Despite warnings and crackdowns, it appears that the illegal trade in cigarettes and liquor is continuing unabated.
In the past week alone, the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) seized hundreds of cases of liquor which had none of the special security-featured revenue stamps on them.
The sudden raids are targeting major hotels and restaurants.
In all, more than 750 cases were seized, Kaieteur News was told.
According to well-placed sources, surprise visits occurred at the Pegasus Hotel and the Sleepin Int’l locations and reportedly at the Kanuku Suites, Campbellville, among other places.
Both of the Sleepin locations- on Church Street and Brickdam- were said to have been visited.
Several hundred cases of high-end liquor were seized in total at various facilities, Kaieteur News was told.
The establishments were unable to explain why the special excise stamps were not on the bottles.
The visits reportedly involved several officials of GRA’s Law Enforcement and Investigation Division (LEID).
The clampdowns will be continuing in the coming weeks with GRA indicating that raids will be carried out routinely.
The clampdown would come after importers and retailers were given a March cut-off time to get rid of their old stocks.
After then, they were supposed to purchase the special stamps which are affixed to the cork area.
Smuggling of cigarettes and alcohol is big business in Guyana. It is worth almost $2B annually.
GRA wants its taxes.
However, smuggling and a ready market have been presenting an uphill battle for GRA.
In fact, big names like Absolut, Grey Goose and Ciroc Vodkas, Johnny Walker, Hennessy cognac, Jose Cuervo tequila and the Yellow Tail wines and even beers are being smuggled.
Under regulations, GRA can slap guilty drinking spots with fines up to three times the value of the seized liquor with charges and seizure after three occasions.
GRA would be battling a country-wide problem with a ready supply from neighbouring Suriname.
Many of the night-spots with a thirsty clientele have a ready market for especially whisky and the vodkas.
GRA is now setting to deal also with cigarette smuggling.
All packets have to be affixed with stamps after November 1, following notification by GRA earlier this year.
GRA has been increasing its controls with several seizures recorded for the year, netting the agency millions of dollars in what otherwise would have been lost taxes.
Using a mobile scanner, enforcement officers could determine right away whether the taxes have been paid or attempts were made to forge the stamps on alcohol and cigarettes.
GRA says it has internal controls that can tell which batch of stamps has been affixed to which imported liquor.
After careful assessment, recognizing the impact of smuggling on taxes, GRA said it had decided to engage Canadian Bank Note (CBN), the company, which has been working on the security on Guyana’s bank notes, to come up with a programme to ensure that import liquor can be tracked.
Once liquor lands legally in Guyana and the taxes are paid, it is released and the importers will have the job to affix the stamps on the sealed covers.
The cost for stamps on imported alcohol is $16, with the one for tobacco being $8. This is on top of the taxes and duties, and will have a recovery cost. GRA is estimating that smuggled alcohol is about 60-70 percent of what is imported annually.
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