ATV scandal…Police attempt to arrest businesswoman
A businesswoman and her lawyer yesterday blasted the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) for its handling of investigations into allegations of corruption against a number of its officers.
Yesterday, both Marsha Chase and her lawyer, Manoj Narayan, spoke with Kaieteur News even as attempts were made by ranks from the police Fraud Squad to arrest her at the newspaper’s office.
Both believed it was an attempt to silence what is turning out to be an embarrassing episode of a cover-up.
Chase, 34, and Narayan were heavily criticized by the GRA, the country’s tax collection agency, on Monday, following disclosures over the weekend that the businesswoman was asked to pay in excess of $8M in duties and fines for importing a number of All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs).
The woman had alleged that she paid GRA officers for duty free letters for the bikes and had fingered at least one of them. She offered to give evidence. However, instead she was sent a demand notice to pay over $8M.
Under regulations, miners are entitled to duty free concessions on the ATVs which are a popular means of transport in especially the mining areas and other hinterland communities.
Yesterday, the woman claimed that she had been working with an overseas businessman for a number of years, importing ATVs.
This year, GRA officers, one of whom she identified by name and whom she has pointed out to senior officials, told her she could import the bikes using the concession letters.
“I agreed and Mr. …..(name given) said that he will help. They would come to me and tell me that I have to pay over $500,000 to $600,000.”
The woman said before the letters, she would pay over $1.7M in duty for each bike.
In August, the matter took a turn after GRA’s law enforcement arm stopped a Canter carrying two of the bikes. According to the GRA statement on Monday, the woman was called in after investigators seized the bikes.
She later gave a statement and identified one of the officers.
“I never claimed to be a miner. I said that I had a claim in the interior which was never registered.”
The woman said that she never got permission from the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) since the GRA officer (name given) handled the processing of the duty free letters purportedly signed by Clement Sealey, GRA’s second-in-command.
Chase denied she was aware that the duty free concessions in her name stopped her from selling the bikes…The letters did not mention anything to this effect, she says.
According to her lawyer, he called GRA’s Commissioner General, Khurshid Sattaur, and attempted to broker a deal where his client could give evidence and the bikes be returned. The fact that the bikes were sold to miners meant that GRA could have regularized the paperwork.
“I told Mr. Sattaur that we should look at the bigger picture where we could identify corrupt officials who are tasked with collecting and guarding state revenues.’
According to Narayan, the tax official said that Chase was not entitled to the duty free letters, but agreed to regularize the transaction once a report was completed by GRA’s Internal Affairs Department. He attempted to find out several times as to the status of the case.
“Lo and behold, on Friday we received a letter penalizing my client.”
The woman denied that she knowingly offered any bribes for the letters and said she was told to pay over the monies.
“I never changed my story because after that statement, GRA never made contact with me. Today (yesterday), I get a call from somebody who told me that the Fraud department of the police wanted me.”
The involvement of the Fraud Section was prompted by one of the men who bought an ATV from Chase. He claimed that when she sold the vehicle she was aware that she could not sell the vehicle at the time.
His argument is that she fraudulently procured his money. GRA seized his vehicle. He claimed that he is now out of pocket and that Chase should return his money. He stressed that no attention was being paid to the fact that Mr. Sealey signed the letters which would lead to the assumption that supporting documentation was checked.
“It would be hard to think now that my client would come forward now to give evidence.”
This is not the first time that there have been allegations of wrongdoing over duty free concessions and the importations of ATVs.
Earlier this year, GRA admitted that it was probing incidents where concessions were granted. It is believed that over $100M was diverted from the government coffers. There were no findings released for that probe.