Italy claims Wind Telecom owes 57 million euros in taxes, says Wind Hellas involved

Italy’s tax authority is seeking about 57 million euros ($75 million) from Wind Telecom SpA, which controls the country’s third-largest mobile operator, claiming the company avoided paying taxes in 2009 transactions, according to documents obtained by Bloomberg News.

The revenue agency is seeking to recoup that amount after determining that Wind Telecom used a combination of put and call options to avoid taxes, according to the Rome-based authority’s documents.

Wind Telecom was formerly called Weather Investments SpA, a holding company of Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, who bought Wind from Italian utility Enel SpA (ENEL) in a 12.2 billion-euro deal in 2005. He then sold it VimpelCom Ltd. (VIP) in 2011.

Italian Finance Minister Fabrizio Saccomanni said June 17 that Italy must continue to fight tax evasion as the government strives to keep public finances under control. In 2012, authorities recovered about 12.5 billion euros in unpaid taxes.

The revenue agency claims that Wind Telecom used a Greek company, Wind Hellas, to book 207 million euros of financial charges in 2009 that it used to claim the tax deduction, according to the documents. The agency’s review indicates that Wind Telecom exploited Wind Hellas’s financial crisis to artificially generate a tax benefit.

Tax audit

Wind Telecomunicazioni SpA, which runs the Wind brand in Italy, isn’t involved in the tax audit currently being carried out by the Italian tax authority on Weather Investments regarding the Greek unit in 2009, according to an e-mailed statement sent July 19 by a Rome-based spokesman for Wind Telecomunicazioni.

An official at the revenue agency in Rome declined to comment on the matter. Bobby Leach, an Amsterdam-based spokesman for VimpelCom, declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Sawiris didn’t respond to two e-mails and three phone calls from Bloomberg News seeking comment.

Wind, which was established in 1997 by France Telecom, Deutsche Telekom and Enel SpA, operates mobile, fixed-line and Internet services in Italy.

Sawiris said in a May 2 interview that he’s interested in Italian telecommunications assets including Wind. Jo Lunder, CEO of VimpelCom, said May 15 he won’t sell the stake in Wind back to Sawiris. [Bloomberg]

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