15 Customs Officers slapped with 202 charges
…from conspiracy to defraud to fraudulent conversion
A whopping 202 charges have been leveled against 15 of the Customs Officers attached to the Guyana Revenue Authority for their alleged involvement in the imbroglio surrounding Polar Beer that was imported by Fidelity Investment/Kong Inc.
Attorney at law Glenn Hanoman will be defending five of the 15 officers who are to appear in court today.
According to the lawyer the charges range from conspiracy to defraud the Guyana Revenue Authority to fraudulent conversion.
He said, however, that the funny thing about the conspiracy charge in relation to the Guyana Revenue Authority is that no one from Fidelity has been charged.
Two Brokers identified as Yusuf Khan also known as Yusuf Ali and Rabindra Rajcoomar, and Samantha Sam were also charged.
The lawyer said that all day today has been set aside to read out the charges.
Attorney at law Vic Puran would also be representing some of the Customs officers, following the discovery of the imbroglio where it was alleged that the company paid duties on soft drinks when in fact it was beer in the container. President Bharrat Jagdeo ordered a task force that included the Auditor General, Deodat Sharma, to investigate alleged improprieties between the GRA officers, a broker and Fidelity Investment/Kong Inc.
A report on the investigation was completed and when it was laid in the National Assembly earlier this year it was found that there was a recommendation that GRA take the necessary disciplinary action against 15 of its senior staffers, who were all found to have been complicit in the Fidelity scam.
The task force recommended that the officers — Michelle Matthias-Smartt, Rhonda Gladd, Karen Bobb-Semple, Ausya Greenidge, Satesh Basdeo, Anthony Girdhari, Rabindra Ramsuran, Sadesh Pitamber, Vickie Sooknanan, Radha Singh, Ann Noel, Simone Herod, Jasoda Mohamed, Georgeanna Pryce-Roberts and Roopnarine Ramkishun — be charged criminally for the relevant offences.
As it relates to acting Director, Valuation and Classification, Paul Prescod; Level II Customs Officer John Tularam; Entry Processing Unit Supervisor Nityanand Narootandeo; and VAT and Excise Tax Deputy Commissioner Rohan Beekhoo, it was recommended that the GRA reinstates them, but with warning letters to be more vigilant in the execution of their duties.
Royan Sattaur, a level II Clerk, and Ramnarine Makardajh, acting Director, Enforcement Section, were all recommended for reinstatement.
As it relates to the other recommendations by the task force, Commissioner General of GRA, Khurshid Sattaur, said that the report was some six months late, in that all of the recommended measures, excluding the reinstatement of the officers, have already been implemented.
Responding to comments by Auditor-General Deodat Sharma to the effect that several loopholes exist at GRA, allowing an importer to defraud the government of hundreds of millions of dollars, Sattaur said that this was not the case.
He insisted that, each day, the GRA staffers were working ardently to ensure that all revenue is collected, but it was the “wicked and unpatriotic” businessmen who entice and subsequently corrupt Customs officers.
The Auditor-General is now questioning how many other importers may have managed to elude paying the requisite taxes to the state.
According to Sharma, there still exists the possibility that it could happen again, but he hinted that the recommendations in the now completed and publicised report, once implemented, could see a halt to the activities.