As the silence on Sleepin owner Clifton Bacchus’ second casino licence application continues, an audit firm is arguing that the Gaming Authority overstepped its jurisdiction when it requested backdated, personal tax information.
According to Nigel Hinds, of audit firm Nigel Hinds and Associates, it is only the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) that can access such information. Hinds in a missive on Saturday took the Authority to task for its request.
“The casino licence application was made by an incorporated entity on April 5, 2017. Yet Mr Bacchus’ personal Income Tax returns are requested. It seems to me that the Board of the Gaming Authority has acted beyond the remit of the Gaming Authority Act,” Hinds said, adding that according to his understanding of the law, it is only the GRA that has a right of access to an individual’s tax return. He added that the only other person that can make such a request is the President of Guyana.
Sleepin’s Church Street branch has been making preparations for quite some time to set up a casino. Under the law, only three casinos are allowed in each administrative region in Guyana. For Region Four, Ramada Princess has one, while another has been earmarked for the Marriott Hotel at Kingston. Sleepin has sought the third one.
With a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), made with the previous Government being cast aside by the coalition and after being rejected initially by the Gaming Authority, Bacchus had reapplied for a licence.
It is understood that the Gaming Authority had requested additional financial information. Bacchus had said that this would be provided to go along with his application to the Gaming Authority.
Hinds in his missive questioned the reasoning for the Gaming Authority to request seven years of tax returns for SleepInn International Hotel and Casino, when it was only incorporated in 2015. According to Hinds, the casino license application clearly states this.
Hinds said that at the core, these are all the primary requirements needed to comply with the Gaming Authority Act, for approval of the casino licences. He also questioned whether individual tax returns were requested from the directors and shareholders of oil giant ExxonMobil, which has launched a major investment in oil and gas off Guyana’s shores.
Restrictions on other entities accessing confidential tax information were made clear in a March 2017 court ruling in favour of GRA, against the Special Organised Crime Unit (SOCU).
SOCU was at the time carrying out a money laundering investigation and had requested the information as part of its probe. But the tax agency had stood its ground, arguing that it had an obligation by law to protect such information.
It is understood that after being served with documents to produce the information, pursuant to the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Act (AML/CFT), GRA approached the courts to vary, set aside or even discharge the order.
According to Section 4 (1) of Guyana’s Income Tax Act “Every person who has any official duty or is employed in the administration of this Act shall regard and deal with all documents, information, returns, assessment lists and copies of those lists relating to the income or items of income of any person, as secret and confidential, and shall make and subscribe a declaration in the prescribed to that effect before a Magistrate.”