By Bryan Koenig https://www.law360.com/articles/891973/philip-morris-facing-more-thai-tax-evasion-charges
Law360, Washington (February 14, 2017, 6:38 PM EST) — Philip Morris International Inc. announced a widening Tuesday of the government of Thailand’s long-running criminal investigation seeking billions of dollars in potential penalties based on allegations the company deliberately shorted cigarette import prices to avoid full taxation.
The charges announced in Philip Morris’ annual report with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission were filed Jan. 26 and follow charges levied against the company a year earlier. While the January 2016 charges are seeking more than $2 billion in fines purportedly stemming from imports from the Philippines, the new charges cover cigarettes imported from Indonesia, Philip Morris said in the report.
“The government is seeking a fine of approximately THB 19.8 billion (approximately $562 million). The first hearing, which will focus on preliminary procedural matters, is scheduled for April 2017,” Philip Morris said in the filing. “PM Thailand disagrees with the allegations and believes that its declared import prices are in compliance with the Customs Valuation Agreement of the [World Trade Organization] and Thai law.”
According to the cigarette giant, the Thailand Department of Special Investigation, or DSI, probed Indonesian imports and the subsequent excise taxes and customs duties paid from 2000 through 2003. The late-January charges the public prosecutor filed in Bangkok Criminal Court also targeted a Thai ex-employee, Philip Morris said.
The company stands accused of working with the employee “with the intention to defraud the Thai government” on “under declared import prices of cigarettes” from 780 import entries between January 2002 and July 2003, all to avoid full taxation and duties, according to the filing.
The charges filed last year against Philip Morris (Thailand) Ltd. and seven current and former workers in the same court followed an investigation into the period from 2003 to 2007, according to the filing. Those charges cover allegedly “under declared import prices” from 272 entries brought in from the Philippines from July 2003 to June 2006, Philip Morris said.
“The government is seeking a fine of approximately THB 80.8 billion (approximately US$2.29 billion). The case is in the pre-trial evidentiary phase. Trials are scheduled to begin during the last quarter of 2017,” the company said.
“PM Thailand believes that its declared import prices are in compliance with the Customs Valuation Agreement of the World Trade Organization and Thai law and that the allegations of the public prosecutor are inconsistent with several decisions already taken by Thai Customs and other Thai governmental agencies.”
The Thailand charges are not the end of Philip Morris’ international tax woes.
Tuesday’s filing also discussed a South Korean Board of Audit and Inspection probe into whether inventory changes by cigarette companies like Philip Morris Korea Inc. complied with the country’s tax laws in the run up to a Jan. 1, 2015, cigarette tax increase. According to the filing, the audit wrapped up in November with the assessment of underpaid taxes and penalties. In order to avoid “nonpayment financial costs,” Philip Morris’ Korean affiliate paid the full amount of taxes assessed to the tune of about $185 million, according to the company.
Philip Morris also reported an early 2017 demand for around US$46 million total from other government authorities. The company vowed to appeal the assessments, while noting that the matter has been referred to the public prosecutor, who will investigate the potential for criminal charges against the company and others.
“If the public prosecutor decides to prosecute, it may seek up to three times the underpaid tax for company criminal penalties and up to five times the underpaid tax for individual criminal penalties,” the company said. “PM Korea believes that it has paid cigarette-related taxes in compliance with the South Korean tax laws.”
South Korea’s Ministry of Strategy and Finance has also filed criminal charges against the country’s Philip Morris unit and its managing director, according to the filing, which characterized the charges as allegations that it went over monthly product withdrawal restrictions imposed by the ministry. The public prosecutor will conduct an investigation into that complaint and make a decision about pursuing a case, according to Philip Morris, which noted disagreement with the allegations.