GOVERNMENT

Questions surround payments to Cobranzas del Istmo

The company received millions in commissions from Tocumen, S.A. for unpaid taxes.

But it is unclear who authorized the payments to be made.

Temas:

Tocumen, S.A., the state-owned company that operates Tocumen International Airport, voluntarily paid delinquent taxes that it had owed since the entity was created.

Airport officials said that the company Cobranzas del Istmo, which had a contract with the previous government to collect delinquent taxes, had nothing to do with this payment and therefore should not have received a commission.

But the company did receive a $21 million commission, a payment that has prompted an investigation into the company's activities.

Temístocles Rosas, Tocumen's vice president of Administration and Finance, explained that, at the end of 2013, the entity paid the back taxes as part of a $650 million bond payment issued to pay for the expansion of the facility. He said at that time there was an agreement between Tocumen and the defunct National Authority of Public Revenue (ANIP) to pay all outstanding taxes.

This agreement is outlined in the bond issue prospectus, a public document registered with the Panama Stock Exchange.

That prospectus states that, "according to tax regulations, there is no legal basis that exempts Tocumen International Airport from the payment of such taxes."

The bond issue included $100 million to pay the taxes.

Rosas said Tocumen paid $72 million in 2013 to the National Treasury.

"We did not pay to Cobranzas del Istmo," he said. "It did not collect anything."

Rosas said that if the private company had collected the payment, there would be records to that effect.

Frank De Lima, former minister of Economy and Finance and chairman of the Board of Directors of Tocumen, also said that no payment was made to Cobranzas del Istmo.

"The Board of Directors of Tocumen, and myself included, had no idea that a commission was going to paid on these delinquent payments," he said.

Current Revenue Department Director Publius Cortés said that the agency does not know who gave approval for the commission to be paid. An audit is being performed by the Office of the Comptroller to shed some light on the matter.

"The company presented a management fee that the former government endorsed," he explained.

Cortes has questioned the lack of controls over payments made to the company, which had its contract cancelled when the government changed.

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