The past week has undoubtedly exposed the hypocrisy of Benoni Urey, the Presidential candidate and Chairman of Lonestar/MTN. Urey made headline news when he wrote a letter to President Sirleaf complaining that some telecom companies were denying the government of potential taxes as a result of certain promotional campaigns which offered free and bonus calls. He then went on to praise his company, Lonestar/MTN for being a major and model taxpayer.
As a result of his complaint, the Government introduced a bill to the legislature for the imposition of additional taxes on all calls, including free calls; a move that would virtually end the free calls that impoverished Liberians depend on to communicate with friends and family. The call provoked severe criticism from the public, which according to some analysts placed the candidacy of Urey at risk.
In a dramatic turn of events over the past week, Urey’s radio station was shut down by the Government for failure to pay taxes in the amount of $50,000.00 (fifty thousand dollars).
Urey response was one of accusation of political machinations on the part of the Government, instead of the payment of his taxes which would have been expected from a so-called advocate of taxation. In an interview with the BBC, Urey was asked whether he owed taxes and how much.
His response was that he did not know! How can the Chairman of a large taxpayer such as Lonestar/MTN not know whether one of his companies owes the government taxes? Doesn’t he have an accountant? Everyone knows that GST (sales) is 15% and corporate income tax is 25% of net profit. Urey’s response was intentionally evasive or a reflection of gross incompetence. But I think it smells of tax evasion, plain and simple.
But then again this is an established trend of Mr. Urey, the so-called tax advocate. In 2015, the LRA obtained a closure order from the Tax Court to close Urey’s property on 10th Street, Sinkor for failure to pay taxes.
Urey was forced to make a sudden down payment against his delinquent taxes and he then entered into a payment plan to pay the balance in installments. Earlier, he was faced with a similar situation related to his farm in Careysburg. The trend with Urey is that he only pays his taxes when forced to by tax authorities.
Then there is the case of the sale of Lonestar shares to MTN which resulted in a capital gains tax liability of millions of dollars. Despite all efforts by the government to collect this tax, including through legal action, Urey has refused to pay the capital gains taxes.
Urey’s claim of being a millionaire, his reputation for tax evasion, and his new-found advocacy for taxation is a whirlwind of hypocrisy at its apex. He “can’t fool all the people all the time.” Lies and deceit have a way of eventually surfacing.
According to a political analyst, Urey’s tax advocacy was really a desperate move to ward off loss of market shares by Lonestar/MTN due to intense competition brought about by very aggressive marketing campaigns.
Urey also saw this as a great opportunity to score some political capital with the government while using the government against his competitors. But the recent fallout with the tax authorities have led Urey to describe the Sirleaf Government as criminal and wicked in a recent BBC interview.
One political commentator noted, “I am reminded of what Fareed Zakaria of CNN said of Donald Trump, that he is a bullshit con artist.”
Norton Spencer, Contributing Writer