Sep 30, 2012 News
– $700M in duties lost
Over $700M in duties and taxes is believed to have not gone to the state’s coffers in what is turning out to have been an elaborate scheme involving the use of duty-free concession letters.
From all indications, the scam may have spanned several government departments.
Although government has reportedly ordered a probe into the issuance of the letters over the past week, they have been tight-lipped.
According to GRA sources, President Donald Ramotar has reportedly become involved in the matter and recently a senior official was summoned to the Office of the President to provide some insight.
Earlier this year, two persons from the Remission Unit of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) were reportedly dismissed for forging the signatures on the duty-free letters.
But recent incidents have indicated that the scam may have been deeper than originally thought. This time around, the letters were said to be the real thing, bearing the signatures of top GRA officials.
According to government sources, checks at the GRA’s Remission Unit found that around 500 duty-free letters would have been issued to miners for the year.
However, the main government agency tasked with authenticating the miners’ credentials, the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC), has reportedly only green-lighted around 75 of these.
As a result, it is believed that at least 425 transactions for the year may have been processed at GRA involving some degree of illegality.
Recently, the state-owned tax collection agency admitted that it had suspended three officers for allegedly demanding money from a Kuru Kururu businesswoman from whom they seized an ATV that was later discovered to have been subject to the fraudulent granting of partial remission of the taxes. GRA had said that it had launched its own probe.
According to a GRA statement last week, “Mr. Khurshid Sattaur disclosed that the results of the preliminary investigations revealed that the officers were involved in the criminal act. Their suspension will pave the way for a full and more thorough inquiry to be conducted, that may lead to their dismissal, and charges being laid against them.”
The businesswoman, Marsha Chase, had claimed that she would import ATVs and sell them to miners. She would pay in excess of $1.5M duties and taxes on each ATV. However, the woman claimed that GRA officials from the Remission Unit, which deals in duty-free letters, told her earlier this year that she could qualify for duty-free concessions as a miner. The officers allegedly claimed that they were in a position to help her acquire the necessary documents. They reportedly charged her between $500,000 and $600,000 for each duty-free letter.
The woman said she received letters for at least five of the four-wheel motorbikes, which are a preferred mode of transportation for miners and hinterland residents.
However, the affair came to light in August after officers of GRA’s Law Enforcement and Investigation Division stopped a truck with one of the ATVs and discovered that the paperwork was not right.
The businesswoman claimed that she was asked to pay over $500,000 or two ounces of gold.
She refused and the ATV was seized. She later gave a statement to GRA senior officials and pointed out one of the officers who allegedly asked her to pay a bribe. Chase was reportedly prepared to strike a deal with GRA to testify against the officers, but this all changed when she was sent assessment letters asking her to pay over $8M in penalties and duties.
Sources are saying that it is believed that GRA staffers may have been in cahoots with GGMC staffers.
It is unclear at the moment how deep the racket runs. The letters allow for duties to be waived. But only bona fide miners are eligible for the letters and will have to prove they are miners. This means that the GGMC, which regulates miners, will have to authenticate registration and other documents.
But Kaieteur News understands that two staffers sent home earlier this year at GRA were junior employees.
The ATVs are being sold in some cases for as much as $3M. Farmers and miners are the ones that can apply for the tax waivers. They would have to submit approval documents from the relevant agencies and ministries, including the Ministry of Agriculture and the GGMC, among other relevant entities, to GRA, where they will be checked before approval is granted.
According to GRA sources, in all likelihood, the supporting documents were not submitted.
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