Cape Town - The third-richest man in the country, billionaire Shoprite boss Christo Wiese told the Sunday Times on Sunday that he is not hiding from Sars, after weekend newspapers reported that he owed the taxman an estimated R2bn in unpaid taxes.
"Do you think that for 50 years Sars has not been aware of my existence?
"I'm not hiding anywhere, so if you think I owe you money, send me the bill," the newspaper quoted him as saying.
The tax assessment for Wiese is the largest in South African history and potentially makes Wiese the largest individual tax offender in South Africa.
South Africa’s worst alleged tax dodger up till now has been businessman Dave King, who has been involved in a ten-year multimillion-rand tax wrangle with Sars.
King was assessed in February 2002 as owing more than R900m in tax to Sars. This assessment remains disputed and the subject of appeal procedures.
The amount of R2bn apparently included a R1bn tax bill and various penalties. Wiese was contesting the bill, levied on his main trading company, Titan, in tax court.
City Press on Sunday reported that it has established that an in-depth South African Revenue Service audit had revealed that Wiese had over years allegedly channelled his vast wealth into a network of trusts and offshore companies.
A year ago Sars presented Wiese with a tax assessment of about R1bn, three sources with knowledge of the matter confirmed.
An ongoing tax audit and assessment had now revealed that he might owe Sars an additional R1bn in unpaid taxes, the sources say.
Afrikaans newspaper Rapport, quoting "immaculate" sources, said Sars' investigation was reportedly triggered by an incident in 2009, where Wiese was detained by British customs officials and had about R8m confiscated that he was carrying with him in cash.
The money was recently retuned following a legal process and, according to his lawyer, represents less than two weeks' income for Wiese.
City Press reported that Wiese is expected to offer Sars a settlement amount - probably half of what he owes - in order to clear his tax bill and keep his affairs out of the public eye.
Wiese said he would not react to a list of questions that City Press posed to him.
He said there were prescribed procedures according to which disputes between taxpayers and Sars were resolved and he was not prepared to comment on any such dispute in the media.
Wiese said all his foreign interests were – according to regulations – declared to Sars every year and it was therefore not necessary to inquire about his affairs abroad.
Sars spokesperson Adrian Lackay declined to comment and said Sars did not – and could not – comment publicly on the affairs of any taxpayer.
According to Forbes magazine Wiese is the third-richest man in South Africa, with his wealth only surpassed by that of Nicky Oppenheimer and Johann Rupert.
According to Forbes, he is worth about R25bn. The retail magnate, who chairs Pepkor, Shoprite and Tradehold is the 367th richest man in the world.
The Income Tax Act provides for a fine or imprisonment for any person who had wilfully evaded paying tax.
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