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Further problems of the Open Dialogue Foundation: over PLN 700,000 tax and an investigation by the Internal Security Agency. Kramek comments on the charges

The Customs and Tax Office (Urząd Celno-Skarbowy, UCS) in Łódź has calculated that the Open Dialogue Foundation (ODF) is to pay over PLN 700,000 of unpaid tax. This morning, the Internal Security Agency (Agencja Bezpieczeństwa Wewnętrznego, ABW) announced the initiation of an investigation into the Foundation. – These are political decisions – says the head of the foundation’s board, promising to take legal steps against the ABW.

  • ABW suspects ODF of obtaining money from sources related to the so-called Panama Papers. The head of the foundation board claims that the money is clean

  • The tax charged by UCS will put the foundation in an extremely difficult situation. It is almost the equivalent of ODF’s annual budget

  • A lawyer comments on the UCS decision: “In practice, it happens that (state organs – ed.) seek to increase the profits of the State Treasury at all costs”

  • Bartosz Kramek accuses the state of persecution for political reasons, recalling that before his involvement in the civic movement, the Foundation was supported by a considerable group of Law and Justice (PiS) politicians, including Andrzej Duda, Zdzisław Krasnodebski, Marek Jurek, Beata Gosiewska, Anna Fotyga

UCS controllers from Łódź entered the ODF in early August, 2017. As Onet was informed back then by the spokesperson of the Chamber of Fiscal Administration in Łódź, Agnieszka Pawlak, the inspection “was commissioned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”.

State authorities began to take interest in Open Dialogue in July 2017, when the chair of the foundation’s board, Bartosz Kramek, posted an appeal on Facebook entitled “May the state stop: let’s shut down the government!“, calling for civil disobedience against the government in defence of the rule of law in Poland. As a result, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs attempted to establish a board of commissioners in the Foundation, but the court dismissed the motion.

In August this year, Poland entered Bartosz Kramek’s wife and ODF President, Lyudmyla Kozlovska, into the Schengen Information System, banning her from entering Poland and the European Union. Since then, several European countries have granted Kozlovska entry visas.

After fourteen months of customs and tax control, ODF’s management received its results, stating that the Foundation owes PLN 715,160 of unpaid taxes to the State Treasury. This amount may be increased due to interest. This morning, the Polish Press Agency (PAP) reported that ABW has launched an investigation into the Open Dialogue Foundation following the results of the fiscal control.

– I’m learning about the investigation from you – says Bartosz Kramek, whom we call in early morning hours. – It is probably some sort of preemptive move as the ABW released this information on the day when Onet was to publish an article about the tax control in our Foundation [Onet was working on an article on this topic; late Thursday afternoon we sent official questions to the UCS in Łódź, and Friday morning the information about the ABW investigation was revealed – ed.].

We asked Bartosz Kramek how he refers to the information provided by the ABW, claiming that funds transferred to ODF came from sources other than those officially declared. According to the Foundation’s documents, most of ODF’s funds were to come from people belonging to ODF management or from persons related to them.

According to the ABW, Silk Road – Bartosz Kramek’s company, which donated funds to the Foundation, received those funds from business entities registered in virtual offices in Great Britain. Payments totalling at USD 1.27 million and EUR 64,000 were to come from companies registered in the Seychelles, Belize and Panama. Among them, there are supposed to be entities related to the so-called Panama Papers. According to the controllers, the funds may be of criminal origin.

– After all, the money donated by my company, Silk Road, actually comes from me: it’s my company and I decide what I do with the money I earn – says Kramek. – And when it comes to Silk Road’s contractors, we had many of them and this is not a new situation. Everything was kept in the records, brought into the books and notified to the tax authorities. Until my involvement in pro-civic activities, the state did not have any objections.

