Christo Wiese shoots down 'tax dodging' claims

Former Steinhoff chairperson Christo Wiese.
Former Steinhoff chairperson Christo Wiese.
Image: Gallo Images / Netwerk24 / Edrea du Toit

Businessman Christo Wiese says it is “absolute rubbish” that he colluded in an alleged multibillion-rand “tax evasion” scheme involving a law firm and multinational oil company.

Wiese has been drawn into a complex dispute in which the South African Revenue Service (SARS) has claimed in court that Africa’s largest law firm‚ ENSafrica‚ and Tullow Oil created an aggressive tax structure to shift assets worth R3.9-billion out of South Africa‚ dodging taxes in the process.

Details of the dispute were published in an article‚ written by investigative journalists at amaBhungane‚ in the Financial Mail on Thursday.

SARS‚ in documents at the High Court in Cape Town‚ alleged that ENS had devised a way for Tullow‚ which had been restructured‚ to get assets worth R3.9-billion out of the country.

“Tullow’s restructure left ENS in charge of a holding company that contained a tax shelter‚ which ENS then sold to Wiese. When SARS came knocking‚ Wiese allegedly moved assets out of the company and sold it to a then ENS partner who told SARS there were no cash or assets left to claim‚” said the report in the Financial Mail.

“Now SARS is going after Wiese‚ the former ENS man and two others personally for R217-million‚ part of a R3.7-billion tax claim rooted in the Tullow restructure‚” said the report.

Speaking to Bruce Whitfield on radio station 702 on Thursday evening‚ the business tycoon said he was not involved in the oil company restructuring process.

“Essentially‚ if one reads the article‚ and might I say intelligently‚ it is complicated and it is also very clear that what happened is Tullow‚ having been a client or a tax client of ENS and their trust‚ underwent a restructuring ... They were fully entitled to restructure in the most tax efficient manner‚” he said.

“Then after that restructuring‚ they approached me or Titan‚ knowing that we are in the market and said that as a consequence of the restructuring there was one company available that they wanted to sell which had a substantial assessed tax loss and also very substantial distributable reserves.”

Asked if he was part of a tax dodging conspiracy‚ he said: “It’s absolute rubbish. We have never been attacked by SARS because of that alleged collusion because we had nothing to do with the Tullow restructuring.

“Our fight with SARS concerns R217-million‚ in round numbers‚ and that fight is in the open‚ it’s in public documents‚ it’s in the High Court in Cape Town and it will be heard and adjudicated in the next month or two.

“Obviously SARS holds one view on highly technical grounds and we hold an opposing view‚” he added.

Wiese said taxpayers were fully entitled to structure their affairs in the most tax efficient manner. He said that he had‚ during the course of his career‚ had differences of opinion with SARS.

“Sometimes we agree‚ sometimes we disagree and we normally end up settling it.”

The Sunday Times reported in 2012 that SARS had slapped the supermarket magnate with a R2 billion tax bill – at the time the largest single tax claim yet lodged in South Africa.

Wiese was targeted for allegedly under-declaring income in a labyrinth of companies and trusts.

Wiese said‚ at the time‚ that he had nothing to hide and emphasised that not once in his career was he found to have short-changed the fiscus.

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