A Government-ordered independent probe into a reported racket involving duty-free concessions for vehicles has implicated two top officials of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA).
A senior Government official yesterday confirmed that the investigations were quietly ordered by the Office of the President earlier this year with the report fingering the senior official and one of his top aides who works in the Tax Exemption Processing and Verification.
The probe was launched after complaints were made into the scheme which saw hundreds of millions of dollars being diverted from the tax coffers.
The revelations would come as GRA Commissioner General, Khurshid Sattaur, is in deep trouble with his independence being questioned after a series of shocking email were published in Kaieteur News. These indicated the release of sensitive tax information for private media houses. The information was sent to former President Bharrat Jagdeo.
The email spoke of a plot to silence media houses, including Kaieteur News, which are highly critical of the government policies and projects and the way taxpayers’ dollars are being spent.
According to the government official, who asked not to be named, the duty free concession racket involved vehicles imported by persons posing as remigrants and even investors.
The top GRA official is the one with the final say for waiving the taxes and granting the concessions. It is being reported that scores of high-end vehicles, including Mercedes Benz and Lexus, were brought in without the taxes being paid.
In most cases, locals were able to enlist the help of relatives and others who applied for and were granted duty free concessions under the remigrant programme which allows returning Guyanese to bring back vehicles.
The problem, the investigators found, was that most of the remigrants never even resettled. They returned quietly back to the US or Canada. GRA either deliberately or by simply being inefficient lapsed in ensuring that the conditions of the concessions were complied with. The GRA should ensure that the remigrants are living in Guyana.
In one case, the uncle of a senior Government official brought in a Mercedes Benz and sold it, raking in millions. After word came that the circumstance of the vehicle importation was being questioned, the vehicle was hidden. Kaieteur News has been able to acquire details.
In the case of the investors, the GRA official using his offices at GRA was able to grant duty free concessions to several companies which were in the first place not even eligible for the types of vehicles being allowed.
Another case that is under the spotlight involves a number of SUVs brought in by a Guyanese diplomat posted to the US. He brought the vehicles, reportedly, applying for it as an investor. However, the vehicles were soon sold.
Among the most common vehicles were the Infiniti Q series, the Lexus and to a lesser extent, Hummers.
The report, according to the Government official, clearly shows that GRA systems are being manipulated at the very top or that there are proper checks to ensure that the conditions of the duty free concessions are being complied with. Or it could be a case of both.
With its windfall from the Value Added Tax, Government has been comfortable with its revenues. But there have been criticisms that the poor man, through the income tax system and VAT, are the ones paying the price while hundreds of millions of dollars are allowed to slip through the back door, going uncollected because of fraud at GRA or through non-compliance by taxpayers.
Meanwhile a formal complaint has been launched against Sattaur to the local accountancy body over the leaked tax information. And the main Opposition faction, A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), has signaled its intentions to file charges against him.
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