An entire Customs team that was fingered in a tax evasion scheme at the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (CJIA) has been removed with officials indicating that investigations are not yet over.
Questioned yesterday about the case, Chairman of the Governing Board of Directors of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), Rawle Lucas, disclosed that the entity is still in the process of taking some decisions.
A report in Sunday’s edition of Kaieteur News detailed a probe of alleged bribery at the airport in February by Zoon Online Shipping Company.
Six Customs officials, including Manager (ag), Royston Nelson, were under investigation after a whistleblower alerted GRA to a possible case of tax evasion.
Yesterday, the Chairman said that the Kaieteur News story did not take full account of the facts of the case.
“It is true that an internal investigation was done with the report submitted to the board,” he said.
The board then sought legal advice on how to proceed.
GRA’s Legal Department would have reviewed the report and additional evidence. The conclusions by the Legal Department were “vastly different” from what appeared in Kaieteur News report, Lucas said.
Indeed, a number of officers who were “maligned” were cleared.
As a matter of fact, he said, the investigation report of the April 14, revealed no direct or circumstantial evidence to indicate that Nelson was involved with Zoon or had direct knowledge of the February 24 transaction that sparked the investigation.
A copy of a report in possession of Kaieteur News contained statements of a junior staffer who claimed she overheard Nelson and a supervisor ordering that cargo for Zoon be released with the applicable payment of taxes and duties.
Questioned about why GRA promoted and transferred Nelson to the Law Enforcement and Investigation Department Division (LEID) even while he was on administrative leave, the Chairman explained that in March 2015, Nelson was interviewed by a GRA panel for the position at CJIA.
It was felt that the interviewing panel was not properly constituted.
Based on legal advice, Lucas said, it was determined that the panel was properly constituted and Nelson’s hiring was above board. The confirmation and transfer of Nelson to another department was in keeping with legal advice, the official said.
With regards to what happens to the rest of the Customs officers who were implicated in the CJIA transaction with Zoon, Lucas disclosed that the process of dealing with the officers is continuing and some decisions will have to be taken.
GRA decided that it was a good idea to shift everyone from the “affected area”… “infected area” with the investigation still not over yet, Lucas assured.
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.
According to officials, on February 24, last, GRA received information that a quantity of cargo was being transported in motor vehicle GRR 1154 from CJIA and that 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, in the possession of Kaieteur News, 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.
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.
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