Robert Masitara’s current legal problems with the taxman are a result of his lavish wedding five years ago. From the bottom of the bridal couple’s designer shoes to the top of their exotic beauty parlour hair-dos, the Masitara wedding dripped with opulence very few would be privileged to witness twice in their life times.
As she sat beaming at the wedding party from the pride of place inside Boipuso Hall, Mrs. Masitara sported, on her lockdown finger, a dazzling diamond platinum wedding ring valued at P171 000 that had been supplied by a high-end jeweller called Loraine Efune. The bridal gown had been ordered from Villioty Couture in Johannesburg, South Africa. The other wedding dresses had been made by international fashion designer, Julian and Boyce and the bridal make-up was the work of Christine Harilar, Refilwe Sempe and Zorona Zomikoze.
Masitara is reading a sinister motive into the Botswana Unified Revenue Service (BURS) investigation. In a letter, he told a BURS official that he was being investigated “just because my wedding was rated the best this country has ever seen and this is a fact”. In the same letter, he also accused the department of hatching a plot to “target and harass” his friends who had sponsored the wedding.
The situation became that acrimonious because the hugely publicised best wedding Botswana had ever seen drew the attention of not just the public but that of the taxman as well. In the year of that wedding, BURS alleges that Masitara understated his company’s income by P837 380.
In an affidavit that he has deposed, Freddy Modise, the Commissioner General of BURS, says that the department’s interest in Masitara began “following what by local standards could reasonably be described as a lavish wedding”.
Modise says that, as a matter of standard practice, BURS keeps abreast with “news reported locally that may have a bearing on the performance of the functions of the said office. This is all the more important to do so on account of the fact that not each and every return submitted by taxpayers throughout the length and breadth of the country is scrutinised.”
Upon scrutinising Masitara’s personal income tax returns for the period between 1999 and 2003, the department found that his declared income was P20 000 a month.
“It was at face value not possible to reconcile how Masitara could, based on income of P20 000, have afforded and paid for the extremely high wedding costs,” the Commissioner General says in his affidavit.
When it happened, Masitara’s wedding proved for the billionth time, that money (oodles of it) is the financial bedrock on which all spectacular wedding ceremonies that happen on September Saturdays are riveted on. Those who attended the wedding ÔÇô some of them accomplished wordsmiths – are still unable to immediately and coherently express in words the grandeur of the ceremony and still have to rely on non-verbal exclamations as well as uncommon facial expressions and gestures to convey their impression.
Uniformed traffic police motorcycle outriders were photographed flanking the bridal couple’s car as it left Grand Palm Hotel. The wedding motorcade wound through Gaborone streets and ended up at Boipuso Hall where a cologne, invitation-only crowd celebrated the couple’s holy matrimony.
Four months after the wedding, the investigation division manager of department of taxes (as it was called then) asked Masitara to provide him with information regarding itemised wedding expenses that he itemised. Besides services provided by those already stated, BURS wanted to know how much had been paid for a “grand wedding party” organised at Boipuso Hall catered for by Fairground Holdings; a photo shooting session at Grand Palm; performance by the 20-man Johannesburg Millennium Musique ensemble; d├®cor artist Jonathan Du Plessis; flower design by Ms. Fatima Mendez of Fantasy Flowers of Kilber Park, Johannesburg; wedding cake and sweets supplied by Paula, a designer renowned for providing “exquisite cakes for special occasions”; wedding photographs taken by Pierre Bidssani from Bazz Graphic in Johannesburg; video photography by Bridal Fantasy; performance by Johannesburg Dancing Studio as well as that by a symphony orchestra called Johannesburg Millennium Classic 2000; and, digital screening by Digital Design/Austage from the United States. Some of the guests had flown in from the US.
Masitara was also asked to furnish details of the bank account from which he had paid for those services as well as a copy of the bank statement.
“Compliance on or before 12. March, 2003 will be appreciated,” the manager requested.
At a time that he was able to respond (19 May, 2003), Masitara was embroiled in another, perhaps more pressing matter. A female employee at one of his companies had falsely accused him of rape. He assured the taxes official that he would provide the requested information “on or before June 10th, 2003 as I am currently faced with a court case and as such need constant meetings with my advocates in RSA/Botswana and concerned parties”.
The tax people also requested Masitara to provide the physical and postal addresses of two of the people as well as the entertainers who had provided professional services on the wedding day.
He got back to BURS three months later. Masitara was not providing the information the tax authority wanted but instead wanted it to explain exactly what had prompted its investigation on him. By Masitara’s account, there were people who had paid for his wedding. He said that he wondered why people who married recently and had benefited from public donations were not, like himself, being subjected to a tax and audit investigation by the tax authority.
He asked: “Why were they not investigated? I contributed personally towards their wedding expenditure and why were they not asked to give the names, addresses, tax numbers etc. of all those who contributed. Never ever shall I back down to an investigation based on flimsy grounds.”
Another more telling part of the letter to BURS reads: “We sent you letters from all those who assisted in ensuring that the wedding was a success. You were called in to investigate just because my wedding was rated the best this country has ever seen and this is a fact.
“It’s a fact it was better than their friend’s wedding. The whole aim of requesting for physical addresses for the two parties mentioned in your letter is a game intended to discredit me before them (white businesspeople) and subject them to intimidation to cut off business links with me.
“The whole intent of this investigation is to target and harass the white businessmen in RSA who give me support having realised that the fabricated rape case is not pulling through as planned by those individuals in the informal layers of power and those within the Office of the President and Ministry of Finance who cannot come to terms with media speculations of my entry into parliament.
“This is a petty investigation as it is geared towards protecting those old men and women who have failed in life and who are bent on ensuring that my business collapses.”