Earlier this week, Minister of State, Joseph Harmon, in a statement defending his intervention in a Customs
operation last month to seize vehicles belonging to BaiShanLin for unpaid import taxes, claimed he did it because the Chinese Embassy said it involved a company belonging to one of their nationals.
However, it would contradict the fact that BaiShanLin’s main principal in Guyana, Chu Hongbo, is a naturalised Guyanese citizen who used his citizenship to acquire several blocks of mining lands in 2014.
It would appear from Harmon’s statement, that Chu Hongbo used his Guyanese citizenship conveniently. In the case of the GRA vehicle, he switched to his Chinese nationality.
Harmon, in his statement, insisted that he intervened after considering the importance of Guyana/China relations and the urgency of the matter.
“…I made contact with the GRA and requested the facility. This request was granted,” Harmon said.
The Minister, who is also Cabinet Secretary, came under heavy fire in recent weeks for the intervention which occurred on March 17, during the operation by the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA).
There were criticisms that he bypassed the Ministry of Finance, who has jurisdiction over GRA.
BaiShanLin, a logging company from China, came to the spotlight two years ago after it became known that the company had managed to become the second largest forest concession holder after Barama Company Limited.
It was exporting containers of raw logs monthly with little indications of the returns that Guyana was getting.
The manner of those forestry acquisitions along with the billions of dollars in tax breaks and waivers granted by the previous PPP/C government has been angering Opposition and Guyanese alike as the company has failed to honor commitments to build a wood processing plant, in keeping with an agreement signed with the previous government.
BaiShanLin, with impunity, managed to use those pieces of equipment, including trucks and excavators, to compete with locals in the transportation and even the river barge business.
The company has also been allowed to questionably purchase housing lands in Providence, East Bank Demerara and owes tens of millions for a prime hotel property it purchased from the previous Government.
The David Granger administration, while in opposition, had complained bitterly about BaiShanLin’s operations here. The coalition vowed to regularise the situation when they came to power. Minister Harmon had been one of the most vocal.
With regard to the GRA operations to seize vehicles belonging to BaiShanLin for unpaid duty Harmon said that on March 17, representation was made to him by an official of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Guyana on an urgent matter affecting one of their national’s company operations in Guyana.
“I was advised that personnel of the GRA had gone to the premises of BaiShanLin in furtherance of a Tax demand by the GRA of G$1.5 billion.”
He said that GRA personnel were intent on seizing movable assets of the company.
“The Chinese official explained that the principals of the company were not in Guyana and requested a stay of execution of the GRA’s action for 14 days pending the return of those principals, at which time they would go into the GRA to settle their indebtedness.”
The embassy officials, according to Harmon, also gave the assurance that none of the assets of the company would be removed, during that grace period.
“Considering the importance of Guyana/China relations and the urgency of the matter, I made contact with the GRA and requested the facility. This request was granted.”
GRA had gone ahead and seized two vehicles, including a luxury Lexus SUV.
It was the Guyana Geology and Mines Commission (GGMC) which first broke the news one year ago that Chu Hongbo has become a naturalized Guyanese and thus was entitled to acquire mining properties.
In fact, 98 of his Mining Permits listed were won via an open competitive bidding process in 2014.
Last year, it was reported that months before becoming a naturalized Guyanese, Chu Hongbo, had a Guyanese holding almost 700,000 hectares of state lands for him.
The forested lands were immediately transferred to Chu and BaiShan Lin’s control after the Chinese investor received his Guyanese citizenship in 2014.
The transaction has raised several questions, one of which is why concerns were not triggered by the Guyana Forestry Commission (GFC) and the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) that a Guyanese who is not a known logger, could be given control of such a large swath of forest as well as the legality of it being transferred later to Chu.
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