Major taxi company avoids paying VAT, claims TV program

The Baltic Taxi company is a web of over 150 micro enterprises created in what could amount to a massive scheme to avoid paying Value Added Tax (VAT), Latvian Television's Aizliegtais paņēmiens (Forbidden Methods) reported Monday.

An embodiment of good PR, Baltic Taxi takes disabled children to school on September 1, has its cars decorated with local artists' paintings, and cooperates with well-known brands like the Positivus festival.

The company was set up in 2009 as a partner to the airBaltic flag carrier airline, and its green-colored taxis mirroring the airline's brand colors are a popular means of getting to and from the Rīga International Airport.

Baltic Taxi reportedly had a turnover of €5m and a small profit in 2013 before its structure was altered as the state rolled in the microenterprise tax for businesses with an annual turnover of less than €50,000. 

The tax, introduced to encourage growth of smaller firms, is set at 9% of turnover. Larger companies have to pay the full 21% rate. 

Baltic Taxi was split a number of small firms in a scheme not received well by the State Revenue Service which fined the company €400,000. However it did not have to pay the fine after being declared insolvent in summer 2015.

The company was renamed prior to being dissolved while the Baltic Taxi brand was bought by Environment Solutions, owned by one Sergejs Seņkāns.

Currently Baltic Taxi appears to have been split up into more than 150 micro enterprises registered by the taxi drivers, who are only using the company brand, automobiles, and call center - a scheme that seems to be confirmed by Naglis himself. 

Forbidden Methods reported that the firms' finances are managed mostly by Ilze Palmbaha, a high-level bookkeeper and at one time an expert hired by the Finance Ministry. 

According to the show, none of the Baltic Taxi micro-enterprises turns over sums greater than €50,000, meaning they don't have to pay VAT.

Jānis Naglis, a Baltic Taxi representative and board member at the Employers Confederation--a social partner sometimes advising the government on combating the shadow economy--told the show that Baltic Taxi operates a legal form of entrepreneurship.

"This is not shadow economy," he told the show.

Under the scheme, Baltic Taxi can eschew social contributions, leaving taxi drivers virtually unprotected in case they cannot do their job anymore. 

Forbidden Methods pointed out several connections suggesting financial links between Baltic Taxi and former Prime Minister Andris Šķēle.

His family, through the Liepājas Autobusu Parks company, was the main shareholder of Baltic Taxi prior to the insolvency process. Furthermore, Sergejs Seņkāns, the current owner of the Baltic Taxi brand, was the official assistant to Šķēle in the 10th Saeima.

Forbidden Methods also points to the Panda Taxi company as having a similar structure to that of Baltic Taxi. 

It has not been suggested that the dealings of Baltic Taxi or Panda Taxi are illegal, however if true the highly inventive schemes that ultimately result in smaller tax contributions to state coffers should at least raise questions, especially at a time when governments across the world fight offshore schemes only for them to reappear "onshore".

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