Customs Officer suspended after collecting fuel tax in hotel room

By Kaieteur News,

A senior Customs Officer has been sent on leave and police called in after he was accused of collecting millions of dollars in fuel tax from an Essequibo dealer.
According to a complaint filed by the dealer, the Customs officer was accused of collecting, on separate occasions at a city hotel, a total of US$40,000 for outstanding fuel tax. Another sum was also paid on a street corner.

The unusual matter only came to light late last month after the fuel dealer wrote Commissioner-General of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), Godfrey Statia and copied it to President David Granger and Ministry of Finance, Winston Jordan, among others.
The letter detailed the allegations which immediately saw the GRA springing into action.
Kaieteur News was told that Customs officer was summoned from Morawhanna, a Region One outpost where boats would pass from Venezuela and where GRA has placed personnel.

According to the Essequibo fuel dealer in his letter to GRA, also released to Kaieteur News, he has been purchasing fueling from Venezuelan boat at Morawhanna, paying the necessary taxes and transporting the fuel to Port Kaituma, a Region One area, for sale to miners.
The dealer said that the Customs officer was fully aware of his transactions, as he has to be notified. It was explained that GRA started a system where dealers can pay their taxes right at Morawhanna from July 2018. Before that, dealers had to come all the way to Georgetown to pay at the GRA office.

The dealer said that at Morawhanna, no valuation of the fuel is done or Customs entries prepared. Rather, all the taxes collected are per barrel, with receipts issued.
According to the dealer, he made payments until September 2018. However, it all changed from October. The dealer said from October to December, he purchased 800 drums, 800 drums and 920 drums respectively. He claimed that when he went to pay the taxes, the Customs officer, who is in charge of the area, told him that there will be no collection at Morawhanna, and that the two must meet up in Georgetown for the payments to be made.
The Customs officer also wanted the payments in US dollars.
According to the dealer in his letter, in the latter part of October, he met with the Customs officer in a room at a city hotel. The official was dressed in his uniform.

The dealer said his wife and another man witnessed the handing over of the money. He was promised his receipt would be waiting for him at Morawhanna.
“Before he left, he cocked his pistol and then placed the money in his trousers waist,” the dealer claimed in his letter.
In mid-November, the dealer claimed that he again met the Customs officer in the same hotel room for monies to be paid for the November shipments. Some US$20,000 was handed over.

Again, the same two witnesses saw the money being handed over.
According to the dealer, he was called in mid-December for the payments to be handed over for that month’s fuel that had passed through Morawhanna.
A taxi driver was given the job to deliver the money to the Customs officer, who allegedly collected it at the corner of Albert and Charlotte Streets, where the GRA’s VAT offices were once located.
The dealer, in his complaint to GRA, said that the taxi driver was with his wife when the Customs officer collected the third sum of money, US$23,000.
The dealer said that despite numerous meetings and calls, the Customs officer has failed to produce the GRA receipts for the money that was handed over on the three occasions.

The dealer said that he trusted the Customs officer and had all the confidence that he would issue the receipts.
The dealer complained that the Customs officer has now stopped taking his calls and is being “negative”.
Yesterday, GRA’s Commissioner-General Godfrey Statia would only say that the authority is probing a complaint and that police have been called in.
However, other officials said that Customs officer after arriving from Morawhanna, was placed on administrative leave and that GRA investigators and the police’s Criminal Investigations Department (CID) are involved.

GRA has been battling corruption among its ranks for years with more than 100 staffers fired over the last three years, under the Coalition Government.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are said to be lost every year to the coffers of Guyana because of corruption involving Customs officers, at wharves and border locations.