Edna Mall has been a landmark in Bole District since it opened its doors in late 2008. The building was auctioned off to East Steel Plc, a Chinese industrialist, for over 800 million Br last July.

Claims by tax authorities and pending lawsuits stand between the Chinese company in the process of acquiring Edna Mall and the state-owned commercial bank that foreclosed the property a few months ago. The latest in a growing list of claimants is the Addis Abeba Revenues Bureau whose officials are in a crack to recoup millions of Birr in tax arrears from a property located in a prime location of Addis Abeba.

City officials say the 87.4 million Br they claim has tallied up over a four-year period. But their claim comes amid a handover to East Steel Plc, which acquired the property after offering 810 million Br at an auction held last July by the creditor, the state-owned Commercial Bank of Ethiopia (CBE). Last month, the Bureau sent a notice addressed to a company registered under Tekleberhan Ambaye, a major shareholder of Tekleberhan Ambaye Construction Plc (TACON). A total of 67.2 million Br is owed to the city in profit tax, while the balance is an unpaid value-added tax (VAT).

Tax authorities had initially granted the company one month to settle its dues. However, the deadline passed last week and city officials plan to extend the deadline by up to a year.

They expect the company to settle the tax arrear with penalties. According to Robel Gebre, coordinator of the tax audit team at the Addis Ababa Revenue Bureau Medium Taxpayers' Office, the city will take legal measures, including foreclosure of the company's assets.

The Bureau says it has arrived at the figure after assessing the property's financial records for the four years beginning 2016. However, it could not determine the tax amount for the fiscal year 2020/21 because the company did not submit a financial report, Robel told Fortune.

“The company has stopped declaring VAT payments since this year," he said.

The coordinator says the Bureau has repeatedly attempted to reach out to the owners or representatives in vain. Although a representative had communicated with the Bureau earlier this year, city officials have been unable to reach out to the individual, according to Robel.

The seven-story complex on Cameroon Street, a landmark property across Bole Medihanialem Church, opened in November 2008. It lies on a 2,000sqm plot and housed Matti Multiplex Cinema, shops, and restaurants before it was shut down three months ago for failing to service the owners' debt. The property was held as collateral against loans provided to TACON.

CBE executives declined from disclosing the amount the contractor owes them but put the property up for auction last year with a floor price of 237 million Br. East Steel, a Chinese industrialist operating in the Eastern Industry Zone in Dukem, 35Km southeast of Addis Abeba, won the auction after offering 810 million Br. The foreclosure entailed the shutdown of the cinema and an amusement centre in the building. Three months ago, the Bank had served Edna Mall tenants a notice to move out within a month as part of the handover process to East Steel. However, tenants have yet to vacate.

The handover process is yet to be complete.

Incorporated in 2014 with 279 million Br in equity, East Steel's plant in Dukem has an annual production capacity of 1.3 million tonnes of steel. The company supplies reinforcement bars (rebar) to the construction industry.

Abdulkerim Daud, director of litigation and foreclosure at the CBE, disclosed the amount the company owes surpasses the sales value of Edna Mall.

"The Bank already has started selling off the company’s vehicles,” said Abdulkerim.

People close to the matter told Fortune other banks are also looking to recoup loans owed to them by the construction company, which once was one of the largest in the construction industry.

The Revenues Bureau has written a letter to the CBE, soliciting information on the property's auction price and paying capital gains tax. However, it has yet to receive a response, according to Robel.

Legal experts like Yohannes Woldegebriel, a former public prosecutor, note that only courts of law can decide whether the lender or the tax authority get priority in settlement of debts.

Robel disagrees.

“Based on the law, it is impossible to transfer the title deed of any property without settling tax and getting clearance from the authorities," he said.

The Ministry of Revenues is also seeking tax settlement from companies owned by Tekleberhan. This month, it published an auction notice, selling off a residential property owned by the real estate mogul. The initial price of the house, which lies on 110sqm of land, is set at 4.2 million Br.

PUBLISHED ON Mar 26,2022 [ VOL 22 , NO 1143]

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