Friday, July 27, 2012

Baird eyes shutting down Eritrean consulate in Toronto -

Niamh Scallan
Staff Reporter 

Eritrea is facing increased diplomatic pressure from the Canadian government after a United Nations report published this week said the country has been using its Toronto consulate to force expatriates to pay taxes that help bankroll its military.
Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird is considering “all options,” including shutting down the consulate, and has “called in” Canada’s Eritrean consul to meet with Canadian officials after the criminal allegations appeared in the report by the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, a senior government official said Thursday.
The report, published online Monday, said the Eritrean consulate in Toronto has been using coercive tactics to impose a 2 per cent income tax on expatriates to help finance the military, a fundraising practice the UN monitoring group says “arguably” violates an arms embargo imposed by the United Nations in 2009.
A Royal Canadian Mounted Police assessment included in the UN report found that a “refusal to pay the tax often results in denial of service or threats against, or harassment of, family members still residing in Eritrea, or possible arrest of the individual should they travel to Eritrea without paying the taxes alleged to be owing.”
RCMP spokesman Sgt. Greg Cox said he could not confirm details of a criminal investigation unless criminal charges are laid, but added that the police force “is concerned about the issue as there exists a potential link with terrorist financing.”
Semere Ghebremariam O. Micael, Eritrea’s only accredited diplomat in Canada, could not be reached for comment Thursday.
But in a comment to a Toronto newspaper in 2011, another Eritrean consular official denied allegations of forced taxation, and said the “voluntary” 2 per cent income tax went toward reconstructing Eritrea’s roads, hospitals and schools.
Though a diplomatic letter sent by Baird to his Eritrean counterpart last January revealed that he was aware of allegations of criminal activity involving the Eritrean consulate in Toronto, this week’s UN report prompted strong reaction from the minister’s office.
The senior official said members of the Canadian Embassy in Khartoum will be delivering a message of concern to the Eritrean government. The ministry is also working with legal experts to determine further action, the official said.
“All options are on the table,” they said.


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