Trump Must Produce Tax Returns, Says US Federal Judge

US President Donald Trump attends a meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (not shown) at UN Headquarters in New York, September 24, 2019, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly. SAUL LOEB / AFP

 

A US federal judge in New York on Monday dismissed President Donald Trump’s efforts to block access to years of his personal and corporate tax returns, saying sitting presidents are not immune from criminal investigations.

In a 75-page ruling, Judge Victor Marrero rejected Trump’s argument, saying such vast immunity would “operate to frustrate the administration of justice” by putting the president’s personal and professional affairs off-limits.

“This court cannot endorse such a categorical and limitless assertion of presidential immunity from judicial process,” Marrero wrote. “The Court cannot square a vision of presidential immunity that would place the President above the law.”

Trump had filed suit against Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr, who had subpoenaed the accounting firm Mazars USA, seeking access to the president’s tax returns dating back to 2011.

Vance is investigating payments made by Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, to Stormy Daniels, an adult film actress who claimed to have had an affair with Trump before he ran for president.

Trump is expected to appeal the judge’s ruling.

Trump has declined to release his tax returns and there have been various attempts to obtain them, including by the Democratic-led House of Representatives.

AFP

Tax: Google To Settle France With $1bn

(FILES) A file photo taken on November 20, 2017 shows logos of US multinational technology company Google displayed on computers’ screens.  LOIC VENANCE / AFP

 

US internet giant Google has agreed a settlement totalling 945 million euros ($1.0 billion) to settle a tax dispute in France under an agreement announced in court on Thursday.

The company will pay a 500-million-euro fine for tax evasion, as well as a further 465 million euros to settle claims with French tax authorities.

In a statement, Google confirmed the settlement and hailed the fact it had put an end to fiscal differences that it had had with France for numerous years.

French Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet and Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin welcomed the “definitive settling” of all the contentious issues, adding in a statement that the outcome was the result of two years of intense work by the French authorities.

“This outcome is good news for the public finances and fiscal fairness in France,” their statement said.

Belloubet said the settlement showed that the French authorities have the tools to ensure an equitable tax system.

“It is a historic settlement both for our public finances and because it marks the end of an era,” Darmanin said. “By normalising Google’s situation in France, (the settlement) responds to our citizens’ demands for fiscal fairness,” he said.

The settlement comes as France, as well as European allies, seek to find common ground with the United States in a long-running dispute over the taxation of digital giants.

French President Emmanuel Macron said alongside US President Donald Trump at the G7 summit in August that leaders had reached an agreement on the taxation of tech giants, though the precise details remain to be worked out.

AFP

US-China Trade War In 10 Dates

Tense Future For US-China Ties, With Or Without Trade Deal
This file picture taken on November 6, 2018 shows a Chinese and US flag at a booth during the first China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai. PHOTO: JOHANNES EISELE / AFP

 

Here are 10 key dates in the 17-month-long trade battle between the United States and China.

 

March 8, 2018: Tax On Steel, Aluminium

President Donald Trump announces tariffs of 25 percent on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminium from a number of countries in a bid to slash the huge US trade deficit.

The deficit reached $566 billion in 2017, of which $375 billion was with China, the world’s biggest steel and aluminium producer.

March 22: China RipostesOn the eve of their application, Trump suspends the tariffs for several countries but not China.

Beijing responds with a list of 128 US products on which it says it will impose customs duties of 15-25 percent if negotiations with Washington fail.

May 19: Signs Of Appeasement

The two countries announce a draft deal under which Beijing agrees to reduce its trade surplus “significantly”.

In the following weeks, China makes several conciliatory gestures, reducing customs duties, lifting restrictions and offering to buy extra US goods.

July 6: Trade War

The United States nonetheless slaps 25-per cent duties on about $34 billion of Chinese imports, including cars, hard disks and aircraft parts.

Beijing imposes tariffs of equal size and scope, including on-farm produce, cars and marine products.

August 23: Escalation

Washington imposes tariffs on another $16 billion of Chinese goods on August 23, a day after negotiations resume.

China applies 25-per cent tariffs on $16 billion of US goods, including Harley-Davidson motorcycles, bourbon and orange juice.

On September 24, Washington slaps 10 per cent taxes on $200 billion of Chinese imports. Beijing puts customs duties on $60 billion of US goods.

