Jun 26, 2016 News
– manager promoted by Board while he was on administrative leave
A senior Customs Officer was promoted while under investigation and on administrative leave for a tax evasion racket at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA).
Sources of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) disclosed that Roystone Nelson, the Manager (ag) of Customs Administration, was asked to report for duty in another location this week in a case that has raised serious concerns over Customs operations at the airport.
Nelson was one of several questioned in February after GRA started investigating a report that Customs officials at the airport allowed cargo to leave without the necessary taxes paid.
While Nelson and five other Customs officers were on administrative leave, the Governing Board of GRA met on April 21, and approved for him to be confirmed as a Manager of Customs Excise and Trade Operations the same day.
Last week, GRA’s Senior Manager of the Human Resources department wrote Nelson telling him that with effect from Thursday, June 23, he is to resume duties from the administrative leave. He was told, also, that he is being transferred from CJIA, to the Maritime Operations Unit, Regional Operations of the Law Enforcement and Investigation Division (LEID). It was that same division that had investigated him.
The case is raising concerns as a number of officers were implicated in receiving monies in return for allowing the cargo to leave without the applicable taxes being paid.
According to officials yesterday, on February 24, GRA received information that a quantity of cargo was being transported in motor vehicle GRR 1154 from CJIA and it may be a case of tax evasion.
A team of LEID officers shortly after on the same day, intercepted the vehicle, belonging to Zoon Online Shipping Company, at Grove, East Bank Demerara.
The occupants were unable to produce receipts that taxes and duties were paid.
The vehicle was escorted to GRA’s warehouse facilities at Eccles Industrial Site, where the cargo was checked and lodged.
A team of LEID officers journeyed to CJIA where they took custody of the Customs receipts for the day.
Six Customs officers, including Nelson, were investigated, and gave statements of their role in the cargo release.
The probe report said that Zoon wanted to settle the matter and had lodged a $1M payment.
When GRA assessed taxes and duties that Zoon should have paid on the cargo, it came up to $960,453.
GRA’s investigators believed that it was a clear case of tax evasion and forwarded a copy of the report to its Internal Affairs Division for a comprehensive investigation to be conducted since allegation made by Zoon Online claimed that Customs officers received bribes.
The report recommended a comprehensive audit at the Customs operation at the airport and for Zoon’s tax affairs to be investigated.
While Zoon should have been penalized $2.8M or three times the $960,453 in taxes and duties it was assessed, the report recommended that GRA go easy on the company as its officials had cooperated and it was the first time that it had been implicated.
The report also recommended that the informant who alerted GRA to the scam at the Timehri airport, be rewarded $96,045 or 10 percent of the assessed taxes and duties.
From statements of the implicated Customs officers and Zoon officials, it was found that a representative of the shipping company on two occasions paid a total of $800,000 to named Customs officers -Akeeba Hunte, and Marlon Garner.
One Customs officer, Maryann Ramotar, who examined the cargo, had since had her services terminated by GRA.
She claimed that she overheard conversations between her superiors, Hunte and Nelson, telling her to release the goods as the documents and money were left with the Customs cashier.
Hunte has been transferred. It is unclear what happened to Marlon Garner, the other officer who was implicated in receiving cash.
According to the report of the investigation, Leon Ramkirpaul, General Manager of Zoon Online said that he was instructed at least thrice weekly by owners Jason Singh and Fabian Shaw to allocate funds to Shane Eastman, the company’s man of business. The GM had been releasing monies ranging from $400,000 to $460,000.
However, the GM insisted that he does not see receipts of what happens with the cash he issues.
Shaw admitted that on February 16, $400,000 was handed over to Eastman who in turn had to give this to the Supervisor of Customs Operations at the airport. Another $60,000 was to pay for Customs duty and taxes, food and transportation and airport charges.
Eastman in his statement to GRA investigators admitted that on February 5 he gave “Marlon”, a Customs officer at CJIA, $400,000. He does not know what the money to the Customs officer was for.
The GRA report hinted that Zoon Online may not have been the only business which has been allowed to collect cargo without taxes and duties paid.
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