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Furious Kenyans threaten to defect over taxes

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Top Kenyan athletes may consider defecting to other countries if the east African nation goes ahead with plans to tax athletes' earnings, they said on Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters in the North Rift Valley athletics hub Eldoret, Wesley Korir, who won the Boston City Marathon in 2012, and is now a legislator, led a group of athletes who are furious with the Kenya Revenue Authority's (KRA) plan.

"If this matter goes on like this, I will defect to another country which will appreciate my effort," said twice Berlin Marathon winner Florence Kiplagat.

KRA said in a statement that athletes should pay taxes like other taxpayers.

"We are taxed abroad. Then we invest our remaining earnings here although the Government does nothing to support us. We work hard to give this nation a positive image abroad yet we get nothing in return. I can chose to change my nationality now," said Kiplagat.

"We would rather invest in other countries that appreciate our effort than in a country where our earnings from our sweat is taxed," the former Boston Marathon champion said.

Korir noted that majority of the athletes are civil servants and have invested heavily in real estate and other businesses, which attract taxation, saying a further taxation would be double blow for the development of athletes.

The MP stated that the oil-rich countries pay handsomely for gold medals won in competitions yet Kenya's tax collector wants to find ways of making money from the athletes' earnings.

"Qatar pays her gold medallists 100 million Kenyan shillings ($1.17 million) while this country is trying to devise ways of fleecing the athletes of their hard-earned money," a furious Korir said.

He said that, contrary to common belief, they earn huge sums of money but pocket only 15 per cent of their winnings.

"The breakdown for taxation and deductions is as follows: 30 to 35 per cent for the country of origin, 15 per cent for the agent, 10 per cent for the manager, and now the KRA wants to add salt to injury by slapping a 30 per cent tax of that amount," he said. "That is exploiting us."

KRA spokesperson Maureen Njongo said they would ensure athletes do not pay the same taxes in two countries.

"Sportsmen should furnish us with details of their taxation abroad to be factored in our records," said Njongo.

Twice world 1,500m champion Asbel Kiprop said the taxation plan would spell doom for the already impoverished athletes.

"Athletes live in debt and pay so many bills to those who make them run, including air ticket refunds that if the taxation plan is implemented, it will kill the sport," he said.

(Editing by Duncan Miriri and Ed Osmond)

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