Vietnam’s largest brewery, foreign-owned, refuses to humor taxman

By Phuong Dong   January 26, 2019 | 11:53 pm PT
Vietnam’s largest brewery, foreign-owned, refuses to humor taxman
Bottles of Sabeco's Saigon beer are seen at a restaurant bar in Hanoi, Vietnam. Photo by Reuters/Kham
While Sabeco is still at loggerheads with the taxman over alleged back taxes of $135.73 million, it has not provisioned for it.

Its 2018 accounts make no mention of the amount in dispute though the HCMC Tax Department has claimed it owes that in taxes and fines and even tried to seize the money from the company’s bank account.

Vietnam’s largest brewer, Saigon Beer Alcohol Beverage Corporation (Sabeco), claims it has accurately declared and paid taxes based on guidance from the Ministry of Finance and tax authorities.

A month ago the department said it would seize VND3.1 trillion ($135.73 million) from the brewery’s bank account for overdue special consumption tax payable between 2007 and 2015 and penalties for administrative violations. But there was reportedly no money in the account.

Le Duy Minh, deputy head of the tax department, said the account has been temporarily blocked.

"We have asked Sabeco to provide details of other bank accounts, but it has not fulfilled that request."

Sabeco general director Neo Gim Siong Bennett said in a statement on December 30 that Sabeco had not violated any tax regulations.

Thus, the enforcement action by the tax department was a violation of Vietnamese laws since it was taken "without a valid administrative decision" and "contradicts the written guidance issued by the finance ministry, General Department of Taxation and the city department itself."

Speaking about the dispute, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc earlier this month asked the tax authorities to desist from action and wait for related ministries and other agencies to come to a decision.

Mai Tien Dung, Chairman of the Prime Minister’s Office, told VnExpress that government agencies are scrutinizing the case as it involves "foreign elements."

Sabeco’s revenues last year rose 5 percent to more than VND36 trillion ($1.56 billion) but higher expenses and falling profits at its joint venture and affiliate companies caused its profit after tax to fall by 11 percent to VND4.4 trillion ($191 million).

In December 2017 Thai Beverage acquired a 53.59 percent stake in Sabeco from the Ministry of Industry and Trade for $4.84 billion through a local entity, Viet Beverage (VietBev).

Sabeco now has a 42.8 percent of the beer market, according to the Ho Chi Minh City Securities Corporation. It produced nearly 1.85 billion liters of beer last year.

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