December 1: Truce

Washington suspends for three months a tariff increase from 10 to 25 per cent due to begin January 1 on $200 billion of Chinese goods.

China agrees to purchase a “very substantial” amount of US products and suspends extra tariffs added to US-made cars and auto parts for three months starting January 1. It allows imports of American rice.

May 10, 2019: Hostilities Resume

Washington ends the truce, increasing duties on $200 billion in Chinese imports.

Trump opens a new front in the war on May 15, barring US companies from using foreign telecoms equipment deemed a security risk — a move aimed at Chinese giant Huawei.

The US Commerce Department also announces an effective ban on US companies selling or transferring US technology to Huawei.

On May 20 it issues a 90-day reprieve on the ban.

June 29: Negotiations ‘Back On’

At the G20 in Osaka, Trump and President Xi Jinping strike a ceasefire. Washington vows to hold off on further tariffs and Trump declares trade negotiations “back on track”.

US and Chinese negotiators meet in Shanghai on July 30 and 31 for “constructive” talks, and agree to continue discussions in September.

August 1: New US Sanctions

Accusing Beijing of reneging on promises to buy US agricultural products and stop the sale of the opioid fentanyl, Trump announces new 10 per cent tariffs on another $300 billion in Chinese goods from September 1.

It means virtually all of the $660 billion in annual trade between the world’s two biggest economies will be subject to duties.

Beijing threatens counter-measures.

August 5: Currency Row

China allows the yuan to fall below 7.0 to the dollar for the first time in 11 years. Washington accuses Beijing of manipulating its currency in order to help its exports, a charge denied by China’s central bank.

Chinese state media announced that Beijing had suspended purchases of American farm exports.

France To Impose Tax On Plane Tickets

French Transports Minister Elisabeth Borne leaves the weekly cabinet meeting at the Elysee Presidential palace on July 3, 2019 in Paris. ludovic MARIN / AFP

 

The French government is to impose a tax of up to 18 euros ($20) on plane tickets for all flights from airports in France to fund less-polluting transportation projects, a minister said Tuesday.

The move, which will take effect from 2020, will see a tax of 1.5 euros imposed on economy-class tickets on internal flights and those within Europe, with the highest tariff applied to business-class travellers flying outside the bloc, Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne said.

READ ALSO: Venezuela Crisis: ‘I Am Very Optimistic’, Says Maduro After Talks With Opposition

The new measure is expected to bring in some 182 million euros a year which will be invested in greener transport infrastructures, notably rail, she said.

It will only be applied on outgoing flights and not those flying into the country, Borne added.

A similar tax was introduced in Sweden in April 2018, which imposed an added charge of up to 40 euros on every ticket in a bid to lessen the impact of air travel on the climate.

AFP

Germany Considers ‘Mosque Tax’ To Replace Foreign Funding

 

Support is growing in Germany for a “mosque tax” to make Islamic institutions less dependent on potentially anti-democratic or “radical” foreign funding sources, a media report said Sunday.

The federal government sees it as “a possible path”, according to an answer to a parliamentary query, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper reported.

Several of Germany’s 16 states had also signalled support in principle for the idea which would mirror Germany’s voluntary Christian “church tax”, the rnewspaper said.

Concern has grown in Germany about the influence of foreign funding sources on mosques for the country’s estimated five million Muslims, who hail mostly from Turkey and Arab countries.

Some 900 mosques in Germany are run by the Turkish-Islamic Union of the Institute for Religion (Ditib), under the authority of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

Its imams are paid by the Turkish state, and the group has come under scrutiny with some of its members suspected of spying on Turkish dissidents living in Germany.

At the height of a bitter row between Germany and Turkey in mid-2017, two German ministers warned in a Spiegel Online commentary that Erdogan’s “dangerous ideologies must not be imported to Germany via certain mosques.”

In other cases, some mosques have come under police scrutiny or been closed for preaching radical and militant Islamist ideas.

Welt am Sonntag said that, in the newspaper’s own survey, several states had affirmed that mosque communities in Germany should be able to finance themselves.

The interior ministry of the regional state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania had said it was open to “mosque financing based on the church model” to reduce the foreign influence, including “the danger of possible radicalisation”.

A spokesman for the interior ministry of Baden-Wuerttemberg state had also pointed to the threat of outside influence “on theological content and political opinion”.

