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Vitaldent directors arrested over multi-million tax fraud claims
NATIONAL Police fraud squad officers have arrested 13 members of the board of directors of one of Spain's largest dentist chains.
They were said to have been demanding their branches to pay them in cash, stashing it in tax havens in Switzerland and Luxembourg, and then using it to buy luxury cars and other assets without declaring it to the tax authorities.
Vitaldent was launched in 1997 and has over 350 branches on high streets throughout the country, but its board of directors is based in the Greater Madrid region.
A suspected multi-million fraud and money-laundering operation has seen 36 top-of-the-range cars and even a million-euro private jet seized, and 15 dental surgeries raided.
Some of the cash was used to buy 124 properties all over the country, which have also been embargoed.
The suspects' bank accounts, held in 25 different entities are expected to be frozen, and shares and securities held in two SICAV ultra-high net-worth funds totalling around €5 million are likely to be blocked.
Police say Vitaldent's owner, Ernesto Colman, had been planning to shut the business and abscond, leaving the more than 3,500 branch staff and an estimated seven million customers high and dry.
Colman, originally from Uruguay, opened his first dental clinic in the Chamberí area of Madrid at the end of the 1980s, and the firm's rapid expansion across Spain earnt it the nickname 'McDentist', alluding to global fast-food chain McDonald's.
Investigators from the UDEF financial crime unit have even referred to Colman as the ringleader of an organised criminal gang.
They stress that the way Vitaldent's clinics are run has no connection to the operation, and its highly-experienced and qualified staff are in no way linked to the fraud.
In fact, they are all still operating and treating customers, despite their computer systems being down as a resultof the raid.
Government sources say the 350-plus branches will probably form their own new board of directors to enable the firm to continue running.
Whilst no complaints have been received about, or from, the branches, the Spanish Franchise Association (AEF) has temporarily suspended Vitaldent's concession for its owner's and directors' having breached its code of conduct, which requires all franchises to be run legally and with full transparency.
The General Council of Dentists has called for the government to change legislation so that the majority of companies' capital lies in the hands of professionals and directors also be dentists, so that the service provided and forms of management are intrinsically linked to good practice and ethics.
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