Singapore’s Wilmar denies Indonesian tax fraud claim

SINGAPORE/JAKARTA, May 18 (Reuters) - Wilmar International Ltd, the world’s biggest listed palm oil firm, denied media reports that it had colluded with tax officials to obtain fraudulent tax refunds for its operations in Indonesia.

Two Indonesian newspapers, quoting Indonesian lawmaker Bambang Soesatyo from the Golkar Party, said Singapore’s Wilmar had received or was due to receive total “questionable” tax refunds worth 3.6 trillion rupiah (S$385 million) over the three years from 2007 to 2009.

Wilmar, which has a market value of around S$30 billion, in a statement to the Singapore stock exchange said the reports were “untrue and unsubstantiated” and its Indonesian units “are and have at all times been in full compliance with all relevant Indonesian value added tax laws”.

“The subsidiaries have received restitution of varying amounts over the years, which correspond directly with the actual quantum of cost of export sales, consistent with the permissible amounts claimable under Indonesian value-added tax laws,” Wilmar said.

 “The company categorically denies the allegations that the value added tax restitution claims are questionable and fictitious, and further categorically denies any allegation of collusion with tax officials referred to in those reports.”

The Jakarta Globe and the Jakarta Post reported Soesatyo as saying that the initial allegations were contained in an internal tax directorate report that said Wilmar manipulated its financial statements and then co-operated with someone in the tax department to approve the rebates.

A senior Indonesian tax office official said the claims made in the media reports were unsubstantiated. “I believe the claim is unsubstantiated. (They) cannot just make these claims, they have to provide some evidence,” Iqbal Alamsyah, communications director at the tax office, told Reuters in Jakarta.

Wilmar has oil palm plantation assets in Indonesia and Malaysia and plans to start a sugar plantation business on Indonesia’s Papua island. The company said its Indonesan units were collectively the biggest exporter of palm oil in the world’s largest producer of the commodities.

“These subsidiaries collectively exported more than S$3 billion worth of palm oil in each of the last three financial years, thereby entitling these subsidiaries to claim the 10 per cent value added tax paid on the cost of these sales for each of those years.”

The allegation came as the country’s tax authority vowed it would continue a tax investigation into Indonesian coal miner PT Bumi Resources, in what is seen as a litmus test of the government’s commitment to reform. Bumi Resources is owned by the family of Golkar chairman Aburizal Bakrie.

Macquarie, in its research note to investors, said it liked Wilmar's solid execution and has been looking for a lower entry price for a better return profile for investors - and this saga is creating that opportunity. "We upgrade the stock to 'Outperform' from 'Neutral', on an unchanged target price of S$7.10."

Credit Suisse downgraded Wilmar to 'Underperform' from 'Neutral' and cut target price to S$5.70 from S$6.88 It sees a misunderstanding between Wilmar and the tax authorities, but we believe that Wilmar’s share price will underperform until the issue is cleared up, which could take months. -- Reporting by Harry Suhartono, Gde Anugrah Arka and Dicky Kristanto, Editing by Will Waterman

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