The revenue board issued Monday final demand notices to the four mobile multinationals for clearing unpaid VAT worth Tk 8.83 billion.
Officials said the Large Taxpayers Unit (LTU) under the VAT Wing of the National Board of Revenue (NBR) claimed the amount on account of SIM-replacement tax due for a period between July 2012 and June 2015.
The mobile-phone companies--Grameenphone, Robi Axiata, Banglalink and Airtel--have been given three months to pay off the overdue VAT or value-added tax.
It happens to be a second-phase demand for SIM- replacement tax from the mobile firms.
Meanwhile, legal battles are going on over the first-phase demand for the SIM-replacement tax worth Tk 20.48 billion for the period from July 2007 to December 2011.
NBR's VAT appellate tribunal on June 22 last issued order in favour of the NBR to collect Tk 20.48 billion in VAT that had been claimed in the first phase.
Talking to the FE Monday, commissioner of the LTU VAT wing Md Matiur Rahman said the mobile-phone companies did not cooperate with the VAT team with complete information of their SIM-replacement issues.
"We have sent the final demand notices asking the companies to pay the VAT as there was a gap in their given information," he said.
LTU officials said the companies may either file writ petition with the High Court or lodge complaints to the tribunal paying 10 per cent of the claimed tax if they want to challenge the demand.
"In case of not taking any of those steps, the LTU will issue two letters, in phases, giving two weeks' time each under section 43 of the VAT law for payment of the claimed VAT," said Bodruzzaman Munshi, assistant commissioner of LTU-VAT.
Thereafter, the VAT officials can freeze the bank accounts of the companies for the unpaid VAT, he added.
Of the claims, GP owes Tk 3.78 billion, Robi Tk 2.85 billion, Banglalink Tk 1.68 billion and Airtel Tk 502 million.
In August, the unit sent the primary demand notices to the four mobile-phone operators with an allegation that the companies had sold new Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) to their subscribers showing the same as SIM replacement.
It is a punishable offence as per the VAT Law 1992, Section 32 (2), Sub-Section (da).
In addition to the disputed amount, the operators will also have to pay penalty and interest at the rate of 2.0 per cent per month for delay in making the payment.
After primary demand notices, representatives of all of the mobile companies sat for a hearing but their arguments failed to satisfy the VAT officials, he added.
The claim has been made through random sampling of the total sales of SIM as the cell-phone companies failed to provide the requisite documents to the VAT officials.
The companies also challenged the random-sampling method but the High Court and the Tribunal allowed keeping the VAT demand unchanged.
In fiscal year (FY) 2014-15, the government imposed Tk 100 as tax on each sale of new SIM and SIM replacement. Before that, there was no tax on SIM replacement. SIM tax was charged at Tk 300 for a new SIM sale.
As per NBR order in 2005, the mobile-phone companies had to furnish the data of SIM replacement with their monthly VAT returns but the companies did not comply with the order.
The mobile-phone number and the subscriber will have to be same in case of SIM replacement, if the original SIM is lost or damaged.
Mr Munshi said as per law, VAT officials can issue demand notice claiming VAT for up to five previous years.
"The VAT claim will be time-barred unless we send the demand notices," he added.
However, TIM Nurul Kabir, secretary-general of the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators Bangladesh (AMTOB), termed the VAT demand a 'fictitious claim.'
"Such acts of the NBR are impediments to investment and may panic future investors," he said.
The authorities have made the VAT demand without following the rules in proper way, Mr Kabir said, adding that a logical discussion is needed to resolve the issue.