Unicomer taking tax judgement to the Privy Council
Courts Furniture Store’s parent company Unicomer St. Vincent Ltd., to contest a judgment handed down by the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal in a case brought against them for outstanding taxes to the Government of SVG.
Front Page
April 23, 2024

Unicomer taking tax judgement to the Privy Council

Unicomer St. Vincent Ltd., parent company of Courts Furniture Store, has signalled its intention to appeal the judgment handed down by the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal in favour of the government for outstanding taxes now amounting to just over $20 million.

The company released a statement on April 22, 2024, days after the ruling came from the Appellate Court.

This is the fourth ruling in favour of the Comptroller of Inland Revenue Department- one from within the Department, and three from external judicial bodies, since the matter was raised back in 2015.

Through an audit carried out by the Department for the years 2007 to 2011, the Comptroller of Inland Revenue, Kelvin Pompey explained,

“We would have identified certain anomalies in the accounts of Unicomer which we then challenged and ultimately reassessed.”

The Department gave notice to Unicomer of the intention to raise additional assessments to tax on the company in the sum of EC$12,666,798.23, inclusive of interest and penalties.

This action was challenged in the Department Objections Unit with the decision given in favour of the Comptroller, and a subsequent appeal was put before the Income Tax Commissioners of Appeal. That ruling also stood in favour of the Comptroller. It was then challenged in the High Court and the judgment was once again in favour of the Comptroller. The matter was put before the Court of Appeal which dismissed Unicomer’s appeal in a April 17, 2024 ruling.

“The assessment at that time was $12 million in tax, it now stands at $20 million inclusive of taxes, interests and penalties,” Pompey explained during the morning programme hosted on WEFM 99.9.

The statement from Unicomer said the company believes that they have been tax compliant.

“We firmly believe, based on specialist tax and legal advice, that we have fully complied with all tax regulations in Saint Vincent, which is why we are now moving to appeal the judgment to the Privy Council, Saint Vincent’s highest appellate court.”

Unicomer also revealed that the judgment is not expected to affect the operations of the company locally.

“This is a corporate matter that has no impact on Courts or our staff members. Any step taken will consider our business continuity, the well-being of our staff members, customers and continuous support to the community. Responsibility and integrity are two of our core values, and we are committed to continuing our business through this ethics.”

Pompey, in the radio interview, said the Income Tax Act does give the Department the authority to pursue outstanding taxes owed, even if an appeal has been filed against a court ruling. He said that notice will be served on Unicomer for the amounts owed.

“We have to be having discussions with our legal team but I suspect that before the end of this week, we’ll be making a demand. We have exercised sufficient tolerance and restraint in not collecting the outstanding amount, at this juncture we will be making a demand for the full amount.”

Pompey explained that if the ruling is overturned by the Privy Council, any monies paid by Unicomer to the Inland Revenue Department will be refunded.

He added that while Unicomer is well within their right to lodge an appeal at the Privy Council, he is confident that the Department’s auditors have not made any errors with the assessment of taxes owed.

“In accounting, you can have mistakes or schemes that give rise to underpayment of taxes. Looking at this transaction, I don’t think it was one that one can say ‘it was a mistake’. The way the court has ruled it speaks to the fact that this is something that was designed or created. From the taxpayers point of view they may think that it is right and well within their right to do what they did. The tax department on the other hand, has a responsibility to ensure that it is in conformity with the Income Tax Act.”

Prime Minister, Ralph Gonsalves, speaking on the ‘Issue at Hand’ programme on WEFM 99.9 on Sunday, April 21, 2024, described the judgment as an important one in ensuring that “we are vigilant”.