“In the worst case”, the spokesman had told the newspaper, this included “radical Islamist or anti-democratic content or aspirations”.

AFP

Apple Reaches Agreement On French Back Taxes

 

Apple has reached an agreement with French authorities over 10 years of back taxes, the US firm told AFP on Tuesday, confirming information published by the French magazine L’Express.

The magazine reported that the firm paid nearly 500 million euros ($570 million) to resolve the case in a confidential settlement reached in December.

“The French tax administration recently concluded a multi-year audit on the company’s French accounts and an adjustment will be published in our public accounts,” Apple told AFP.

The company declined to disclose the amount paid, but a source familiar with the case confirmed to AFP the sum of nearly 500 million euros reported by L’Express.

“We know the important role taxes play in society and we pay our taxes in all the countries where we operate, in complete conformity with laws and practices in force at the local level,” added the company.

French authorities declined to comment citing the confidentiality of tax matters.

According to L’Express, the deal followed several months of talks between Apple and French tax authorities and concerned the small amount of revenue the firm booked in France while the sales it reported in Europe ballooned, thanks in particular to iPhone sales.

L’Express said Apple’s European revenues exploded seven-fold, from 6.6 billion euros in 2008 to 47.7 billion in 2017, and most of it was booked in Ireland where the US firm has its European headquarters.

Ireland has low corporate tax rates that have attracted many multinationals, but there are widespread concerns that firms manipulate accounting rules to escape paying revenues in European countries where taxes are higher.

The French deal with Apple follows one with Amazon, which agreed to pay $252 million (202 million euros) to cover back taxes for the years 2006 to 2010.

The French government is also pushing to impose a tax on digital firms and is expected to unveil legislation later this month that would raise 500 million euros this year.

FG To Increase VAT – Finance Minister

 

The Minister of Finance, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, says the Federal Government will increase the Value Added Tax on some items in the course of the year.

Some of the items according to her, will include carbonated drinks as well as some luxury items.

She stated this on Wednesday at the launch of the Strategic Revenue Growth Initiative in Abuja, targeted at improving revenue sources for government.

Read Also: President Buhari Pledges To Take Proactive Steps In Ending Illegal Tax Collection

Ahmed said the move had become imperative as a result of the fiscal challenges the government is confronted with in providing infrastructure for its people.

She, however, noted that the increment will only be done after due consultation with the National Assembly.

“There will be a VAT increase. During the course of 2019, we will have clarity as to which items and what the rate will be and we will have to take a request to the National Assembly for amendment before it takes effect.

“There is also going to be luxury tax.

Already, there is luxury tax imposed on things like jets, yachts and few exceptional items that are classified as luxury and the Chairman FIRS will speak to that but we are contemplating increasing excise duties on carbonated drinks just like we have excise duties now on Tobacco and alcohol.

“But this is going to be a subject of study because we have to identify which ones will be affected and the best way in which to apply the taxes”.

President Buhari Pledges To Take Proactive Steps In Ending Illegal Tax Collection

 

President Muhammadu Buhari Friday in Abuja pledged that the Federal Government will look into the issue of illegal tax collections with a view to encouraging more private sector businesses to thrive in the country.

The president made the pledge when he received the leadership of the Amalgamated Union of Foodstuff and Cattle Dealers Association of Nigeria (AUFCDN), led by Alhaji Ali Tahir, Femi Adesina said in a statement on Friday.

According to the statement by Adesina, President Buhari told the AUFCDN that his administration had genuine intentions to eliminate illegal taxes in the country, despite the fact that ‘‘old habits die hard.’’

The President, who was responding to a request by the association on the need for the Federal Government to rein in on the unhealthy practice of illegal tax collections, said: ‘‘I am appalled to learn that these illegal tax collections still persist. Bad habits are not easily dropped.

READ ALSO: CUPP Challenges Buhari To Prove Fitness By Leading His Campaign

‘‘But let me assure you that relevant security agencies will be reminded of their duties in preventing these bad practices and safeguarding people like you who go about their legitimate businesses.

‘‘I will take up all your appeals and complaints in due course and together with State Governments, we will attend to your proposals.’’

Describing the association as very important and strategic to the nation’s economy, the President told the delegation: ‘‘The merchandise and products you trade in are basic to any economy. The real wealth of this country lies in agriculture and livestock rearing.’’

