• ‘Consequences for non-compliance’, firms warned
• Golf cart rental owner confirms DIR seized vehicles
• But ‘concierge’ travel firm denies anything is amiss
By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
The Ministry of Finance’s top official yesterday warned tax deadbeats “there’s consequences for non-compliance” after several Briland businesses this week saw their assets seized over alleged unpaid debts to the Public Treasury.
Simon Wilson, the financial secretary, confirmed to Tribune Business that Department of Inland Revenue (DIR) officials, supported by the Royal Bahamas Police Force, had conducted an island-wide sweep of companies suspected of not being properly licensed, failing to pay VAT and other due taxes, and under-declaring or under-reporting revenues to avoid the full Business Licence fee and other levies.
While not going into details, such as the identities of the alleged offenders or how much they are believed to owe in outstanding taxes, he said the move sends a clear signal to all Bahamas-based businesses that they must pay their fair share in taxes and can no longer evade/avoid their obligations with impunity.
“The key thing is this,” Mr Wilson told this newspaper. “Businesses have to pay their taxes. They cannot operate without a Business Licence, they cannot willfully under-declare their revenue and expect there’s no consequences. They cannot do it. The key thing is the message is there’s consequences for non-compliance.”
Among the companies understood to have been targeted by what amounted to a ‘raid’ by the Department of Inland Revenue’s audit and compliance teams are Conch & Coconut, only founded in 2018 but which bills itself as Harbour Island’s “leading locally-owned and operated luxury concierge and experiential travel company”, and Andre’s Rentals, a golf cart rentals company.
A video sent to Tribune Business shows multiple golf carts leaving Harbour Island via ship allegedly destined for Nassau. They were said to represent some of the property taken in what is believed to be the Department of Inland Revenue’s first-ever seizure of assets over alleged unpaid tax debts and under-reporting of revenues for tax and Business Licence purposes.
“I’m aware,” Mr Wilson said of the seizures. “The Department of Inland Revenue is preparing a full statement with all the facts that are involved. I’ll allow them to make their statement. I don’t know what happened, but the Department of Inland Revenue has the power to take all the equipment. It won’t only take some and not all.”
The Briland sweep seems likely to be the first in a series of more aggressive actions taken against tax delinquents and deadbeats, especially those owing significant sums to the Public Treasury or who have the ability to pay but simply do not. The Government is understood to have been growing increasingly concerned over the level of alleged tax non-compliance on Harbour Island, and the failure of some businesses to be properly licensed and pay the necessary fees.
Jason Williams, the Department of Inland Revenue’s spokesman, last night said it acted over “significant sums” that were believed to be outstanding amid under-declarations and under-reporting of revenue for VAT and Business Licence purposes. He added that around 30 golf carts were seized from Andre’s Rentals, along with computer equipment, while 100 cases of Conch & Coconut’s Pink Sands Spirits liquor and three golf carts, plus other documents and items, were secured.
Julian Shaquille Gibson, known as ‘Shaq’, Conch & Coconut’s co-founder, and who is also a realtor with Corcoran CA Christie, denied that anything was amiss when questioned by Tribune Business about the tax authorities’ actions but, in the same breath, asked this newspaper to contact his attorneys at the Glinton, Sweeting and O’Brien law firm for further comment.
“You can contact my lawyer. That’s some incorrect information. That’s some false information. That’s news to me,” Mr Gibson replied, when questioned about the asset seizures and if Conch & Coconut had been temporarily shut down by the Department of Inland Revenue.
When it was pointed out that virtually all of Harbour Island was talking about the tax authorities’ sweep, he said: “By the time it hits the right corner it misses some turns and insights. I’m not at liberty to speak on that. There’s nothing going on. We’re still cracking open the good life.” The latter is a reference to the motto that appears on Conch & Coconut’s website.
Mr Gibson referred this newspaper to attorneys Giahna Soles Hunt and Darron Pickstock, the PLP Senator, signing off by saying: “The lawyers are ready to speak to you now.” Messages, phone calls and e-mails sent to the legal duo were not returned before press time last night.
However, Marc Tonis, proprietor of Andre’s Rentals, effectively confirmed that his golf carts had been confiscated when contacted by Tribune Business. He said he was on a flight about to leave Nassau for Harbour Island, having met with his attorney, and voiced confidence that the situation will be resolved by today.
“Some stuff like that happened,” he said, when asked about the Department of Inland Revenue’s seizure of his gold carts and their transfer to Nassau. I just finished with my lawyer, and everything should be sorted out tomorrow [today]. That’s why I’m going home.” When asked what had motivated the authorities’ actions, he replied: “It’s a couple of things.”
Mr Tonis did not elaborate and ended the call, saying he would call back later with the plane about to take-off. However, well-placed sources said he anticipated that Andre’s Rentals will be back in business by next week. It is thought that Conch & Coconut may also have resolved its differences with the Department of Inland Revenue, via its attorneys, in the days after the Briland sweep.
The latter business provides tours and excursions via private boat charters plus golf cart rentals, and has been expanding into multiple segments of the tourism market such as vacation rentals, weddings and event planning while also handling every aspect of the vacation experience for visitors. “They have three to four nice centre console day excursion boats that are not inexpensive to buy,” one source said.
Another added: “Inland Revenue did some raids around Harbour Island. My understanding is they have been looking at businesses suspected of breaking their regulations or the VAT regulations. I knew it was going to happen a couple of weeks ago. I’d been tipped to make sure I had all my stuff in order; my Business Licence prominently displayed; my VAT registration properly displayed. I was told they’d be doing a big sweep on everything.”
Internet research by this newspaper links Conch & Coconut to a Miami-based entrepreneur, Pablo Conde. One posting from 2021 said he “currently runs....... Conch & Coconut”, while also referring to the “getaway” that is Eleuthera. And a Facebook page describes him as Conch & Coconut’s co-founder, and chief executive and co-founder of Pink Sands Spirits Company, the liquor brand that is being promoted on the former’s gold carts.