DOJ set to conclude prelim probe on Rappler tax raps next week

By Jeffrey Damicog

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is expected to conclude next week its preliminary investigation on the P133 million tax evasion complaint against the popular online news site Rappler.

A guard opens a door at the office of Rappler in Pasig, Metro Manila, January 15, 2018. (REUTERS/Dondi Tawatao/File Photo / MANILA BULLETIN) A guard opens a door at the office of Rappler in Pasig, Metro Manila, January 15, 2018. (REUTERS/Dondi Tawatao/File Photo / MANILA BULLETIN)

Assistant State Prosecutor Zenamar Machacon-Caparros, who is conducting the preliminary investigation, made this assurance after the respondents in the case have submitted their respective rejoinders on Wednesday as part of their continued response to the allegations against them.

Caparros said she has already ordered the parties to submit next week their respective memorandum which lists the evidence each of them presented during the preliminary investigation.

Once each of the parties has submitted a memorandum, she said the case is considered submitted for resolution.

The preliminary investigation is being conducted over the complaint filed last March 8 by the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) before the DOJ.

In its complaint, the BIR accused Rappler Holdings Corporation (RHC) and its executives—editor-in-chief Maria Ressa and treasurer James Bitanga-- of violating Sections 254 and 255 in relation to Sections 253(d) and 256 of the National Internal Revenue Code (NIRC) for their willful attempt to evade or defeat tax and for deliberate failure to supply correct and accurate information in its annual income tax return (ITR) and value added tax returns (VAT) in 2015.

Apart from them, the BIR also filed a complaint against certified public accountant Noel Baladiang for violating Section 257(A)(2) of the Tax Code for signing and certifying the financial statements of RHC despite the clear omission and misstatement of his client’s actual taxable income.

The BIR claimed RHC has, on various dates, purchased shares from Rappler Inc. amounting to P19,245,875 and, subsequently, sold Philippine Depositary Receipts (PDRs) on various dates to two foreign entities for P181,658,758.67.

The BIR noted that RHC also used the same common shares it purchased from Rappler Inc. as underlying asset/share of the PDRs.

Because of these transactions, the BIR pointed out RHC is clearly a dealer in securities and is subject to income tax (IT) and VAT.

However, the BIR discovered that the annual ITR and VAT returns filed by RHC for taxable year 2015 showed that no IT and VAT have been paid for the transactions.

The BIR said this means RHC has an aggregate tax liability amounting to P133,841,305.75 which includes P91,320,481.08 IT and P42,520,824.67 VAT.