He, therefore, pledged that his administration would continue to do its best to assist the sector, noting that some of the more advanced countries like Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, and Denmark built their economies primarily on agriculture and livestock trade.

On the 2019 elections, President Buhari welcomed the associations’ support for his administration, recalling that they also demonstrated their solidarity for his candidacy in the build-up to the 2015 elections.

In his remarks, the General Secretary of the Union, Alhaji Ahmed Alarama, declared that they will work for the re-election of President Buhari because of the great strides his administration has taken to put the country on the path of sustainable growth.

To play the campaign role effectively, Alarama appealed to the President to ensure that the organisation is represented on the national campaign teams for the Buhari/Osinbajo re-election movement.

On the issue of illegal tax collections, Alarama said: ‘‘Roadblocks are mounted by unknown persons on several highways including those in Adamawa, Taraba, Benue, Cross River, Ebonyi, Abia, Enugu, Anambra, Imo and Bayelsa States and these continue to constitute a hindrance to our businesses.’’

Commending the Buhari Administration for the progress of work on the Lagos-Ibadan rail project, the group urged the Federal Government to establish a food and livestock market with close proximity to road and rail around Lagos-Ogun State expressway.

France To Cut Public Spending Despite Fuel Tax Suspension

French Finance and Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire (C) gives a press conference following his meeting with employers and professional organizations at the Economy Ministry in Paris on December 3, 2018. ERIC PIERMONT / AFP

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire on Tuesday said France would stick to its EU commitments to slash public spending despite a decision to suspend a fuel tax to quell fierce protests.

“There is a course set by the French President Emmanuel Macron, which is to respect our European commitments, reduce spending, reduce debt and reduce taxes, and that course will be maintained,” Le Maire told journalists in Brussels.

AFP

New York Investigate Trump Over Tax Evasion

 

The New York state tax department said Tuesday it is investigating reports that President Donald Trump helped his parents dodge millions of dollars in taxes and received far more money from his father’s real estate empire than he has claimed in the past.

Earlier, The New York Times said its own exhaustive probe of a vast trove of tax returns and confidential records showed Trump had engaged in suspect tax tactics, including “outright fraud” that greatly inflated the funds he received from his parents.

Trump has stated on numerous occasions that he received little help from his father, New York property developer Fred Trump, in building his fortune.

“The Tax Department is reviewing the allegations in the NYT article and is vigorously pursuing all appropriate avenues of investigation,” New York state Taxation and Financing spokesman James Gazzale told AFP.

The Times said Trump received the equivalent of $413 million in today’s dollars from his father’s real estate activities — having earned $200,000 a year in today’s dollars by age three. By age eight, he was already a millionaire.

Trump was receiving the equivalent of $1 million a year from his father shortly after his college graduation, it added, noting that the funds grew to more than $5 million per year when he was in his 40s and 50s.

The Times said the bulk of the funds owed to tax evasion tactics that Trump helped devise, including a “sham corporation” he and his siblings created to hide millions of dollars in gifts from their parents.

There were also millions of dollars in improper tax deductions and Trump helped further reduce his parents’ tax bill by undervaluing their real estate holdings by hundreds of millions of dollars on tax returns, according to the Times.

The newspaper said Trump’s parents, Fred and Mary Trump, who died respectively in 1999 and 2000, transferred more than $1 billion in wealth to their five children.

This could have produced a tax bill of at least $550 million but the Trumps paid a total of just $52.2 million, the Times said, citing tax records.

 Trump lawyer issues denial

One of Trump‘s lawyers, Charles Harder, decried the newspaper’s allegations as “100 percent false, and highly defamatory.”

“There was no fraud or tax evasion by anyone. The facts upon which The Times bases its false allegations are extremely inaccurate,” he added.

“President Trump had virtually no involvement whatsoever with these matters.”

Harder insisted the matter was mostly handled by other relatives who relied “entirely” upon licensed professionals to “ensure full compliance with the law.”

The White House, meanwhile said that “Many decades ago, the IRS reviewed and signed off on these transactions.”

Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders instead shifted blame onto the Times itself, saying “Perhaps another apology from The New York Times, like the one they had to issue after they got the 2016 election so embarrassingly wrong, is in order.”

