By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE 2012 Auditor General’s Report recommended that the government take “urgent steps” to collect more than $51m in outstanding taxes owed from closed casinos before the opportunity to do so would not exist.
It was further recommended that a policy decision be made to clear the books of amounts owed by the closed casinos if they were deemed non-collectable.
According to the report, $51,572,545.18 was owed to the government from five casinos, including the Crystal Palace previously owned by Phil Ruffin.
The report covers the period of July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012.
The other casinos listed in the report owing the government millions of dollars are the Lucayan Beach; Casino at Bahamia; Carnival Leisure Industries and Isles of Capri.
The Lucayan Beach Casino owes the largest amount, $24,225,684.40; the Casino at Bahamia owes $13,219,141,78; Crystal Palace owes $5,129,695.40; Carnival Leisure owes $4,077,402.10 and Isles of Capri owes $4,920,621.50, according to the report.
On Tuesday, Montagu MP Richard Lightbourn said the uncollected casino taxes are “frightening”, while he expressed doubt that the government would be successful in retrieving the funds.
Speaking in the House of Assembly, he pointed to the more than $5m owed by Mr Ruffin and his relationship with Mr Christie.
Mr Lightbourn said the close ties between the two gave the suggestion that the government was turning a blind eye to the issue.
“I believe this is the same Ruffin who was driving around with the prime minister in his car recently,” Mr Lightbourn said. “(They were) all over New Providence inspecting developments which were going on.
“Certainly to me that suggests that one is condoning the fact that someone like Mr Ruffin would owe the government $5m and our country is basically turning a blind eye to that. How can you be involved with someone who owes the government that amount of money and ignores his obligations to the country?
“As far as I am concerned that is far more outrageous than catching a helicopter ride with an investor,” he said, referring to a controversy surrounding former Environment Minister Dr Earl Deveaux.
Mr Christie later suggested that the Auditor General’s Report was lacking updated information. He told parliamentarians that at the time of the purchase of the Crystal Palace Casino, the funds owed to the government had been paid.
Mr Christie said: “I know that the member is speaking to the Auditor General’s Report, but just let me put on the record that at the time of the purchase of those facilities all taxes would have been paid. All taxes that were legally due to the government would have been paid.
“That is the assertion I make. I am going to be able to put it on the record. I am going to speak to Ministry of Finance officials just to be able to confirm and verify that point,” the minister of finance added.
“The fact that this is now evidenced in the report is a curious finding to me, because I know that whenever a matter of a sale is completed there is an obligation of the government to collect all of the taxes that are due. Therefore the account is marked sealed and completed.”
However, the session ended with no final word from Mr Christie on the matter.
Central Grand Bahama MP Neko Grant, who had raised this issue several times before in Parliament, called on the prime minister to clarify the supposed inconsistencies of the report.
The former Crystal Palace hotel is now a part of the Baha Mar resort and has been rebranded.