Liberia transparency body warns resource companies over tax records
MONROVIA, March 27 (Reuters) - A Liberian body that advises the country on corporate transparency on Friday named dozens of companies for failing to disclose tax payment records to it and warned that the government could revoke operating licences as a result.
The Liberia Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (LEITI), which is part of a global group that promotes corporate governance, named 51 companies in the mining, forestry and agricultural sectors that it said did not hand over tax records.
"The LEITI ... warns that punitive actions, including revocation of licences, will be taken against companies that insist on such a non-compliant attitude," said the body, which is authorised to provide statutory advice under a 2009 law.
The companies were mainly local but included London-listed Equatorial Palm Oil and VBG-VALE BSGR, a joint venture between Vale and BSG Resources (BSGR).
"We take their concerns very seriously and we will feel compelled to act on their recommendations," Liberia's Information Minister Lewis Brown told Reuters. The government will decide whether to revoke licences.
Liberia aims to boost revenues from resources such as diamonds, iron and timber, after an 11-year civil war that ended in 2002. The sector accounts for about a quarter of GDP but activity has slowed because of the Ebola epidemic.
A spokesman for BSGR said the VBG Liberia accounts were under the control of BSGR's joint venture partner Vale and said there was every reason to believe tax payments were in order.
"VBG Liberia never made any revenues as it never exported any iron ore due to the Government of Guinea's freezing of the Simandou (iron ore) project," the spokesman said. That government decision was taken last year.
Vale, which this month transferred its stake in the VBG joint venture to BSGR, told Reuters to direct questions to BSGR.
Equatorial Palm Oil did not immediately respond to a request for comment. (Reporting by Alphonso Toweh; Additional reporting by Silvia Antonioli; Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and David Goodman)
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