Latest update March 21st, 2023 12:59 AM
Jul 10, 2008 News
Fidelity Investments Inc., the company embroiled in the current Polar Beer probe involving Customs employees, is claiming that moves are afoot to close the company in order to protect a flourishing billion-dollar, illegal beer industry.
Breaking his silence since President Bharrat Jagdeo ordered a massive investigation into the Customs operation earlier this year, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Fidelity Investments, Dr Joshua Safeek, yesterday also called on the Head of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), Khurshid Sattaur, to recuse himself from any dealings with the company until the probe is over.
Flanked by his lawyers, Hukumchand, Sonia Parag and Kamini Parag at the Cara Lodge for the press conference, the businessman also claimed that today, for the third time, in what must be a “vindictive” attack by Sattaur, he is now facing the court on forgery charges for two containers of Polar Beer imported from Venezuela over the last two months.
In addition to a prepared statement, Dr Safeek said that since the corruption probe started months ago, his company was harassed to the point where he has stopped importing cement even though there is a ready market because of a shortage.
On June 23, last, Customs approved payments for two 40-foot containers with 4,752 cases of Polar Beers and sought almost $8.7 million in taxes and duties.
Two days later, the containers were seized and Fidelity, at a meeting with GRA, was told that the valuation was too low.
Charges were later filed that accused Fidelity of forging the invoices.
Safeek said that it was clear there is an attempt to protect a billion-dollar monthly scam at Customs.
In April, charges were filed against Dr Safeek and there was an agreement to hold until investigations were completed. However, GRA went ahead and broke its promise, filing charges, the CEO claimed.
Focusing on the issue of corruption at Customs, the official alleged that there are two payments being made there—one where the taxes are calculated and paid and another set of payments to Customs officers.
However, the businessman was quick to point out that Fidelity has never been involved in making any illegal payments to public officials as part of its dealings.
Drawing a parallel, he said in January, milk powder was zero rated yet the price rose from $500 per pound to $800 because the illegal payments were still forced on businesses and this ultimately was passed on to the consumers.
“He (Sattaur) wants to protect corruption.”
Charges which have no standings are brought every time “to shut my mouth up”, the businessman said.
Yesterday, Commissioner General Sattaur was asked for a comment but he, in a tirade, indicated that he “was not talking to Kaieteur News”.
Meanwhile, Attorney Hukumchand explained that the issue at hand stemmed from the fact that last year March, Fidelity brought it first shipment of Polar Beer in for US$2.15 per case. However, the Valuation Section of the GRA raised the value to US$3.75 and stated in a letter that it was not a precedent and that future shipments will be valuated on a case by case basis.
According Dr Safeek, his company lost $25 million last year because of this valuation.
The attorney argued that it is unthinkable that products brought and shipped for one price could be valued at another price. Checks could be made with the company where the Polar Beer is brought from in Venezuela to verify the accuracy of the information, he pointed out.
Additionally, the company is facing another threat in that this shipment of beers faces expiry in August.
According to Dr Safeek, Fidelity pays government $2,700 in taxes and duties for every case of beer brought in.
While, Banks beer is selling for around $3,800 per case, a case of Polar Beer is going between $4,500 and $4,800 a carton.
Polar Beer brought into the country illegally costs between $1,200 and $2,000.
Safeek claimed that between half of a million and one million cases of beer are being smuggled annually into Guyana with over $1 billion being lost because of corruption.
He pointed out that before Fidelity had brought in the Polar Beers legally, Government was not getting one cent since it was all being smuggled.
Over the last 15 months, Fidelity Investments has paid over $500 million in taxes, the company said.
The CEO said that he had brought the smuggling issue to the attention of the Commissioner General on several occasions, even as recent as two weeks ago.
The illegal beers are coming largely in containers and not mainly on fishing boats as is the common belief.
Three weeks ago, Acting Head of the Remission Unit, Roopnarine Ramkishun was the latest to be sent home on leave as the investigations into GRA continued.
Eleven GRA officers are on leave and five have been dismissed as a task force comprising of the police, Ministry of Finance and Office of the Auditor General continue their investigations.
GRA staffers are being questioned about containers brought in by Fidelity Investments and Kong Inc last year, importers of Polar Beer that was cleared by several GRA officers.
Investigators believe that the containers which came in last year were filled with Polar Beer, but the GRA officers, including members of the Internal Affairs, Enforcement, VAT and Customs, allegedly colluded to forge documents to show that, instead, there were soft drinks in the containers.
Yesterday, Dr Safeek denied that his company ever brought in any soft drink.
Sources close to the investigations said that GRA officers are unable to agree what kind of soft drinks were in the container and could not find any of the ones that were claimed to be in the containers anywhere in Guyana.
President Jagdeo has said that the probe will widen to include other civil servants as some evidently had assets that were questionable.
The GRA officers were also questioned about their bank accounts, vehicles and other assets owned, this newspaper was told.
According to the dismissal letters, the officers were guilty of gross negligence, among other things, and were guilty of causing substantial loss of revenue to the GRA because of their actions.
Some of the GRA officers have been working with Government for as many as 14 years.
Recently, the Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) called for the immediate re-instatement of two Internal Affairs officers who were fired on April 25.
Over two months ago, President Bharrat Jagdeo had ordered a full blown probe into possible corruption involving civil servants, and their assets, after the possible scam unearthed.
According to the President, the investigations will go beyond the Fidelity Investments fiasco.
When announcing the probe, President Jagdeo said that it came in the wake of reports that a number of people involved in revenue collection had, over time, secured millions of dollars from large businesses operating in Guyana.
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