The Customs Division of the (GRA) is investigating two shipping lines and agents who connived to falsify information on trade documents to pay lesser duties and taxes to the government.
The process involves the misdescription of the goods to obtain priority clearance and avoid the payment of the full taxes due to the state.
Alhaji Seidu Iddrisu Iddisah, the Commissioner of the Customs Division, who disclosed this in an interview, said the Division, acting on intelligence on the two companies and importers, discovered that they had dotted their bills of lading in clearing goods from the Tema Port.
He said the goods were targeted and intercepted for physical examination and the results indicated that the descriptions of goods on the Bill of Entry (BOE) were different from the physical goods found in the container.
“The actual description of the consignments were footwear, bags, belts, underwear, galvanized pipes, etc. as against the entered description of Knapsack Sprayer,” he said.
Alhaji Iddisah said after the revelation, Management tasked Internal Audit as well as Post Clearance Audit (PCA) Department to conduct an audit on the identified agents and importers in accordance with sections 7 and 9 of the Customs Act 2015 (Act 891) and the World Customs Organisation Revised Kyoto Convention.
The audit found that 23 Bills of Entry (BOEs), with 22 belonging to one shipping line, had their entries dotted and some of the imports declared by the identified companies were misdescribed and misclassified as well as undervalued for purposes of paying lower Customs duties and taxes.
He said an audit of just one of the Bills of Entry showed a tax evasion of GH₵10.15 million.
The audit also showed that some Agents processed customs declarations with inaccurate particulars with the aim of paying lower Customs duties and taxes while providing cloned Customs declarations containing actual descriptions of the goods, the actual Customs value, and duty rates and collected the amount payable from the importer.
“So, it means they’re cheating both the importers and the government. So, we went to the importers he will show you a customs declaration that they gave to him but that was not what he submitted to us,” he said.
Alhaji Iddisah said during the investigation the two companies admitted that their officers had falsified the actual description of the goods which was submitted from the ship to them, adding that investigations were still ongoing to find out the level of collaboration with the importers.
“We want all those involved and we want to give a warning to everybody that you cannot hide whatever happens it will come up and those who are into that practice can own up,” he added.
It was additionally revealed that the Bills of Lading from the shipping lines and invoices declared to Customs were falsified by the local shipping line.
Alhaji Iddisah said following the discovery of the discrepancies, management had decided to expand investigations to the past six years to find out other companies engaged in the negative practice.
He said while management was not ruling out the connivance of customs officers, investigations were yet to actually establish the involvement of officers, adding that the initial intelligence came from the officers.
Alhaji Iddisah said demand notices had been issued for retrieving the taxes and penalties lost to the state and investigations were ongoing, which might lead to prosecution.
To further improve monitoring, Alhaji Iddisah said the Division was shifting the monitoring away from the ports to the headquarters to ensure effective supervision, adding that while trying to facilitate speedy clearance via the green channel, Customs had now created a holding area to allow the officers to go through the screening properly and to call for re-examination if necessary.
“In fact, since we reintroduce it a lot of containers which are passed through the green channel have been reexamined at the port and the differences have been critical and we’ve given them penalties,” he added.