No doubt to his great well-being and fortune, lawyer Alvin Chong would have discovered that having anyone from the Abdul Taib Mahmud dynasty as one’s patron is an assurance of riches beyond belief for this and the next seven generations. In the face of such tempting opulence, occasional legalistic indiscretions surely can be indulged in.
Alvin’s crowing of the skill with which he has protected his master from the unwelcome attentions of the Inland Revenue Board would have been better accomplished had he displayed the same care to the law as he apparently did circumventing it.
Such avid loyalty to the Taib family notwithstanding, Alvin should be aware that the Singapore Wall, Chinese, Swiss or otherwise, does not quite act as a buffer to the official curiosity of a Malaysian tax officer.
A perusal of the Malaysia-Singapore Double Taxation Agreement, especially Article 26, would have revealed to his immense discomfort and alarm that wishful thinking aside, information can be exchanged between the two nations for “for the prevention or detection of evasion or avoidance of taxes”. But considering the party involved is Taib Mahmud, what’s a few nettlesome Articles between friends?
Chong and the two kissing cousins seem committed to keeping the Real Property Gains Tax (RPGT) at bay. But why the RPGT? Taking into account the frequency with which such transactions are participated in, any tax officer worth his salt would be able to make a solid case for the resultant profits to be subject not to RPGT but to Income Tax, leading to not only higher taxes but a host of other unwelcome consequences as well.
While the fine under Section 114 - Wilful Evasion is a mere RM20,000, a sum Daim Zainuddin will contemptuously regard as “small change”, the offence brings with it another slightly more painful result - three years in the slammer.
Alvin Chong may be heartened, then again he may be terrified, to learn that any person who “assists any other person to evade tax” would be guilty of a like offence. The relief here would be that the days of contemplation while languishing under the hospitality of the government would be shared with familiar faces.
What next now? Surely the director-general of Inland Revenue, being the ever vigilant force that he is, a dexterity that a poor Deepak Jaikishen could testify to, would be aware of the goings-on and may care to make a visit to Taib’s habitat to get first-hand knowledge of the, well, goings on. Who knows, Taib may yet be able attribute his wealth to his frugal nature since childhood.
As for Alvin Chong, he may wish to regal himself in the latest local pastime of “Come out, reveal all and be damned”.
VINCENT JOSEF is a former Inland Revenue Board assistant director-general. He is an expert in corporate and business taxation and prosecution.