Court allows ZRA to continue Post probe

THE Lusaka High Court has allowed the Zambia Revenue Authority (ZRA) to continue with its investigations into the Post Newspaper tax malpractice but has asked the authority to return the property and documents that were confiscated from the Newspaper offices on Thursday during a search.

This follows an application by the Post Newspaper to the High Court requesting for the return of business documents related to the business and an abating to restrain ZRA from seizing the newspaper’s documents.

Lusaka High Court Judge Eddy Sikazwe asked ZRA to return the documents after the newspaper’s counsel Fynold Mufwaafi filed an affidavit.

Last week, Fred M’membe, the owner of the Post Newspaper attempted to transfer his core assets held under the Post Courier Service – a transport fleet division – to a newly formed company Makumya Limited in which he and his daughter Akende M’membe are shareholders.

The Post Newspaper, which is being pursued by the ZRA for alleged tax evasion amounting to more than K18 million, is in suffocating debt with a number of financial institutions.

In his affidavit, Mr Mufwaali contended that the court has not quashed any of the orders it had made which preclude ZRA from taking any action on the matter litigated before the court.

Mr Mufwaafi added that ZRA indicated while conducting a search on the newspaper’s premises through a discussion with a representative of ZRA, Mr Samuel Kataya, that ZRA interpreted the order to mean that the court had quashed the earlier orders.

He said the alleged contemnors, namely Ms Diana Bunting-Goramota and Mr Berlin Msiska on behalf of ZRA – willfully and wantonly disobeyed the orders of the court and have been interfering and disrespecting the dignity of the court.

Mr Mufwaafi said ZRA on Thursday this week obtained a search warrant from the subordinate court allowing for the search , inspection and possession of the Post Newspaper’s ICT equipment and other documents relating to tax obligation for the period January 1, 2010 and October 31, 2015 which matters were litigated before court and there was a pending appeal.

He said  ZRA in the process of the search seized computers and files belonging to the newspaper, thereby crippling the company’s business and disregarding the orders of the court, particularly the order granting a stay.

Mr Mufwaafi contended that the ZRA action and behaviour was contemptuous to the court as they have ‘‘contumeliously disregarded’’ the order of the court not to take steps that adversely affected the applicant until determination of the matter.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Sikazwe ordered ZRA to only conduct an inspection of the Post Newspaper’s business and not to take anything from the premises.

He also ordered ZRA to immediately return any property and documents already taken from the firm.

Mr Justice Sikazwe further ordered ZRA not to levy any distress against Post Newspaper Company Limited for any amount until determination of the appeal lodged by the firm in the Supreme Court.

ZRA on Thursday pounced on the Post Newspaper after the tax agency allegedly received information that the organization was engaging in tax malpractice.