A fuel boat seized last month was released last week after the owners reported paid the $30M-plus in taxes that was due.
Commissioner-General of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), Godfrey Statia, would only confirm that the vessel, the Jubilee, which is locally owned, was released after the taxes were paid.
Questioned about regulations which say that GRA can fine a vessel or smuggler up to three times the value of the cargo, the official noted that this was the first offence.
Under regulations, smuggled goods are held until the taxes due are paid.
Second time offenders will be liable to pay three times the duties and taxes as a fine. Third time offenders may be prosecuted and/or be allowed to pay three times the value of the item as a fine, as compensation in lieu of court proceedings.
These offences in many cases also result in seizure of the goods and confiscation of the vehicles involved.
In the case of Jubilee, authorities had been checking whether the vessel had been coming regularly to Guyana and passing the Demerara Harbour Bridge. The idea was the gauge what taxes would have been paid as against the cargo declared.
For this time, it appears that there was little that GRA could have done to nail Jubilee.
The vessel was detained after it was seen on the Demerara River late last month.
Officials of GRA and the Guyana Energy Agency boarded the vessel and found that it did not check in to be recorded when it passed the city’s Boat House area, at the Stabroek Market.
In fact, it was only after it was boarded by officials from Customs and the Guyana Energy Agency (GEA) that attempts were made to do so.
The vessel, Jubilee, is said to be linked to a prominent businessman and a member of the legal fraternity.
On the vessel, authorities found over 200,000 gallons of fuel that had not been declared. If that vessel had gone scot-free, would have seen the state losing in excess of $36M in taxes.
The boat was ordered held in the Demerara River under guard.
GRA had not ruled out placing a fine on the captain. Last year, it fined a captain $20M for a similar incident with a fuel smuggling boat.
With up to 50 percent tax on imported fuel, smuggling has been a major illegal business with hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes lost every year by the government.
With regard to the incident, GEA officials reportedly spotted the fuel boat in the Demerara River but there seemed to have been no indications that it reported to the Boat House, located at Stabroek Market area.
Officials of Customs and the Maritime Administration are stationed there. They are supposed to record the entries. Customs is supposed to check if there are items to be declared.
On the boat, that the fuel was found, the officials who boarded it were reportedly told that the vessel had fuel for Suriname but that the captain was not around to verify this.
GRA said that there was a time when it was easier to monitor when five or six import licences were issued by GEA.
However, there are almost 100 licences issued to persons and companies for the importation of fuel.
With billions of dollars in fuel purchased annually, the profits are enormous for smugglers who make it through and don’t have to pay the 50 percent tax.
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