ECONOMY

Questions raised about collection of back taxes

Irregularities have been alleged in the commissions paid to Cobranzas del Istmo, the company hired by the former government to collect back taxes.

Segundo frente para el exdirector

Temas:

A series of irregularities have been discovered in the relationship between the Department of Revenue and Cobranzas del Istmo, the company hired by the government to collect delinquent taxes under the administration of Ricardo Martinelli.

Three days ago, the Revenue Department alerted the Public Ministry of the anomalies. In a letter to the ministry, Revenue Director Publio Cortés highlighted his concerns about the collection of back taxes, and that the fees collected by the company may have been excessive.

Cortés said he was not able to verify how the department was able to verify which payments were made voluntarily by taxpayers and which ones were collected by the agency. Therefore, the company may have been collecting commissions to which it was not entitled.

Under its contract, Cobranzas del Istmo was awarded 15 percent of the back taxes it collected that were more than a year in arrears, and 20 percent for back taxes that had been owed for more than two years. Taxes that were 30 months of more behind schedule resulted in a commission of 30 percent.

There are also concerns that the company intentionally waited to notify people of their obligations until they could collect a higher commission.

Cortés has also reported the discovery of correspondence that he says proves former Revenue Director Luis Cucalón approved the payment of excessive commissions. He said the economic damage from these excessive payments was $23.3 million.

Cucalón, however, has denied any wrongdoing, saying the commissions were calculated using a set formula that was the same for all perties involved.

"It was impossible to collect commissions incorrectly," he said.

He also pointed out that the amount of back taxes owed to the agency declined significantly under his management.

"When I arrived, the department was owed $7 billion in overdue taxes. There was a lot of neglect. But we worked hard and now I can sleep at night," he said.

He also said the Inter-American Development Bank recognized his efforts in collecting the overdue taxes.

"They said I was the best tax collector that Panama has had in its history," he said.

Segundo frente para el exdirector

Las acciones que tome la Procuraduría de la Nación tras las denuncias de la Dirección General de Ingresos se convertirían en un
segundo frente para Luis Cucalón, por supuestas irregularidades vinculadas al contrato que firmó en agosto de 2010 con Cobranzas
del Istmo.

El Ministerio de Economía y Finanzas (MEF) ya interpuso una querella penal contra Cucalón por la supuesta comisión del delito de falsificación ideológica de documento público”.

De acuerdo con el MEF, el contrato contiene una declaración falsa cuando asegura que se celebró “sobre la base de la excepción de acto público” y con “autorización de contratación directa”.

En una investigación interna, el MEF constató que ni la Unidad de Adquisiciones y Contrataciones del Estado del MEF –que aprueba contratos inferiores a $300 mil–, ni el Consejo Económico Nacional –que debe dar el visto bueno para compras entre $300 mil y $3 millones–, ni el Consejo de Gabinete –para compras de más de $3 millones– tramitaron una solicitud de excepción de acto público antes de firmarse el contrato.

Cucalón defendió que la contratación se hizo según lo establecido en el Decreto Ejecutivo No. 22 de 17 de marzo de 2010. No obstante, en este decreto consta que “en concordancia con lo establecido en la Ley de Contratación Pública, el director general de Ingresos, por conducto del Ministerio de Economía y Finanzas, solicitará a las instancias correspondientes, dependiendo de la cuantía, la excepción de acto público y la autorización para contratar directamente con el gestor de cobro autorizado...”.

Al respecto, Cucalón dijo que como el contrato no establecía un monto fijo, sino que los honorarios de la empresa dependían de los montos recuperados, no se podía determinar a qué instancia solicitar la autorización.

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