June 1 Belarusian Helsinki Committee Sues Tax Inspection in Minsk Economic Court Minsk Maskowski borough tax inspection insists BHC is to pay USD 75,000 of taxes and fines.
The BHC activists consider the claims of the tax inspection ungrounded. If they don’t manage to prove that in court, the BHC leadership will find themselves in the dock. The prosecutor’s office is after BHC chair Tatsiana Protska and chief accountant Tatsiana Rutkevich. They face imprisonment and seizure of property for failure to pay taxes.
Judge Aksana Mikhniuk hears the case at Minsk economic court. She started hearing with the parties clarifying their positions about the failure to pay taxes. The civil defendant – Maskowski borough tax inspection – does not dispute the BHC rights to tax exemption. However, the tax inspection representative states the NGO management has failed to go through the formalities in order to be exempted from taxes. “They could have received tax exemption, but have failed to do that. And the reason is their negligence”, she claimed. The tax inspection representative gave an example of an enterprise from Hrodna which went through the appropriate procedure a posteriori, and the got back the taxes it had already paid.
Members of Belarusian Helsinki Committee consider this method illegal and unacceptable. BHC refers to the agreement between Belarus and the European Union rendering financial assistance to Belarus under TACIS programs with the obligatory condition of tax exemption. TACIS programs have different goals: they range from construction of customs terminals on the border with the EU countries to the development of civic society in Belarus. Human rights activists of BHC implemented one of the civic society programs. They point out, the court ruling to tax them, if issued, will practically cancel the earlier international agreements and put an end to the financial aid programs that might have appeared. BHC chair Tatsiana Protska points out, “the EU plans to allot 1 billion Euros under its “New Neighbors” program. That’s for 4 countries: Belarus, Moldova, Ukraine, and Russia. However, we have a precedent here. If we are convicted and they make us pay, Belarus will lose about 300 million Euro”.
Some interesting technical circumstances of the conflict were discovered during the hearing. In particular, it has become obvious, that the Russian version of the agreement about financial aid under TACIS program, used by the tax inspection, has significant differences with the English original. The judge announced adjournment of proceedings. During the break a special translator will prepare his opinion about the translation, and will translate other important documents. The hearing will be resumed on June 9.