all receipts of machines, land, cars and other equipment bought with the previous transactions and the loan agreement to the GRA insisting that the US$191,985.00 was meant to purchase a bulldozer for the project and is part of the US$1M loan.
The remitter’s Swiss-based Bank had also through compliance query response stated clearly the purpose of the said transactions after Stanbic Bank had written to them.
The issue forced Victoria to fly down to Ghana to resolve the matter and after a series of meetings, the initial position of the GRA changed from a gift tax of GH¢636,692.95 in a letter dated May 23, 2022 to a personal income tax, penalty and interest amounting GH¢149,344.62 in a letter dated July 22, 2022.
According to Victoria, GRA then told her the said amount of GH¢149,344.62 must be paid in cash and a tax deposit against any future tax liabilities.
GARNISHMENT OF VICTORIA’S ACCOUNT:
Victoria said through her lawyers she agreed to give the GRA the GH¢149,344.62 once that will guarantee the release of the rest of the money to her but told GRA she has no such amount in cash in Ghana and that they can go ahead and garnishee her account.
The Ghana Revenue Authority through a GARNISHMENT NOTICE dated July 22, 2022 served on Stanbic Bank, an amount of GH¢149,344.62 was said to have been deducted from US$191,985.00 the same day the notice and Notice of Tax Assessment were served on Victoria implying that she was given a 24hour ultimatum to pay the said tax.
Ms. Awuley alleged that on Monday, July 27, 2020, she called her Relationship Manager at Stanbic Bank on several occasions to enquire about the availability of the balance of her funds after the account was garnished but the Banker never answered her calls. She noted that after several hours, she then instructed her lawyer to call her Relationship Manager and which the Lawyer did. Fortunately, her RM answered the call but however informed the Lawyer that the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) has instructed Stanbic Bank to return the funds to the remitter and that the bank has already sent the money back to the remitter.
Stanbic Bank’s response
In a letter addressed to the Managing Director of Stanbic Bank, Awake News requested some information from the bank with respect to the matter and especially for the bank to respond to the allegations that they returned the money without informing their client, Ms. Awuley at the time they were fully aware she came to Ghana to resolve the issue. But the Bank declined comments on the issue insisting the anti-money laundry laws of Ghana do not permit the bank to disclose any information to their client and or any other third party. The Head of Communication of Stanbic Bank, Mr. Kojo Larbi in a telephone response told Awake News to go to court if they need answers to the questions contained in their letter.
However, Victora disclosed to Awake News that during a meeting with the Bank officials about 5days after the Bank claimed to have sent the money, they produced a questionable outgoing Swift advice as proof of returning the money with “unsatisfactory due diligence” as the basis for the return of the money with an additional “We consider your payment null and void” adding that the bank said they returned the money on the instructions of FIC but failed to produce a copy of the said directive from the FIC saying it was a verbal instruction.
Ms. Awuley revealed that at the said meeting the Bank officials told her the response they [Stanbic Bank] received from the remitted’s Swiss bank on the relationship between her and the remitter was “Life Partner” which Stanbic Bank interpreted as “someone she is in a sexual relationship with but is not married” as the basis for which the Bank doubted the source of the funds. She noted that the said Bank officials failed to make reference to any law that makes it illegal for a sexual partner to give a business loan to either party granted their interpretation of life partner holds.
In a letter signed by Mrs Hawa Yaboah, the Head of the GRA Anti Money Laundering Unit, dated September 1, 2022, GRA denied knowledge or ordered or advised the FIC and Bank to return the rest of the money after they have successfully taken their tax deposit.
She argued that the return of the money was the sole decision of the FIC.
“We reiterate for the records that under no circumstance whatsoever did the AML Unit of GRA advise FIC or Stanbic Bank to return the rest of the fund to the remitter. The GRA-AML Unit was not aware of the FIC’s decision to return the remaining funds until [the subject was brought to] our attention”
According to Mrs. Yaboah, the GRA was doing its lawful duties in accordance with Section 81 and 37(d) of the Revenue Administration Atc, 2016, Act 915.
She accused Victoria’s attorney Comfort of telling the GRA that the funds were “a gift” from Victoria’s “boyfriend/lover” contrary to a later claim by Victoria’s lawyers that the money was a loan.
“During interrogation, the Trustee intimated that the remitter is your boyfriend/lover; a piece of information which could not totally be disregarded. As Trustee and signatory to an account, any information from her is as good as the account holder’s. We detected inconsistency when you later came in with your solicitor to claim the that the funds were actually a loan for business purposes”
The above claim by Mrs. Yeboah of GRA on Comfort’s statement on the relationship between Victoria and the remitter could not be true as GRA’s own record shows that Comfort in her statement said the money was sent by Victoria’s boss.
“….The money was sent my Mr. [remitter] who is the boss of my sister Victoria in Switzerland.”
The Revenue Administration Act, 2016 (Act 915) on which the GRA says it is based to do its duty reads:
Section 37 (4): The Commissioner-General may make an assessment at any time, including an adjusted assessment where the Commissioner-General discovers a case of fraud, wilful default or serious omission by or on behalf of a taxpayer.
