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Economy - Development | Society

Mozambique bank "stole from Coca Cola account"

Misanet / Savana, 4 April - The Mozambican branch of the soft drinks company Coca-Cola has threatened to take the country's largest bank, International Bank of Mozambique (BIM), to court, in order to recover some 12 billion meticais (600,000 US dollars at current exchange rates) fraudulently removed from Coca-Cola accounts.

According to Coca-Cola manager Soren Hansen, interviewed in the latest issue of the independent weekly 'Savana', last August the company was surprised by a note from the Finance Ministry, fining it for non-payment of taxes. The unpaid taxes were from the months of May, June and July, and amounted to 12 billion meticais.

Mr Hansen said the company informed the Mozambican Finance Ministry that the taxes had been paid, and could present copies of cheques and receipts which seemed to prove this.

After investigating these documents, the Finance Ministry however informed Coca-Cola that in reality the cheques had never been deposited in its account. In other words, the money had been removed from the Coca-Cola account at BIM, but had not been deposited in the Finance Ministry's account.

Coca-Cola contacted the BIM management, with proof that the money had indeed been taken from the company's account. Mr Hansen now accuses BIM of negligence in its internal procedures, which allowed the fraud to take place.

In November 2004, a Coca-Cola annual general meeting instructed the company management to enter into negotiations with BIM to seek an amicable solution. But Mr Hansen says that several meetings with the bank have had no result. "The BIM Board of Directors has always displayed arrogance," he alleged. "It is because of the bad faith shown by the bank that we have decided to go to court."

The aim of the lawsuit, Mr Hansen added, is to recover all the money taken from the Coca-Cola account, plus interest and legal costs. "Over the past 25 years, I've been a senior manager in several parts of the world, and I must say I have never before encountered a company or institution as arrogant as BIM," he said.

Coca-Cola had been depositing two to three billion meticais a day in its BIM account. 17 percent of this was supposed to be passed on to the Finance Ministry in payment of Value Added Tax (VAT).

Now, as a result of this dispute, Coca-Cola is closing its BIM accounts. Furthermore it will suggest that all its partners and distributors should also close any accounts they may have with BIM, since Coca-Cola will no longer accept any BIM cheques.

'Savana' says that BIM also faces problems with the publicly owned electricity company, EDM, which suffered a similar theft in 2002. Then four million South African rands (about 670,000 US dollars, at today's exchange rates) disappeared from the EDM account held at BIM.

EDM has had several meetings with BIM and with the central bank, so far to no avail, and a lawyer hired by EDM has been following the matter since 2003.

Other institutions whose BIM accounts have been raided include the Mozambican customs service, and the MOZAL aluminium smelter, the independent newspaper claims.

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