Kramek also referred to ABW’s information on tax haven money: – Most of these companies had a relationship with, or works with, Petro Kozlovski, my wife and ODF President Lyudmyla Kozlovska’s brother. Petro is a businessman operating in the new technologies industry and we provide consultancy services in this field. We did business together. Petro currently lives in the USA, which, as we know, has very restrictive immigration and tax regulations. Owning businesses in tax havens is not prohibited by law. To sum up, the money the Foundation received in this way comes from completely legal sources, they flow neither from Vladimir Putin nor from Pablo Escobar – he says.

– As for the virtual offices in Great Britain, mentioned by the ABW, these are normal business practices. Silk Road also used a virtual office for some time, which provided services to hundreds of other companies. It’s absurd – says Kramek.

– In its information, the ABW uses such phrases as “Panama Papers”, “virtual offices”, “money laundering”, “tax havens”. This terminology raises specific connotations, no matter if it all makes sense. Such a malicious narrative harms my company and us in a real way. We will analyze with lawyers whether sensitive information regarding private business has been passed on to the media by services like the ABW or the National Tax Administration, which oversees the UCS – says Kramek, claiming that he is considering legal action regarding the protection of personal rights, breach of fiscal secrecy and abuse of power.

The inspection of the Customs and Tax Office at Silk Road began on October 18th. Ten days later, the inspection by the same office ended in the Open Dialogue Foundation, which concluded that the foundation owed PLN 715,160 to the Polish State due to unpaid tax. According to Kramek, within the expenses questioned is the money spent on Maidan support and aid for Ukraine, which ODF provided in 2013-2015.

The UCS in Łódź states in its report that the statutory goal of the Foundation is to “defend human rights and support democracy and the rule of law”, and these do not fall within the list of objectives set out in the Corporate Income Tax Act, which are income tax-exempt.

– We disagree with this interpretation – says the Foundation’s representative, tax advisor Maciej Górecki, reminding that a further part of the statute lists all the activities included in the Act that are not subject to taxation, such as charity, education and health care. – It is clear from the result of the audit that the Foundation’s activities concerned non-profit activities. Controllers approached this provision too rigorously.

– No wonder, this is a political decision – Bartosz Kramek comments, reminding that before he got involved in civic movements, the state did not have any issues with the Foundation, and a considerable group of prominent Law and Justice (PiS) party politicians like Andrzej Duda, Zdzisław Krasnodębski, Marek Jurek, Beata Gosiewska and Anna Fotyga was involved in ODF’s actions.

The spokesperson for the Łódź UCS, Agnieszka Pawlak, replied to Onet’s questions regarding the inspection saying that “the scope of the questions is covered by fiscal secrecy within the sense of art. 293 et seq. of the Tax Ordinance Act.”

Onet asked lawyers unrelated to ODF for an interpretation of Łódź UCS’s decisions. – The situation described in the presented documents can actually happen to any taxpayer – replies Piotr Strumiński, legal counsel from the Kochański, Zięba i Partnerzy law firm. – The assessment of the legitimacy of tax exemption of any given revenue always lies within the responsibility of the tax office. Tax authorities should be guided by a reasonable interpretation of the law, but in practice it happens that they strive to increase the profits of the State Treasury by all means possible. If a taxpayer feels he fell victim to a decision, he can appeal to the administrative court. “

If it comes to the execution of this tax, it will put the Foundation in an extremely difficult situation. – 715 thousand zlotys is almost our whole budget for last year – says Bartosz Kramek. – But we’re not going to give up. We have already finally won a court dispute with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, regarding taking control of our Foundation, and we will also win with the IRS. This government once again discredits itself.

Bartosz Kramek considers the steps taken by the Polish State towards his Foundation and company to be the next of a long series of political persecution, which they have been subject to since July 2017. – The ABW revelations are probably the same information that was forwarded to the liaison officers of EU states’ counterintelligence so that they would not let my wife enter their countries – he says. – We all know the effects. Lyudmyla Kozlovska moves freely around Europe. Yesterday she got a visa in another European country, Switzerland, to speak at the UN in Geneva today.