April 28, 2011 / 8:35 PM / 9 years ago

Grain exporters raided again in Argentina tax probe

* Bunge, Cargill among those raided - source

* Tax agency accuses firms of evading $72 mln in taxes

* Raids part of months-long probe into grain exporters

BUENOS AIRES, April 28 (Reuters) - Argentine tax inspectors raided the premises of some of the country’s largest multinational grains exporters on Thursday as part an investigation into alleged evasion, the AFIP tax agency said.

The local offices of agribusiness giants Bunge Ltd (BG.N) and Cargill [CARG.UL] were among those raided, a source close to the probe said on condition of anonymity.

The AFIP accused the companies raided under a federal court order of evading about $72 million in taxes by striking deals on the black market.

The raids on 165 premises, which involved 1,200 tax agents, were similar to an offensive launched by the AFIP in early March, when it accused companies of evading some $36 million in taxes. [ID:nN01148450]

Other firms raided on Thursday included Argentina’s Vicentin, Aceitera General Deheza (AGD) and Molinos Rio de la Plata MOL.BA, the source said.

Argentina’s center-left government has been investigating major grains exporters since last year.

A court indicted two executives of Cargill, the country’s top soymeal and soyoil exporter, on evasion charges in October. [ID:nN08219181].

Inspectors also raided Bunge premises during the same month over an alleged income-tax evasion totaling $300 million.

AFIP chief Ricardo Echegaray is a close political ally of President Cristina Fernandez, who has had a tense relationship with the key agricultural sector after farmers protested over a tax increase on soy exports in 2008.

Fernandez, who defends high export taxes as a way to redistribute Argentina’s farming wealth, says evasion is a particularly serious problem in the agricultural sector.

The grains export taxes, boosted by bumper soy and corn harvests, have helped fuel solid tax revenue growth of between 30 percent and 40 percent year-on-year in recent months.

As well as being the No. 3 supplier of soybeans, Argentina is the world’s top exporter of soyoil and soymeal and the second-biggest corn provider after the United States. ($1=4.3250 Argentine pesos) (Reporting by Maximiliano Rizzi; Writing by Luis Andres Henao; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

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