Beirut Restaurateur Withholding Tax as Faith in State Collapses

A Lebanese restaurateur will stop paying an 11% value-added tax to the state and will instead donate the money to non-governmental organizations working to help victims of the devastating blast at Beirut’s port.

“It’s so depressing to reopen in the middle of such destruction,” Dany Chakour, owner of the Em Sherif restaurant chain with four stores employing 400 people in the city, said by phone. “To give a purpose to resuming our operations, we decided to help the NGOs who are the only ones helping on the ground. We won’t pay the government, that’s for sure.”

Twelve other restaurant owners are considering following suit, he said.

The Lebanese government resigned on Monday, a pariah at home and abroad since the Aug. 4 explosion of thousands of tons of a highly volatile chemical stored in the port despite repeated warnings. With more than 150 people dead, thousands wounded, and swaths of the capital heavily damaged, Lebanese citizens and international donors alike are shunning a government notorious for corruption and mismanagement.

The Mediterranean country is mired in its worst financial meltdown in decades. The donor community and the International Monetary Fund are demanding reforms, long resisted by the country’s power brokers, before billions of dollars of aid are approved.

Chakour said he will file his tax returns in September as usual but will show the state that the money it’s owed has been given to seven NGOs, including the Lebanese Red Cross and the Lebanese Food Bank.

If he’s taken to court and forced to pay up, then that’s a risk he’s willing to take, he said.

“Today the urgency is helping people, and this is our priority,” Chakour said.

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