Pres. Task Force Retrieves GH¢764m

President John dramani MahamaThe Presidential Special Operations Unit (SOU) set up to check import and warehousing fraud has so far retrieved over GH¢764 million from bonded warehouse tax evaders.

A number of Customs Officers have been implicated by the defaulting companies.

The money was retrieved from a number of companies found to have evaded taxes through the use of Customs Bonded Warehouses, with the connivance of some officials.

Three Customs Officers (names withheld) are currently being investigated by the Police Criminal Investigations Department (CID), while one of them has been interdicted by the Ghana Revenue Authority for using unapproved import taxduty payment procedures in collecting taxes from the importers.

Dr. Clement Apaak, Presidential Staffer and Spokesman for the SOU, who disclosed this to The Ghanaian Times in Accra yesterday, said some of the defaulting companies claimed they did not know they were evading tax because they followed the instructions of the Customs Officers who supervised their operations.

He said some of the importers indicated that they paid import duties into bank accounts specified to them by the Customs Officers.

According to Dr. Apaak, the CID had taken statements from the defaulting companies, and would to invite all the Customs Officers whose names had been mentioned in the statements, for questioning and to aid in investigations.

“Many more are expected to be invited as per information provided by defaulting companies to the CID,” he said, adding that the managers of the defaulting companies were on police enquiry bail.

“In total, the SOU has retrieved GH¢764, 452,950.27 at the end of the second phase of work in relation to bonded warehouses on June 3, 2014,” he said, adding that other defaulters were still paying to avoid prosecution.

Explaining what he described as a disturbing trend in the bonded warehouse payment system which was discovered by the unit, Dr. Apaak disclosed that “Most bonded warehouses pay duties to government way outside the time limit allowed. Some take up to eight years to pay”.

“Until March 2014, Custom Officers and bonded warehouses in Kumasi, refused to use the electronic system that has been set up for payments.”

“Some Custom Officers are undermining the GCNET/GCMS by setting up a manual ledger payment system which is not captured by the GCMS,” he said.

He said the defaulters were being made to pay penalties on the evaded taxes as required by law.

President John Mahama in November 2012, set-up the SOU under the leadership of the Chief of Staff as a Presidential task force to identify and plug leakages in the revenue collection system at the ports, and to recommend strategies for minimising revenue losses to the state.

As part of its work, the SOU identified the bonded warehouses as a conduit via which massive fraud was being perpetrated against the State. Initial investigations largely based on data from GCNET revealed that between 2005-2012, dozens of companies, entities and individuals owed the State import duties in excess of 367 million dollars or GH¢700 million.

The May 2014 report of the Global Financial Integrity, an anti graft initiative sponsored by the Danish government, estimated that 7.32 billion dollars in capital drained out of the country illicitly through trade under-invoicing from 2002–2011.

This money represents a significant loss in domestic investment opportunities and, combined with illicit inflows of another $7.07 billion during the same period, may have led to 3.86 billion dollars in lost government revenue.

“Efforts to evade import duties through under-reporting imports seem to have increased between 2008 and 2010, with 95 percent of the cumulative 4.64 billion dollars occurring during these years. It is important for Ghanaian government authorities to continue the efforts seen in 2011 that have significantly curtailed import under-invoicing. Ghana lost 4.64 billion dollars over the decade ending 2011, due to import under-invoicing, which is 464 million dollars per year on average,” the report said.

By Edmund Mingle

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