Government seizes sprawling banana plantation for $100 million in back taxes; says its owner has fled the country

May 29, 2013

Ecuador’s internal revenue service (SRI) has seized the largest privately held property in Ecuador as part of its effort to collect what it claims to be more than $100 million in back taxes. The property in Guayas Province is owned by banana baron Alvaro Noboa.

The property, known as La Clemenina, encompasses 11,500 hectares, more than two times the size of the city of Cuenca.

The SRI’s director, Carlos Carrasco, has appointed a legal caretaker to continue to manage the property until an auction can be held. Carrasco said that all workers on the sprawling hacienda would continue to have jobs and receive salaries. Eight hundred pólice officers are on site, guarding the property.

Bananas are La Clementina’s business, but the property also includes plantations of teak, lemons, coffee, and a cattle farm. Its 1,800 employees have collaborated with the seizure, Carrasco said.

“If the auction covers the full amount of the debt, including fines and interest, we will halt our legal actions against the Naboa company,” Carrasco said. If the auction does not collect all back taxes, the process will continue in the courts. If the auction brings in more than the amount of the debt, the SRI will refund the difference, he said.

“We’re trying to recover everything the Noboa Banana company owes the country,” Carrasco said. An audit in 2005 established that the company should pay $49 million in taxes a year, he said. The SRI has not been unable to collect any funds from Noboa in the eight years since the audit was conducted.

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Carrasco said if the company’s directors and stock-owners want to prevent the auctioning of the corporation’s main estate, they should pay their taxes. Noboa has run unsuccessfully for president of Ecuador fives times. His current whereabouts is unknown although the government believes he is in Florida.

In 2010, Global GAP, an agricultural consulting firm, said Naboa’s La Clementina was the largest working farm in the world.

Photo caption: Alvaro Noboa.

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