Philip Morris Thailand yesterday asserted that customs charges brought against it by public prosecutors are meritless, unjust and in violation of Thailand’s obligations to comply with the WTO Customs Valuation Agreement.
The charges result from a Department of Special Investigation (DSI) probe that began almost 10 years ago, which resulted in allegations that the company under-declared import prices for cigarettes it brought in from the Philippines.
Branch manager Troy Modlin said in a press release that the company had done nothing wrong and that the charges called into question Thailand’s commitment to fairness, transparency and the rule of law.
Prosecuting this case will undermine Thailand’s stated desire to revitalise its reputation in the international community as a market-based, open economy that is investor friendly, he said.
The decision of then-attorney general Julasingh Vasantasing to charge the company, as well as its current and former employees, contradicted the non-prosecution order his own office had made more than four years before, Modlin said. He added that it violated prior rulings of the Customs Department, Customs Board of Appeal, the Customs Post-Clearance Audit Bureau and the WTO. The company has cooperated fully with all government agencies since the DSI launched its investigation in 2006, he said. The company intends to defend itself against these charges and demonstrate that it is in full compliance with Thai law and international standards of customs valuation.
Meanwhile, the Attorney Gen-eral’s Office said yesterday that it had filed a lawsuit against the American tobacco giant’s Thai unit, accusing eight of the company’s foreign and local executives of false declarations of imports and of the evasion of duties and import taxes.
The alleged tax evasion dates back to 2003.
Spokesman Somnuek Siengkong said at a press conference that the case was brought before the Criminal Court against the Thai subsidiary, Philip Morris (Thailand), for a total of 272 offences that the eight defendants committed from July 2003-June 2006.
The lawsuit named eight defendants including foreign and Thai executives, including Modlin.
The offences they allegedly committed related to false declarations of the true value of cigarette imports with intent to evade taxes. The evaded taxes and duties amounted to Bt20.21 billion.
Customs Law states that intentional tax evasion is subject to a fourfold fine of the evaded tax plus the value of the imports or 10 year in prison, or both.
The court accepted the lawsuit for trial and set the first hearing for April, Somneuk said.
Chartpong Chiraphand, deputy attorney general, said the Criminal Court had earlier issued warrants for the arrest of four foreign executives of the cigarette company who are still at large.
The case against the foreign executives has a statute of limitations of 15 years, with five years remaining.
If foreign fugitives are apprehended within that period, they will be brought to trial, Somneuk said.