BIRN: Rama severely punishes the media that criticize his government

The government’s Media and Information Agency declined to respond to BIRN’s request for detailed comments about the reasons for the fines, but offered a general answer.

He said BIRN’s specific questions were “of a very technical nature” and suggested contacting the Tax Directorate. The IRS did not respond to an emailed request for comment and its press office did not return phone calls.

The Hysenbelliu Group, the group of companies that owns one of the television stations that were fined, told BIRN that the fine was one of several aimed at its companies, claiming the aim was to silence its media.

This latest fine is part of a multifaceted campaign against this group that tax inspectors, the customs administration, the National Inspectorate for Territory Protection and other government agencies have undertaken against the Hysenbelliu group of companies, who also own the News 24 channel, Balkanweb [page of news] and Panorama [newspaper],” the group’s press office told BIRN.

“For us, there is no doubt that this campaign, which amounts to around 17 million euros in fines, is led by Prime Minister Edi Rama as a sign of revenge against the editorial line of this media group”, said the press office of the media group.

Ora News director Brahim Shima said the fine was another attempt to shut down the station, which has been under state administration since 2020, which includes the period during which tax inspectors believe it failed to declare full tax obligations.

In the Focus News inspection report, seen by BIRN, it was said that tax inspectors found that illegal wages are paid “below the average market rate” for the specific profession and therefore recalculated the company’s tax liabilities by assuming that the staff were employed with salary that is considered average.

Based on this reasoning, the inspectors came to the conclusion that the company should have paid about 7.3 million lek (over 63 thousand euros) more for social and health insurance contributions.

The inspectors also calculated that the company had underpaid personal income tax in the amount of about 3.5 million lek (about 30 thousand euros).

Tax informality is perceived as widespread in Albania with companies keeping separate accounting books, one for tax purposes and the other for management purposes with the aim of not declaring profits, wages and tax liabilities. In such cases, companies are believed to pay salaries partly through bank transfers and partly in cash to carry out evasion.

In December 2021, a file containing salary data for around 630,00 Albanians, the entire workforce in the country, was leaked online – the first time such data was made public and could be analyzed in detail. independent.

It was noted that many companies reported extremely low wages for professional jobs, such as lawyers, employed for a declared salary of around 30,000 lek (260 euros) per month, the country’s minimum wage.

The government announced that it will start dealing with the problem, and on this initiative, the Tax Administration decided to send inspectors to media companies.

However, the Focus Media Group report said it found no trace of the company employing unregistered employers and no trace of double accounting. But he concluded that some of the employees had salaries “below the market average for the specific profession”. /BalkanInsight

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