The Times said Trump’s tax-hating father used various methods to funnel his wealth to his children and shield it from the Internal Revenue Service, some of which tax experts said was improper or possibly illegal.

Among the tactics, Fred Trump gave ownership of most of his real estate empire to his children a year and a half before his death.

The properties were valued at just $41.4 million although they were sold off over the next decade for more than 16 times that amount, it said.

The Times said Trump got a cut of $177.3 million, or $236.2 million in today’s dollars, from the sale.

Breaking with the practice of past presidents, Trump has refused so far to release his tax returns.

Citing tax experts, the Times said Trump was unlikely to face criminal prosecution for helping his parents evade taxes but could face civil fines for tax fraud if the matter is pursued by the authorities.

AFP

FIRS Collects N13bn From Billionaires Owing Tax

 

The Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), says it has collected N12.66 in tax revenue, in less than a month after it went after bank accounts of defaulting taxpayers who are raking in billions in the country.

The Executive Chairman, FIRS, Tunde Fowler, disclosed this at the weekend when he received the new Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed during his spot visit to Revenue House, FIRS headquarters in Abuja.

Mrs Ahmed said, “The Ministry of Finance will continue to work collaboratively with FIRS to support all the efforts that you are doing. And as much as possible, we should interface frequently. For us, the directive I have is to increase the tax revenue and that is the most important task ahead of all of us. You have done well. And the reward for good work is more work”.

She urged the FIRS to “maintain the tempo” because literarily, the country depends on the work that FIRS does to shore-up the revenue collection to support the government.

She encouraged government agencies to work together to fish out all corrupt persons in the country, stating that this is President Muhammadu Buhari’s directive.

“The FIRS is a very important agency of government. I wanted to underscore this importance. FIRS is one of the first agencies in the Ministry of Finance that I am meeting. The Federal Government Medium Term Plan is hinged on diversifying the economy away from the oil revenues to non-oil sector. And the report that the Executive Chairman of FIRS has presented indicates that the diversification effort is working. This is reflected in the turn of the contribution of non-oil revenues over the last three years.

“I am happy that we have a team in FIRS that is not only expanding the revenue base but also significantly improving tax collection and taking tax offices closer to the people and making it easier for the people to pay their taxes by online and e-tax payment procedures that you have undertaken. And I am sure that, from what I have heard today, that you would continue with all these processes.

“I am also glad that you are increasing cooperation with several agencies like the EFCC, ICPC and Nigeria Customs Service. This is important because the directive from the president for anti-corruption involves cooperation within yourselves as well as with anti-corruption agencies. It makes a lot of sense to prioritise tax collection to larger categories: from the big ones to other ones. The effort you are doing in Abuja, Lagos and Osun –(on payment of taxes on the property using their turnover as the basis for assessment)- is a commendable one and I encourage you to maintain the tempo in generating tax revenues”, she added.

According to her, the country needs to continue with the efforts to strengthen the non-oil sector, stating that the part that FIRS should play is to continue with its efforts so that the non-oil sector would generate larger part of the tax revenue on a sustainable basis.

About a month ago, “the FIRS and I commenced substitution of the bank accounts of High Networth billionaire tax defaulters”, She further stated.

Fowler told the minister that the initiative has pooled about N12. 66 billion into the government coffers.

“FIRS wrote to all commercial banks in May 2018, requesting for a list of Companies, Partnerships, and Enterprises with a banking turnover of N1 billion and above. This activity is aimed at ascertaining those companies that are compliant with the Tax Laws and those that are not compliant. So far, non-compliant organization have paid about N12.66bn.

“The FIRS will continue to implement initiatives that will drive compliance and generate revenue by continuous taxpayer enlightenment, implementation of the Auto VAT Collect in other sectors of the economy, simplification of the tax processes especially for small taxpayers, strengthening collaborations with other agencies such as CAC, States Boards of Internal Revenue, Ministry of Trade and Investment, Nigeria Customs Service”, Fowler said.

The FIRS Chairman said that the Service realised the sum of N2.983 billion from payment on demand notices on property owners who are being assessed based on their turnover and that 653 of 2, 672 of such non-filers have starting filing now.

From enforcement, Fowler said the FIRS has collected a total of N47.5 billion from 2016 till date and $32.8 million dollars, £5.9 pounds, netted N225 billion from audit and has collected more than N1 trillion above its January to August collection last year (2017).

