Jan 23, 2016 News
-illegally shared information with embassy
-collected Govt. pension while on the job
-Tax Chief insists he was asked to do illegal things
The Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) has launched an investigation into a suspicious $12M pension payment that Commissioner-General, Khurshid Sattaur, received shortly before the May 11 General Elections last year.
The transaction was one of several reasons that prompted GRA’s Governing Board of Directors on Thursday to terminate the services of the embattled tax chief.
Several senior GRA officials were present yesterday at the entity’s Camp Street Headquarters to explain the sacking.
According to Chairman, Rawle Lucas, the Board during its 171st meeting, decided to end GRA’s relationship with Sattaur. The decision was spurred by a number of considerations.
During a recent meeting with the Board, Sattaur, who was sent on more than 200 days leave last month to facilitate a forensic audit, admitted that he broke confidentiality rules of GRA when he shared information on taxpayers with unauthorized third parties.
The Board, Lucas said, learnt that approximately one month before the May General Elections last year, the Commissioner General divulged sensitive GRA information to persons who were not authorized to receive such information.
This particular issue is not new to Sattaur. In late 2014, he was implicated in an explosive leaked email in which he is alleged to have shared tax information on Kaieteur News, the country’s leading newspaper, with ex-President Bharrat Jagdeo and former Attorney General, Anil Nandlall.
The email indicated a plot to bring down the newspaper. The newspaper’s Publisher, Glenn Lall, and his wife were also targeted—they were placed before the court on a charge of evasion of tax duties. Those charges were later dropped.
Yesterday, Sattaur admitted that he indeed shared information but it was with a local embassy and that the person involved was not a taxpayer (SEE additional statement issued by Sattaur),
The sharing of information to unauthorized third parties is strictly forbidden by GRA’s secrecy regulations.
However, Lucas argued that the transaction only benefitted Sattaur and not the citizens of Guyana.
The official also disclosed that GRA discovered that Sattaur had a safe in his Goedverwagting, East Coast Demerara home. That safe was supposed to be under the control of the Head of GRA’s Information Technology Division. It was normally used for storing confidential taxpayers’ data.
Questioned, Sattaur claimed that the safe was in his home on account of his son, who is an Information Technology operator at GRA.
But aside from this, GRA also found a number of other questionable things about Sattaur’s presence at GRA.
For instance, weeks before the November 2011 elections, Sattaur decided to voluntarily end his employment with GRA. He opted for his pension. Reportedly, he would have received millions in a lump sum.
Those payments to Sattaur would have had to be approved by the former GRA Board of Directors and former Minister of Finance, Dr. Ashni Singh.
Since 2011, Sattaur has been receiving his pension with the last payment made this month.
The problem with this arrangement that after the 2011 elections, Sattaur somehow stayed on as the tax chief of the country without a written contract. GRA officials looking into the arrangement could find no contract, implying it was an oral one.
According to the Chairman, investigations by the Board found that Sattaur was appointed Commissioner-General on September 1, 2003 by ex-President, Bharrat Jagdeo.
However, the power to appoint was placed in the hands of the Governing Board of Directors when new GRA laws were passed.
Lucas said that from all indications it appeared that Sattaur was on an implied contract which meant that another transaction that was discovered was highly questionable.
It was explained that though he retired since 2011 from being a permanent staffer of GRA, Sattaur shortly before the 2015 elections filed backdated claims from a pension scheme that GRA had for staffers. He collected $12M. He dated his claim back to 2007.
GRA’s legal team was asked to advise on the legality of the transaction but, according to the Chairman, it could not provide any legal basis for what appears, at first glance, a highly irregular course of action- that is that Sattaur was a permanent staffer and not on contract.
“The Board regarded this action as inimical to the public interest and highly prejudicial to the interest of the Guyana Revenue Authority.”
The Board also found another problem with Sattaur’s handling of the affairs of GRA.
Two vehicles, one of which had been gifted to GRA, were found with the same registration plates.
Asked about it, Sattaur at first could not recall who gave GRA the vehicle. He did eventually provide some helpful information, Lucas said.
It was found that the gifted vehicle was driven by a person not doing GRA’s business.
That matter is under investigation also.
“It is in light of the foregoing factors, that the Board found it to be in the public’s best interest to discontinue the working relationship between Mr. Sattaur and the Guyana Revenue Authority.”
Questioned yesterday, Lucas confirmed that the sharing of information by Sattaur was not related to the highly publicized one involving Kaieteur News. He also could not speak of other cases.
However, GRA has records of what Sattaur told the Board when he met with them recently.
GRA is currently putting measures in place to ensure taxpayers’ information is kept even safer and prevent staffers on leave, especially, from having access.
Lucas made it clear that of priority at the moment will be providing the enabling environment for GRA staffers to carry out their mandate. He said that any action taken by the Board is purely intended to make the tax collection agency stronger.
Asked about whether GRA is likely to pursue criminal charges against Sattaur, the Chairman disclosed that GRA is examining its options.
Late last month, shortly after the Commissioner General was sent on leave, GRA officials descended on his home, removing hard drives, an IPAD and other items. Also removed were four of six GRA vehicles Sattaur had at his home.
The allegations against Sattaur would raise alarm bells over the manner in which the previous administration was managing GRA, the country’s premier tax collection agency.
A number of frauds involving duty free concession have been uncovered in the past but there has been little word from Sattaur and GRA over the status of the probes.
Recently, Lucas disclosed that tax compliance was a major problem for GRA with an initial assessment by the new government finding worrying signs, especially in economic hotspots across the country.
The current disclosures about GRA would raise serious questions about the level of oversight by the previous administration on the state-owned agency.
With alleged, widespread corruption on the wharves and a large number of non-compliant taxpayers, GRA had overtime become feared as an entity for another reason- that it could be used as a weapon by the administration against taxpayers.
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