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Antiguan Opposition Condemns Tax Crackdown As 'Witch Hunt'

by Amanda Banks,, London

10 December 2002

Antigua's Opposition Leader, Baldwin Spencer last week attacked the government's crackdown on corporate tax evasion as a 'political witch hunt', accusing the Antigua Labour Party of targeting only Opposition-aligned businesses.

In a recent interview with the Antigua Sun newspaper, the jurisdiction's Commissioner of Inland Revenue, William Schouten revealed that bailiffs have begun serving warrants in order to recover some $70 million in back taxes owed by around 60 businesses.

However, citing the Daily Observer newspaper and Airtell Cellular - which are said to owe around $6 million between them, but deny that they have any tax debts whatsoever - as examples, Mr Spencer told reporters on Thursday that:

'It is clear that the Inland Revenue Department, which is marching to the drumbeats of Prime Minister Lester Bird and Junior Finance Minister Senator Asot Michael, is on a political witch hunt to destroy certain local businesses in Antigua whom they perceive to be opposed to the Antigua Labour Party Government.'

The Opposition Leader went on to add that: 'The tax regime imposed by Lester Bird is draconian, vindictive, discriminatory and punitive, and is calculated to destroy businesses that are barely surviving in an economy that is being severely mismanaged by PM Bird and the ALP government.'

Responding to Mr Spencer's allegations last week, Senator Michael professed himself 'grossly disappointed', and countered that:

'The Ministry of Finance does not get into the 'nitty gritty' of how people are assessed. The Commissioner of Inland Revenue does not take instructions from the Ministry of Finance. He is carrying out his job according to the law, the taxes are owed that [are] due and payable, and he is collecting that.'

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