Roberth Simisterra can not sleep thinking how he will pay the pension at the school of his daughter, 6 years. He lives with her and his wife in a rented room on Isla Trinitaria, in the south of Guayaquil. He is a guard, but he has been a bricklayer, carameler, betunero and seller of corviches. “Everything, less businessman,” he says, and laughs with irony.
The clarification is timely. In the Superintendence of Companies, he is the owner of four companies that have reported revenues of $ 41.5 million. These are societies that the Internal Revenue Service (SRI) declared ghosts.
While looking at the documents that link him to these societies, Simisterra laments: “It is a great loss that they make us because we are poor people. Look at my little girl. If I go prisoner, my wife does not work, who will take care of my daughter. I sue the State. “
Three of those companies billed $ 3.4 million to Chinese companies that have won large government contracts. But that’s just a sample.
THE UNIVERSE agreed to the tax returns submitted up to 2017 by Chinese companies that have concentrated public contracts in Ecuador. He compared those statements with the list of ghost companies that the SRI publishes on its website and with two reports that this institution sent to the Prosecutor’s Office for possible tax fraud processes.
He found that seven Chinese companies submitted invoices for alleged transactions with 84 ghost companies for a total of $ 21.2 million (excluding VAT).
The biggest case is that of China CAMC Engineering, which presented this type of invoices for $ 11.6 million.
It is followed by China International Water & Electric (CWE) with $ 7.3 million; China Gezhouba Group with $ 1.5 million; Harbin Electric International with $ 439,000; China National Electric Engineering (CNEE) with $ 327,000; China Electronics Import & Export (Ceiec) with $ 40,000; and the two Ecuadorian branches of Sinohydro with $ 23,000.
THE UNIVERSE requested interviews with the attorneys of these companies. Four responded. CAMC, Gezhouba and Cieiec said their representatives are not in the country, and Sinohydro, that it does meet its tax obligations.
The deputy director of SRI Tax Compliance, José Almeida, explained that they have detected that certain taxpayers have used invoices from ghost companies to simulate expenses and reduce their profits, in order to reduce their income tax payment. This hurts the State.
The official stresses that $ 887.4 million have already been recovered in taxes that the alleged clients of ghost companies failed to pay. He added that 1,361 criminal complaints have been filed, but have not obtained the expected results, since several processes have been shelved.
Among the cases detected by the SRI, there are Chinese contractors. This newspaper accessed several tax audits that revealed that CAMC included invoices from shell companies for $ 6.6 million in its 2013 statement, and that CWE did the same for $ 5.8 million in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
At least 39 people who were listed as shareholders and administrators of the 84 ghost companies used have actually worked as messengers, guards, masons, receptionists or janitors.
The ghost companies most used by Chinese contractors were Construestilo S.A., Comexito S.A., Highstrategy S.A., Gotoconstru S.A. and Divinacompany S.A.
The first one worked. He participated in a work that CAMC had committed to do in a contract with the defunct Ministry Coordinator of Security. The rest of the companies existed only in papers.
The names of those who appear in these companies are repeated in the records of other ghost companies. This newspaper discovered a complex skein of relationships between at least 34 front companies.
The corporate documents and the testimonies of several people who were linked to these firms helped to unravel part of that plot, to find out who really managed the companies’ invoicing.
Several passages of the labyrinth led to two accountants: Arturo Soriano Muñoz and Jaime Gutiérrez Elvay. This Journal tried to contact them by phone and email, but there was no response.
Gutiérrez Elvay has already been prosecuted for alleged tax fraud last year. In that case, his partner, Freddy Soledispa Varas, pleaded guilty and received a year in jail. Despite this and the evidence presented by the Office of the Prosecutor, Judge Christian Roca Yagual determined that there were insufficient grounds to prosecute Gutiérrez Elvay and three other defendants, and dismissed them.
The Office of the Prosecutor did not appeal that ruling; neither did the SRI lawyers, who acted as private accuser in the process.
José Almeida said that they are reviewing that case to determine possible sanctions against the officials who acted in that case.
This report was made with the support of the Initiative for Investigative Journalism in the Americas, promoted by the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ, in English) and the journal platform Connectas. (I)