Interjet Founders In Talks to Avoid Potential Tax Fraud Charges
(Bloomberg) -- The founders of troubled Mexican airline Interjet are negotiating a settlement with tax authorities in an effort to avoid potential criminal fraud charges that could be filed as soon as next month, said an official familiar with the matter.
Miguel Aleman Magnani, Interjet’s chief executive officer, and his father, Chairman Miguel Aleman Velasco, could face fraud charges, as could the company itself, said the tax official, who asked not to be named because tax cases are protected by privacy laws. Negotiations may still lead to a settlement, the person said.
The potential charges against the company and its top executives, which could be filed by the end of the year or early next year without a deal, stem from whether the company collected taxes from customers and employees but failed to forward the money to the government, said the official.
Interjet’s alleged tax debts have complicated an effort to draw in $150 million pledged by a group of outside investors as a lifeline to the carrier, which is struggling with the coronavirus pandemic and financial woes that predate Covid-19. Bloomberg News previously reported that the investors have yet to provide the funds out of fear that the government would grab some of the money to cover unpaid taxes.
The allegedly unpaid taxes are part of 6.2 billion pesos ($310 million) in government claims, the official said.
The tax bill amounts to 2.9 billion pesos, including retained income tax from employees and value added taxes charged to customers, according to an internal government document seen by Bloomberg News. Interjet owes another 3.3 billion pesos in other government fees and fuel costs from a state-owned company, while other creditors are seeking another 7.5 billion pesos, according to the document.
Interjet said in response to questions that the numbers were incorrect but declined to provide other amounts. The airline didn’t respond to questions about the tax negotiations.
If the company doesn’t come up with a plan to start covering its tax debts in the coming weeks, tax officials are prepared to file criminal charges by early next year in order to meet statutes of limitations, the tax official said.
Mexico’s tax prosecutor has discretion on whether to file criminal complaints with the attorney general’s office and can move to dismiss if taxpayers reach settlements even after the charges are brought. Criminal enforcement of the tax laws has been key to a tax crackdown under President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador.
As the coronavirus pandemic hit Mexico, Lopez Obrador refused to provide major fiscal aid to companies and instead insisted that they pay up after allegedly avoiding tax debts under corrupt previous governments. Under the threat of criminal fraud charges, the Mexican unit of Walmart Inc. and other companies paid a combined total of more than $1 billion this year.
The Alemans, who are descendants of a Mexican president, have seen Interjet collapse as most of its Airbus SE planes were repossessed by lessors earlier this year. The carrier’s fleet is down to just four active Russian-made Sukhoi Superjets, according to Flightradar24. Unionized employees protested earlier this month after they said they weren’t paid.
Bank of America Corp. repossessed the family’s Gulfstream private jet this summer after they fell behind on payments, according to a person familiar with the lease. Interjet declined to comment on that, or on the worker protests.
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