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SA Tax Amnesty May Be Extended Says Legal Expert

by Robert Lee,, London

13 August 2003

A South African legal expert associated with the government's Exchange Control Amnesty has speculated that the system will be unable to cope with an expected flurry of last minute applications, meaning that the November deadline may have to be extended.

Advocate Wilhelm Heath, a member of the partnership Amnesty Solutions, created to advise individuals on their eligibility for the scheme, was quoted by News24 this week as revealing that the problem is "absolutely huge".

"We anticipate the amnesty unit will be so flooded with applications they will not be able to finish looking at them until April or May next year," Heath predicted, adding: "We think the unit will reach a stage where they will also have to consider extending the deadline."

One of the most likely sources of delays, apart from a potential glut of last-minute applicants, is the amount of documentation required to substantiate an application, Heath explained. "With so much evidentiary material required from overseas, it could cause a lot of delays," he suggested.

However, the advocate said that the number of people applying for amnesty could be seriously curtailed by an inherent lack of trust in the government, as some remain convinced that information will be used to apply penalties at a later date.

"This is dangerous, because if people don't apply they could get into serious trouble. The South African Revenue Service and the South African Reserve Bank will take definite action. Banks, attorneys and financial advisors are now obliged to report any suspicious transactions, particularly after November 30, which means the rope is tightening," he warned.

According to Heath, the most popular method South Africans used to siphon money offshore was to take their entire currency allowance on holiday with them, and leave it deposited in the holiday destination. Other methods employed included false invoicing, where money was transferred overseas and left so that no tax was paid.

The chairman of the amnesty unit, Mbuyiseli Madlanga, recently revealed that the number of applications received so far has reached 600, and is likely to increase further in the coming months.

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