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Tax revenue increases

AFIP tax agency head Ricardo Echegaray gestures during yesterday’s lengthy press conference.

Echegaray addresses criticism of holiday trip

AFIP tax bureau chief Ricardo Echegaray presented the final 2013 tax revenue figures yesterday, when he celebrated a 26.3 percent increase compared to 2012, in a news conference that was dominated by his defence from accusations over his alleged luxury holiday to Rio de Janeiro during the New Year’s holiday and an alleged aggression by people who were travelling with him against a group of Argentine journalists that took place in the Brazilian city’s airport.

The revenue figures revealed by Echegaray showed an optimistic outlook following the publication of December tax receipts that totalled 76.1 billion pesos, a touch under the 77.5 billion pesos expected by the market.

Overall, Argentina’s 2013 tax revenue clocked in at 858.8 billion pesos, a 26.3 percent increase from 2012. The numbers appeared to strengthen Echegaray in one of his more delicate hours following allegations by the Clarín Group news channel Todo Noticias (TN) that he watched as journalists who were trying to interview him got beat up at the Rio de Janeiro airport.

Echegaray pushed back against the allegations by the country’s largest media conglomerate, and a government foe, choosing to counter-strike and denouncing a “media lynching” against him orchestrated by Clarín CEO Héctor Magnetto.

The AFIP head denied having taken part or even having seen any episode of aggression. He also expressed his solidarity with the victims if what they were saying was accurate and turned the accusation around by charging against the national government’s long-standing rival Clarín Group for being behind “an intelligence operation” and having sent a “harrasement team” to Brazil against him and his family.

“Mr Magnetto is not worthy of a broadcast licence with this kind of behaviour. Maybe during the military government this was normal. But in a democratic system he does not deserve a license to chase officials,” Echegaray said. “It’s not professional.”

On Wednesday, a group of TN journalists who had been sent to Rio de Janeiro to track down the country’s top tax man claimed they suffered an aggression when they were trying to interview Echegaray. Later, they identified one of the attackers as Uruguayan business leader Jorge Lambiris, who allegedly has interests in Customs warehouses and agricultural exports were unveiled as part of his close relationship with the top taxman.

For his part, Echegaray denied having economic ties to Lambiris when confronted by a TN journalist during the question-and-answer portion of the news conference.

“I know Lambiris on a social level. He is the father of one of my son’s schoolmates. That’s the kind of relationship we share,” Echegaray said. “The same one I have with a lot of other parents. I am no Martian. But I travelled abroad just with my family.”

Echegaray acknowledged he asked Lambiris about the “incident” concerning the aggression against the journalists and that he had informed him there had been “a situation” at the Río de Janeiro airport. Echegaray did not specify what kind of situation.

The head of the AFIP tax bureau repeated that he did not see any violent situation and that he requested the Brazilian authorities to send all the footage connected to his presence at the airport.

Half day off

During his statement at the revenue monthly brief, Echegaray explained he only took half day off from office.

“I still have 225 days of holiday pending,” he said.

He also rejected claims that he initially planned to fly to Dubai because he had flown to Rio de Janeiro on Emirates Airlines rather than state-owned Aerolíneas Argentinas.

“In my official trips, I use the state airline. But in my private trips, I use private companies,” he said.

The words could be read as a thinly veiled message against Cabinet Chief Jorge Capitanich, who deflected questions about the tax chief during his early morning daily briefing.

Last January, Capitanich — then Chaco province governor — was said to have used the local government’s plane to fly to Panama on holidays with his children after he failed to catch a private flight due to an official meeting he had to attend.

No luxury

“You can’t say Copacabana is a luxury resort”, AFIP head Echegaray highlighted and detailed that his wife had already paid for their tickets and stay in Río — in pesos — on November 4, 2013, long before the harsh situation many Argentines were living as a result of massive power outages.

He even denied having had dinner in a 990-dollar a meal restaurant as some newspapers said. Instead, he toasted with journalist Victor Hugo Morales and his family who were dining in the same humble restaurant he visited with his family, Echegaray argued.

2013 tax revenue

Private economists estimate contend the growth in tax revenue is almost entirely due to inflation.

Echegaray said Argentina’s 2013 trade surplus was about 10 billion dollars, down from 12.7 billion dollars in 2012. The official figure for full-year 2013 is set to be announced on January 23.

“Exports will have been something like 80 billion dollars and imports about 70 billion dollars. There will be a surplus,” Echegaray said.

In the first 11 months of 2013, Argentina had a trade surplus of 8.75 billion dollars, 24 percent less than in the same 2012 period.

President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government relies on the surplus to boost dollar supplies on the tightly controlled currency market.

The International Monetary Fund has ordered Argentina to improve the accuracy of its official inflation data. The government is scheduled to unveil a revamped consumer price index by the end of the first quarter.

Herald with Télam, DyN, Reuters

AFIP head fires against candidates.

AFIP tax agency chief seemed to send thinly veiled messages against governors who are aiming to win the presidency, including several key Kirchnerite allies. “There are no presidential candidates who pay even half the income taxes I pay,” he said, noting he has already paid 900,000 pesos in income tax.

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