Section 81. (1) A person who
(a) makes a statement that is false or misleading in a material particular to a tax officer; or
(b) omits from a statement made to a tax officer, any matter or thing without which the statement is misleading in a material particular commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction
(c) where, if the inaccuracy of the statement were undetected, it may have resulted in an underpayment of tax in an amount exceeding fifty currency points, to a fine of not less than twenty-five penalty units and not more than two hundred penalty units, or to a term of imprisonment of not less than three months and not more than two years or to both; or
(d) in any other case, to a fine of not less than five penalty units and not more than fifty penalty units or to a term of imprisonment of not less than one month and not more than three months or to both.
(2) Section 74(3), (4), (5) and (6) apply for the purpose of deter-mining what constitutes a statement made to a tax officer and when the statement is false or misleading.
The Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC), for over six weeks, is yet to respond to a letter sent to them by Victoria’s lawyers requesting a copy of the investigations they conducted in the matter for which the recommendation of the said investigative reports was to return the rest of the money after the GRA had taken a pre-paid tax from it.
Ms. Awuley maintained that during the said GRA engagement on the matter, no other state institution or FIC had invited her to assist in any form of investigation and no such state institution wrote to the remitter or his bank so she was surprised to learn the supposed “unsatisfactory due diligence” was a conclusion from the FIC’s that she was never party too.
Awake News’ Efo Korsi Senyo went undercover to the FIC requesting to confirm if the FIC indeed ordered the return of the money especially as the money had not been received by the remitter. Though the official who spoke to Efo Korsi Senyo confirmed working on the Victoria’s case and that it was the FIC that ordered for the return of the rest of the money, declined to answer any other question insisting that he is not a signatory to the account.
The FIC official then requested Efo Korsi Senyo produced the account holder and her lawyers which the Awake News Editor did on the same day. According to him, it was a surprise moment when three (3) FIC officials after keeping Victoria, her lawyers and himself waiting for over an hour came to meet them only with a message that “we can’t have any verbal discussions on the issue. Counsel, please officially write to the FIC on the matter”.
“As we speak, my lawyers have written to FIC after our meeting with them but they are yet to respond and or produce the said investigative report on the matter. It is very surprising you know, I don’t really get what is going on” – the seemingly frustrated Victoria Awuley cries.
The remitter’s interview with Awake News:
In an interview with Awake News, the remitter expressed shock about the development whiles casting a doubt on the legitimacy and actual intention of officials at GRA, FIC and Stanbic Bank.
According to him, the main reason Stanbic Bank gave for returning the money was that he the remitter requested the return of the money. This is contrary to Stanbic Bank’s supposed outgoing swift given the reason for the return of the money as “unsatisfactory due diligence”.
The Swiss business mogul told Awake News that the actions of Stanbic Bank have caused him a huge embarrassment and damage especially when they refuse to reply about four different emails sent to him by his bank.
“…..whereby the communication on the part of Stanbic Bank went very strangely, because only after repeated enquiries, because my payment of USD 191,985.00 was not apparent on the account [Vic’s account], did we then suddenly learn that apparently, the FIC had initiated an investigation into money laundering and possible tax offences by Ms Awuley. Initially, it was always claimed that my bank had been contacted, but this was obviously not true, or rather, this request only arrived at my bank after about two weeks. [my bank] then called me to ask me what the purpose of this payment was. I clearly stated and documented that it was to finance a bulldozer in Ghana. At this point, I would like to mention in all clarity that it is very unusual to express suspicion of money laundering when money comes from a reputable financial institution in Switzerland, especially since previous payments to Ms Awuley (all together on a larger scale) did not lead to any queries. According to the law, the sending bank must assume liability that the money is “clean”. The whole thing seemed very suspicious to me even then, and [my bank] was also very surprised about this procedure.” – he said.
Unfortunately, Stanbic Bank has not given me any reason to date as to why they returned the money, especially after the GRA deducted the taxes. Surprisingly, the money was suddenly received in my account on 29/08/2022. However, on the credit memo, you can see the note: “Reason – as per withdrawal request, our files 419xxxx”. What I cannot judge is whether this remark was written by [my bank]. But in order for you to understand the context, I must explain the following. When after 3-4 weeks (i.e. around the beginning of June 2022) the money was still not credited to Victoria, I got scared and informed [my bank]. [my bank] then asked Stanbic Bank to return the entire amount. However, Stanbic Bank did not even reply. [my bank] must have written 3-4 times again and again, but there was no reply from Stanbic Bank.
The remitter is worried about his reputational damage and wondering it he could want to do any other business in Ghana.
“… To be honest, my initial euphoria of doing something good has been at least a little damaged because I ask myself why should I do something like this when there are people who torpedo everything. Moreover, I find it absolutely not funny that it has been insinuated to me, but especially to Victoria in Ghana, that we want to do illegal business and make ourselves liable to prosecution with money laundering. Such a thing has never happened to me in my professional career of over 50 years. Likewise, my reputation here in Switzerland at [my bank] has been damaged by the fact that last week I was clearly told by Compliance that they would have to make a report to the general management of [my bank] if there were any more such problems with my payments. I don’t find that amusing at all either. – Exerpts of Awake News interview with the Swiss business man. Full interwie will be published in our subsequent publications
Why the loan was being channelled to Victoria’s personal account:
Victoria explained that, at the time that she had entered into the One Million Dollar loan agreement, she had no registered business account in Ghana and the agreement too was between her as a person and her partner.
More coming soon.
By: Efo Korsi Senyo / awakenewsroom.com / firstname.lastname@example.org