– Over 60 Venezuelans trawlers slip in and out of the Demerara River weekly, each capable of fetching 25,000 gallons
More details are emerging over the massive, countrywide fuel-smuggling racket allowed under the watch of the
Guyana Energy Agency (GEA) and Guyana Revenue Authority.
Evidence, this time around, indicates that the racket is very “extensive.”
According to Government officials and sources close to the regulatory agency, an estimated $150M is being lost weekly from taxes, since the GEA neglects to carry out mandatory checks and balances along the Demerara, Essequibo and Cuyuni Rivers.
Indications are that for the longest while, fishing trawlers from Venezuela have been coming under the guise of doing business with local companies here. While some of them are legitimate; bringing fish or buying fish and other grocery to take back to Venezuela, a number of the Spanish vessels are really here to sell fuel.
Many of them have modified their tanks, with some having the capacity to fetch up to 25,000 gallons at any one time. An average of 60 to 70 of these ‘fishing’ vessels are said to be visiting areas along the Demerara River weekly.
About 50 of them have modified their tanks to smuggle more fuel. This does not include the fuel coming in through local smugglers.
From the Venezuelan vessels alone at least $150M in taxes that should have been paid, are lost weekly.
The boats are supposed to moor at the Stabroek Market area, at the Customs Boathouse for Immigration and other checks.
However, in most cases, the boats bypass the checkpoint and go their merry way to designated wharves where they discharge the smuggled the fuel.
Many of the crew members would disembark and can often be seen making their way through the La Penitence area to Lombard Street en route to the Stabroek Market, daily.
“We are aware that Immigration is not even aware that these people are here,” a whistleblower ex-GEA staff said this week.
There have been growing complaints of smuggled fuel, with the David Granger-led administration reportedly paying attention after it became clear that the country was losing billions of dollars annually, in revenues.
The Demerara River drop-off points are but a tip of the iceberg of what is taking place in the fuel sector.
On Friday, a report in Kaieteur News, taken from whistleblowers and knowledgeable Government officials familiar with the fuel importation business, said that more than half of the fuel that is brought in annually is through illegal means.
With Guyana importing more the US$560M in legal fuel in 2014, according to GEA figures, the loss of taxes is astronomical, rivaling lucrative trades like gold and drugs.
Revenues from both gas and diesel, especially, have been one of the biggest earners for Government over the years.
Despite significant evidence of fuel smuggling, GEA has managed only a few convictions in court.
Former staffers have been alleging that they were discouraged from pursuing some known businessmen who are involved in smuggling.
There are also indications that GEA doled out import licences to persons who were not eligible, as some did not even have vessels or storage facilities for fuel.
The Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), under new management and a new Board of Directors, has expressed alarm about the level of tax leakages and non-compliance.
The massive loss from fuel smuggling would be a hard pill to swallow for taxpayers, especially employees, who believe that they are paying too much.
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