Village in tax probe

5 held in alleged Argentinean land fraud

BUENOS AIRES — Five execs at exhib Village Cinemas in Argentina, including prexy Ricardo Novillo Astrada, have been arrested in a probe into alleged tax evasion during a 1997 real estate deal.

Federal Judge Bernardo Vidal Duran ordered the arrests based on a complaint filed by the federal tax bureau in 2001.

The alleged tax evasion, to the tune of 4 million pesos ($1.4 million), involves Village Cinema’s 1997 purchase of land for a 16-theater multiplex in Recoleta, an upscale neighborhood in Buenos Aires.

The topper of Miracle Mind, the company that owned the land, allegedly sold it to his wife for $4 million. The next day, she sold it to Village Cinemas for $18 million. Under Argentinean law, a real estate deal between a person and a company is exempt from income taxes.

Village Cinemas’ law firm, Estudio O’Farrell, said in a statement that the tax bureau’s case was against Miracle Mind. “Village Cinemas was the buyer of the real estate and did not derive any tax or economic benefit from the operation.”

The law firm said the judge ordered the arrests so that all the people allegedly involved would be questioned.

Village Cinemas operates six multiplexes with 69 screens in Argentina. Australia’s Village Roadshow owns 55% of Village Cinemas in Argentina. New Zealand’s Force and Argentina’s Southern Screens are the other shareholders.

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