July 15, 2018

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Pallister still lacks required assessment of Costa Rican retreat

Premier Brian Pallister’s claims that he is getting to the bottom of taxation questions surrounding his Costa Rican retreat have been undermined by a revelation that he has yet to get the property assessed as required by law.

On Wednesday, the CBC reported that Pallister and his wife Esther, through their holding company, have failed to reassess the value of their Costa Rican home for the past decade -- in contravention of local laws.

A civic official in Santa Cruz, Costa Rica, said Pallister has not submitted the required property declaration form at the municipal level since his home was built in 2008.

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Premier Brian Pallister’s claims that he is getting to the bottom of taxation questions surrounding his Costa Rican retreat have been undermined by a revelation that he has yet to get the property assessed as required by law.

On Wednesday, the CBC reported that Pallister and his wife Esther, through their holding company, have failed to reassess the value of their Costa Rican home for the past decade — in contravention of local laws.

A civic official in Santa Cruz, Costa Rica, said Pallister has not submitted the required property declaration form at the municipal level since his home was built in 2008.

The property declaration should have been updated in 2013, Ramon Guevara, a Santa Cruz Department of Housing official, told CBC.

Questioned by the NDP about the report in the legislature Wednesday, Pallister said he and his wife have always paid their taxes and are taking "all necessary steps to determine if we've failed in some way to comply with the requirements in Costa Rica."

Outside the chamber, he was asked by reporters why he still had no answers about whether he owes taxes on his Costa Rican property, after the Free Press first reported on the issue in early April.

"I've already taken all the necessary steps to get the information, and I'm waiting for a report back," he told the Free Press Wednesday. "I talked to the people down there that are working on it last week, and they said it's going to take some time."

Asked why it was taking him so long to obtain a property appraisal, he said, "It does in that area, yeah. It's five hours away from qualified people, apparently."

Pallister said he could not estimate when he would be able to say whether he owes taxes on his property. Pallister's holding company had been flagged for non-payment of Costa Rica's luxury tax, which was instituted in 2009. The tax is in addition to standard property taxes levied by local governments. Its purpose is to tax the wealthy to improve housing for the poor.

Pallister has since challenged the Free Press and other past media reports that have described his vacation home as being 7,700 square feet. He said Wednesday it is actually 3,400 square feet. According to building permit information supplied by Pallister's company to Costa Rican officials and obtained by the Free Press, the construction value of the premier's home, plus a subsequent addition, would have made him liable for payment of the luxury tax.

On Wednesday, Pallister vowed that when he finds out whether he, in fact, owes taxes on his Costa Rican property, he will inform the media. "As soon as I get the information, you'll get it," he told reporters.

A lawyer in Costa Rica told the CBC the premier should get his paperwork in order to make sure he is compliant with federal and civic tax rules.

"The very simple advice is for him to take the proper steps to ensure that he is compliant — that is the most basic legal advice I can give him," Rafael Valverde said.

Valverde also confirmed that Pallister had not had his property reassessed. "By not updating the value... it is a big deal," he said.

The Free Press first raised questions about whether Pallister owed payment of luxury taxes on his Costa Rican home in an exclusive story in early April.

The premier said at the time that he would look into the issue. "If we owe money, we'll pay it," he said.

He later threatened to sue the Free Press for its coverage of the story.

NDP MLA Andrew Swan criticized the premier Wednesday for not clearing up the matter.

"Two and a half months ago, the Free Press broke the story about the premier’s failure to provide an updated valuation of his mansion in Costa Rica. At that time the premier said he would take care of it and instead of taking care of it he went and hired a Winnipeg lawyer to threaten the Winnipeg Free Press and to try to chill the media from reporting on the story," Swan said.

"We’re now two and a half months later and it’s obvious the premier has not done a single thing to deal with this other than to threaten the media. There is no explanation. There is nothing the premier has put forward to explain what he has done for the last two-and-a- half months."

A political scientist at St. Paul's College at the University of Manitoba says the ongoing debate about the premier's Costa Rica tax issues are obscuring some real accomplishments his government has made in recent weeks, including a $540 million deal with Ottawa to build two outlet channels to reduce the likelihood of flooding on Lake Manitoba and Lake St. Martin.

"These sorts of things do take the premier and his government off message," Christopher Adams said Wednesday.

Pallister promised to ascertain whether he owed any taxes and cover any unpaid amounts, Adams said. "And now we're finding out that he's not sure what he owes, and no action has been taken, from what we understand, to ascertain what he owes...It looks like it's still an open question."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Read full biography

History

Updated on Wednesday, June 20, 2018 at 5:47 PM CDT: Full write through

5:55 PM: Adds new image and slideshow.

6:18 PM: Adds video

7:04 PM: removes photo

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