He said that FIRS’ collection of N4.03 trillion in 2017 has 62.25 percent as non-oil while oil is just 37.75 percent. It was 64.99 in favour of non-oil in 2016 and 35.01 for oil. In 2018, the FIRS has done 54.56 percent for non-oil and 45.44 percent for oil receipts.

He explained that Value Added Tax (VAT) receipt is on a steady increase. “So far in 2018, the FIRS has collected 773.49bn in eight months. The above collected this year has already surpassed that of 2015 (767.33bn) and is set to surpass 2016 (828.19bn), and 2017 (972.30bn) with four more collection months left in the year.

“E-stamp duties collection is on a steady increase. So far in 2018, the FIRS has collected 10.10bn in eight months. The above collected this year has already surpassed that of 2017 (10.9bn), 2016 (5.6bn), and 2015 (7.1bn)”, Fowler said.

Three weeks ago, the FIRS Chairman told stakeholders event in Lagos that substitution is allowed in the nation’s laws and empowers FIRS to appoint banks as collection agents for tax. “So, all these ones of TIN and no pay and no TIN and no pay, to the total of 6772 will have their accounts frozen or put under substitution pending when they come forward.

First, “they refused to come forward in 2016, they refused to come forward under VAT and are still operating here. So, we are putting them under notice that it is their civic responsibility to pay tax and to file returns on these accounts.

“We looked at all businesses, partnerships, corporate accounts that have a minimum turnover of N1 billion per annum for the past three years. First of all, the law states clearly that before you open a corporate account, part of the opening documentation is the tax I.D. From the 23 banks, we have analysed so far, we have 31,395 records, out of which effectively minus duplications we had 18,602.

“We broke those into three categories: Those that have TIN tax I.D, those that don’t have no TIN and of course no TIN no pay and those that have TIN and have not even paid anything. So, on a minimum, every company or business included here over the last three years have had a banking turnover of N3 billion and above. Some of them have had banking turnover of over N5 billion and have not paid one kobo in taxes. Now the total number of TIN and no pay is 6772.

“So, if someone is good in mathematics and you take the minimum level of N3 billion multiply by 409 and they are operating within our society and economy and do not remit or make any tax payment”, he further stated.

Anger As Zambia Announces Tax On Internet Calls

 

Zambia will tax phone calls made over the internet to protect traditional telecoms companies, the government said Monday, a move activists warned would stifle freedom of expression.

The increased popularity of internet telephony services like Skype, WhatsApp and Viber “threatens the telecommunications industry and jobs in companies such as (operators) Zamtel, Airtel, and MTN,” government spokeswoman Dora Siliya said in a statement.

“Government has therefore introduced a 30 ngwee ($0.03) charge a day tariff on internet phone calls.”

The policy, which has yet to become law, follows Uganda’s recent decision to impose a $0.05 daily levy on social media sites including Facebook and Twitter which was met with protests by opponents.

Siliya said that the fee would be collected by mobile phone operators and internet providers.

While WhatsApp and similar apps offer end-to-end encryption of calls, mobile phone carriers and internet providers can tell from the volume of data that a voice or video call is being made, even if they can’t listen in to the conversation.

The Internet has become important for civil society in Zambia, and activists worry the tax will curtail freedom of expression.

“We have noted that it’s part of the systematic attempt by the state to stifle freedom of expression online. This is an assault to freedom of expression and association,” said Richard Mulonga, head of the online rights group Bloggers of Zambia.

“This tariff does not promote digital inclusion, internet neutrality, and affordability. It is an assault on innovation and entrepreneurship,” he added.

Zambian President Edgar Lungu has been accused of growing authoritarianism as several opposition figures and government critics have faced prosecution in what rights groups characterised as politically-motivated cases.

But communication minister Brian Mushimba said that the levy on internet calls was purely economic.

“We don’t believe in stifling the media, we believe in freedom of expression and this decision is purely an economic decision because we have lost income and so we are saying if Skype, WhatsApp are making money, how about us?”

Human rights activist Brebner Changala said that the fee would unnecessarily burden ordinary Zambians to swell state coffers.

“These people want to continue curtailing our freedoms… we all know they are broke but we ask them to allow us to express ourselves without any charge. Let them leave our freedom,” Changala told AFP.

AFP