Despite glaring evidence of corruption, the Guyana Revenue Authority appears to be deliberately shielding two
Customs Officers who according to reports are favoured by those at the very top of the organization’s administration.
The officers, who were found to be guilty of colluding with a local businessman to defraud the state of taxes, remain on the job and there is no indication that action will be taken against them soon.
This situation flies in the face of Commissioner General Khurshid Sattaur, who has been openly boasting that as Head of the GRA, he runs a tight ship and will not tolerate corruption by his officers.
But reliable sources have told this newspaper that the officers fingered in the scam are enjoying the protection of the GRA Commissioner General, who for some strange reason played no part in ordering the probe, although he was fully aware of the scam.
In fact, it was left up to Sattaur’s Deputy, Clement Sealey, to initiate action that led to the investigation that exposed the corrupt officers.
The two Customs Officers are accused of facilitating the removal of a quantity of goods from the Laparkan Trading Co. Ltd. Customs Bond located at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri without the payment of applicable customs duty and taxes to the GRA.
An investigation found that the officers accepted a sum of money to allow the businessman to evade taxes.
Claims of Sattaur protecting the officers have not surprised many at the Guyana Revenue Authority.
According to a source, the fact that Sattaur employs his children and close relatives at the GRA, has compromised the professionalism of the tax collection agency.
This stance against the two Customs Officers has angered several senior officials attached to the GRA, who have been observing Sattaur’s double standards as it relates to his public position on tax evasion in Guyana, while protecting his own officers found to be engaged in illegal tax evasion.
Following a report by one of the disgruntled officers, who was on duty at the CJIA when the scam occurred and who was left out of the deal, an investigation was launched by GRA’s Law Enforcement and Investigation Division (LEID).
During the course of the investigations, the two officers implicated, Phil Surooj and Gordon Richards, both conceded by way of statements to LEID ranks that they facilitated the release of goods unlawfully with no duties being paid.
A bribe of $80,000 is said to be the inducement for the Customs Officers to release the items consigned to a Robb Street business.
When interviewed on July 1, Surooj reportedly told LEID Officers that, during April 2014, he examined and released goods at Amerijet and Laparkan Bonds at the CJIA.
He said that while on duty at Amerijet Bond, he was approached by a Customs Broker, who solicited his help on behalf of Customs Officer Richards and who gave him an Airways Bill consigned to the Robb Street Company, along with $80,000.
According to Surooj, he observed that the cargo listed on the Airways Bill, consigned to the company was plastic trays and he and Kissoon proceeded to Laparkan Bond at CJIA, where they met the Bond Supervisor.
He told investigators that he accompanied the Bond Supervisor and the Customs Broker into the bond, where he observed 12 boxes of old goods but did not examine the goods; neither did he see any Customs documents.
According to Surooj, he then instructed the release of the said goods without the payment of the Customs duty and taxes to GRA and also instructed that the goods be released to the Broker, for which he collected a bribe of $80,000.
Richards in his statement, confessed that on April 9, he met a Customs Broker, who gave him $80,000 wrapped in an Airways bill and indicated that it was to pay his taxes for goods stored in the Laparkan Bond at the CJIA.
Richards said he took the money with the intent of working at Laparkan Bond that day but there was a change of plans and he was instead detailed to work as a cashier for that day.
He said that as the cashier, he was in no position to assist the Broker, so he met with his Assistant and gave him the parcel with the money that he had received the previous day.
The parcel was subsequently returned to the Broker, Richards said.
Richards further stated that he indicated that he was aware that Officer Surooj was on duty at Laparkan and Amerijet Bonds, therefore he contacted him via telephone and requested that he assist the Broker.
When Surooj agreed to help, Richards made arrangements for him to receive the money from the Broker which was done through his assistant.
From the statements given by the two officers, it is clear that they were involved in a transaction that was designed to defraud the state.
It is also believed that they are part of an ongoing scheme that involves the waiving of customs fees for imported good once the price is right.
The subsequent report which was based on the investigations done was reviewed by Wesley Duke, Assistant Commissioner, LEID and Karen Chapman, Deputy Commissioner at GRA who both signed off on the report on September 30 last.
Clement Sealy, the Deputy Commissioner recommended the report and signed off on October 2.
However, although the report was to be approved by Commissioner General Khurshid Sattaur, this was not done and it was left up to Sealey to do so on his behalf.
While there has been a recommendation that charges be pursued against all three of the individuals involved, this is yet to be done.
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