(Trinidad Express) A racket involving a number of foreign used car dealers has been unearthed at the Licensing Office, prompting Transport Minister Devant Maharaj to call on Commissioner of Police Dwayne Gibbs to intervene and probe it.
In a letter to Gibbs dated April 16, Maharaj stated an audit was conducted which found several cases of corruption and fraudulent activities at the Licensing Office.
Maharaj noted that Fraud Squad officers were called in and provided with certain documents relating to corruption. However, he requested Gibbs take steps to ensure the police expedite the probe.
It is understood that a foreign used car dealer used false documents to sell a Prado to a Government Minister which he bought for his personal use.
Contacted yesterday by the Express, Maharaj confirmed he wrote to Gibbs but refused to divulge further information, saying he did not want to compromise investigations.
He stressed that millions of dollars were being lost in revenue because of corruption at the Licensing Authority and immediate action must be taken.
The Express obtained a copy of a memorandum which reflected the findings of the audit prepared by a senior audit analyst at the Ministry of Transport in January.
Foreign used car dealers and corrupt licensing officers have been identified in the illegal practices and names are stated in the report.
“To delve into every aspect of the nefarious scheme uncovered in every facet of the foreign used car registration will make this report onerous and cumbersome. Suffice it to say that every aspect, every single step along the process has been compromised, subverted and overturned, or, to put another way, every road sign ignored, every traffic light broken and every regulation side-stepped,” stated the senior audit analyst.
According to the report, some foreign used dealers were involved in corrupt activities to avoid paying motor vehicle taxes and other fees relative to the importation of vehicles.
The report stated records of motor vehicle taxes were generated “in house” to show payment and to insert the approval for vehicles that were not imported, but put together from assembled parts.
“Bills of lading have been reused over and over for ghost vehicles without even changing the original information to make it apply to the ghost vehicles being declared,” stated the report.
“Dealers’ invoices and Caricom invoices are either reused or falsified. Cancellation certificates are not authentic, forged or simply doctored before or after reaching this country,” it added.
Upon false registration of the vehicle, entries into the ledgers and records of the Licensing Authority are falsified to give the appearance of a legitimate transaction.
The report stated many Japanese vehicles exceeded the four-year limit— some even predating to 2002.
“Many of these vehicles would have been brought into the country “knocked down” or in parts, reassembled and sold as “roll on roll off” cars.
In other instances, the certificate of cancellation from the country of origin would have been tampered with and there would also be instances where the Customs declaration would be falsified to facilitate clearance, the report stated.
The report noted there were also fraudulent practices at the Ministry of Trade and Industry from where false import licences are being issued.
The report stated there is a demand for panel vans—Nissan Caravans in particular—by small business enterprises.
“The usual method of operation is to import the vehicle in parts which is against the law. This practice allows them to avoid the payment of import duty, value added tax and motor vehicle taxes. The parts are reassembled locally,” stated the report.
“When members of the public require a vehicle of this type, these dealers would then use a copy of the bona fide trade import licence, altered and falsified with the name and business of the intended buyer. The forged documents are then presented to officers in collusion at the Licensing Division and a registration is processed “legitimising” a locally assembled vehicle which, having evaded the payment of all Government revenues and taxes, is then used for profit of all parties involved,” the report added.
“Close scrutiny of the documents used would reveal the inconsistencies and forgings that would immediately debar the application for registering a vehicle, but despite these shortcomings, the names and initials of several licensing officers show up repeatedly signing the registration form, approving such registrations,” stated the report, which listed the names of all officers involved.
The report further disclosed there was corruption in importing heavy vehicles into the country where the engine capacity were being underrated so that less motor vehicle taxes are collected.
“Apart from underrating the cubic capacity of vehicles so as to avoid paying full motor vehicle taxes, trucks are also underrated in tonnage. This is done to avoid having to get approval from the Transport Board for usage on the roads. It appears that some unauthorised person(s) have in their possession a Transport Board stamp which is used to legitimise the under-handed activity. A fictitious date is inserted, a signature scribbled and the Transport Board meeting is circumvented,” stated the report.
The analyst stated since the report was completed in January this year, the team of authors held three meetings with the Fraud Squad.
With the falsification of documents, thousands of vehicles are currently illegally passed by the Licensing Authority.
“Apart from the millions in lost taxes to the State, the Government then unknowingly gives the unscrupulous entities State contracts employing these illegal machinery. Another aspect to contemplate is that of making public false declarations to insurance companies, who, if the truth is known, can refuse to compensate wronged plaintiffs in cases of accidents. The extent of the corruption is enormous and steps must be implemented to curb delinquency. Errant officers must be disciplined for their involvement,” stated the report.