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BURS to probe Swiss bank account holders?

SHARON MATHALA
An official of the Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) warned this week that they would investigate whether citizens and residents of Botswana revealed as having Swiss bank accounts had declared their accounts for tax purposes.

The official, who asked not to be named, said an investigation would start once the service obtained the names of the account-holders, either from informants or media reports. Attempts to get an official statement from BURS this week were unsuccessful.

Botswana law requires the declaration of foreign accounts so that earnings on these investments can be taxed.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) recently released a database of leaked information obtained from Swiss bank, HSBC showing that eight Botswana citizens or residents held accounts at the bank in 2007.

The records, today exclusively revealed by Mmegi, show that the following individuals were account-holders at that time. Five of them had held accounts for some years.

 

These are:

- Well-known racing driver and businessman Atang Makgekgenene, who opened an HSBC account on November 22, 2002;

- Barclays Bank of Botswana finance director Lipalesa Gwenneth Makepe; 

- Deloitte’s director Terrence Marshall Brick, who opened an account on April 6 1996;

- Standard Chartered Bank Botswana independent director Ish Kumar Handa, who opened an account on September 29 2000;

- Former Capital Securities owner Rupert Maccammon; and

- Former Capital Securities finance director Goitseone Tunku Kgaodi.

Two account-holders whose names appear on the database, but whose links with Botswana and business activities could not be established with certainty, are Dipesh Handa and Ravi Shuchi Handa.

Dipesh Handa opened an HSBC account on September 29 2000 – the same date as Ish Kumar Handa – and Ravi Handa opened an account on July 20 the same year.

The three are allegedly related, but Mmegi could not confirm this claim.

This week,  both Makepe and Kgaodi denied opening Swiss bank accounts at any stage.An inspection of the database shows that in 2007 Makgekgenene had US$1,691 (about P10,000) in his account.

He could not be contacted this week to establish why he deposited the money in Switzerland and whether he has declared the account for tax purposes.

How much the other account-holders deposited in their Swiss accounts, if any, is not known, because the information cannot be accessed on the database. In some cases the dates when the accounts were opened are also not accessible.

Botswana appears 187th out of 203 countries in the HSBC data in terms of the total size of the deposits made by individuals linked to the country.

Only three of the individuals list Botswana as their nationality – Makgekgenene, Makepe and Kgaodi – while the others mention the country as their place of residence.

The claims in the “SwissLeaks” case emerged after a whistleblower took files from HSBC, Europe’s biggest bank, and passed them

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on to French authorities.

The bank was reported to have helped customers around the world dodge taxes and conceal billions of dollars, presumably for tax reasons.

The information on account-holders was first retrieved in late 2007 by HSBC’s IT expert Herve Falciani after he hacked into the system and removed customer account information.

It found its way to the ICIJ and went global on February 8 this year when the organisation published its database.

 

What they said

Makepe told Mmegi on Wednesday this week that she has never opened an account at the bank.

“At the time I was a signatory at Capital Securities, which had dealings with the HSBC. But in my personal capacity I had no dealings with the bank,” she said

Kgaodi, also denied that she had opened an account at the bank, saying that she did not know why her name appeared on the HSBC database.

“I do not know what could have possibly happened, but I have not opened any offshore account. At the time I was barely earning enough myself, as I had just completed my studies at Botswana Accountancy College (BAC). I couldn’t possibly have enough to bank in Switzerland.”

Brick told Mmegi that he was living in the Middle East at the time he opened his HSBC account. He emphasised that it was not illegal to have a foreign bank account.

Dipesh Handa, who is also a director of Woolworths Botswana, declined to answer questions about his relationship with HSBC.

In a telephone interview he initially said that he had never had a Swiss account, but later said: “I will not confirm anything because I do not know who I am talking to; you could be anyone.”

In the list there are other two Handas who opened their accounts with HSBC on September 29, 2000. They appear to be family.

Maccammon would neither confirm nor deny that he had an account at the Swiss bank.

“I have many accounts in different countries because of my businesses, and I don’t recall whether I had an account there.

“But I can confirm that at one point we were dealing with HSBC through Capital Investments. We were dealing with the investments products HSBC was offering in 2001,” he said.

Other Southern African development Community (SADC) countries that feature on the HSBC database are South Africa, Zambia, Namibia, Malawi and Mozambique.

South African citizens or residents invested $2-billion, Zambians $48.3-million, Namibians 3.9-million, Malawians $16.1-million and Mozambicans $6.5-million.

 

*Sharon Mathala is doing an internship with the M&G Centre for Investigative Journalism (amaBhungane) in Johannesburg, South Africa.



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