General News of Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Source: Business Day

Customs officials to face prosecution for stealing Ghc735m

The prosecution of customs officials and managers of companies who were indicted for massive fraud at customs bonded warehouses would soon begin, Dr. Clement Apaak, Presidential Staffer, told Business Day in an interview in Accra.

Last October, about 290 public and private entities were said to have connived with customs officials to evade taxes to the tune of Ghc735 million.

The presidential taskforce which uncovered the fraud gave the companies up to November last year to pay the taxes and its accumulated interests.

Government retrieved Ghc320 million from some of the companies before the deadline expired.

The Criminal Investigations Department (CID) Unit of the Ghana Police Service took over the investigations as some of the companies failed to comply with the order.

Business Day can confirm that the CID unit has invited and paid unannounced visits to some companies and the bonded warehouse to question suspects.

A number of customs officials and employees of some of the indicted companies have since been arrested and granted bail.

In one of the cases, two customs officials were ar­rested and granted bail to the tune of 20 million Ghana Cedis. In another instance, a customs officer and an employee of an­other company have also been granted bail for conniving to clear over 270,000 bags of rice without paying tax­es at the bonded warehouse.

Presi­dential Staffer and a member of the taskforce told Business Day Ghana that the CID Unit is almost done with the investigations, paving the way for the trial to begin.

"With the CID investigations, some company officials actually connived with some state officials to dupe the state without the knowledge of the leadership of those companies. So sooner or later, some prosecutions are set to begin," Dr. Apaak said.

The CID has been very active on that file, travelling around the country, collecting statements and granting bail. I won't mention the names of the companies, but that will be in the public domain soon," he said.

Business Day has also learnt that more companies have paid the evaded taxes and associated charges after their engagements with the CID. But Dr. Apaak said this will not stop the prosecutions.

“Our records show that, since then, many other companies are paying. But that doesn’t mean they will be left off the hook.

We are still going to hold them accountable not only to show that the state must be taken seriously at all timed, but also to indicate that companies have the responsibility to ensure that their as­signees and officials who deal with institutions are mandated by law to do what is in the interest of the state. So they must always cross-check at all times to make sure that they make the right payments to the right agencies, not to give their monies to unscrupulous public officials to defraud the state,” he warned.

Meanwhile, the presidential taskforce said it will not bow to pressure from importers to suspend a directive for the clearing of non-perishable goods. The importers have up to Wednesday, April 23 to clear their cargo or forfeit them as part of an exercise to decongest the ports.