July 9 (Reuters) - The head of Exportcafe, the Guatemalan coffee unit of Swiss agricultural trading giant ECOM, has been charged with tax fraud and money laundering, charges the company denies, an ECOM executive told Reuters on Tuesday.
Luis Fernando Quintanal, the Exportcafe head, was apprehended in Guatemala City on July 5 for his alleged role in dodging 92 million quetzals ($12 million) in taxes, the Guatemalan Public Ministry said in a notice on its website.
Exportcafe is the top seller of Guatemalan coffee in the world, according to ECOM. Guatemala is the third-largest central American coffee producer, behind Honduras and Mexico. ECOM is one of the world's largest global coffee traders.
Guatemala accuses the company of partnering with its suppliers to defraud the government of taxes between 2010 and 2012, according to ECOM Managing Director Eduardo Esteve and a Public Ministry spokeswoman.
Quintanal's home and office were raided on Friday, Esteve said.
In addition to Quintanal, two other men, Oscar Rodriguez Alegria and Olver Baldomero, were also apprehended that day, the notice said. Both are suppliers to Exportcafe and do not work directly for the company, Esteve told Reuters.
Exportcafe buys coffee from third parties, paying them the price of the coffee plus a value-added-tax (VAT). The government accuses the suppliers of not paying these taxes forward, said Esteve, who said ECOM itself has done no wrong.
"Similar cases have been brought against many companies in the coffee sector leading to multiple lawsuits," prompting several of these companies to leave, Esteve said. "This is not the decision that Exportcafé has made and we will vigorously defend ourselves against these false charges." (Reporting by Ayenat Mersie in New York, additional reporting by Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City; Editing by Dan Grebler)