The Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) on Friday terminated the employment of several of the persons cited in the polar beer scam report.
Sources say that the persons included some of those in the Auditor General-led report who had been recommended for reinstatement. They were issued letters under the Termination of Employment and Severance Pay Act and will be paid whatever benefits are applicable under the Act.
The report has been forwarded to the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions and it is expected that charges will be laid.
The report into the explosive polar beer scam concluded that fake documents were submitted to customs by both the broker and Fidelity Investments Inc and charges were recommended against a top Fidelity official, a broker and 14 Customs employees from various departments who were complicit in the fraud. Some persons had been dismissed even before the completion of the report.
It also concluded that it was polar beer that had been brought into the country and not soft drinks as had been claimed by some Customs employees. Furthermore, while a price of US$2.15 per case had been listed by Fidelity, an investigative team that travelled to Venezuela found that Fidelity had been sold the beer at US$4.40 per case. The report submitted to President Bharrat Jagdeo also made a number of recommendations to plug loopholes in the Guyana Revenue Authority and lamented that key cameras had not been functioning at a time when it would have been useful for the investigation. It also found that the software suite for the GRA had been manipulated. The payment of millions in duties in cash and the disappearance of key documents have also raised question marks. The polar beer fraud grabbed national attention in April last year, resulting in President Jagdeo initiating a task force to conduct an investigation.
The report also issued a call for a number of senior officials and other employees at the GRA to be reinstated to their positions since they were unaware of what was unfolding within the administration at the time. Specifically, the task force said, there was no concrete evidence to implicate Rohan Beekhoo, Deputy Commissioner of the Value Added Tax and Excise Department of GRA; Ramnarine Makardajh, Director of the Enforcement Section, CTA; Nityanand Narootandeo, Supervisor of the Entry Processing Unit; Royan Sattaur, Clerk 11 attached to the Import Verification Unit of VAT and John Tularam, Supervisor attached to VAT office, GRA.
Critically though, the report pointed to the Total Revenue Integrated Process-ing System (TRIPS) stating that this was manipulated so that certain categories of goods and importers were not correctly flagged for examination, and when flagged for examination by the Valuation Unit they were not examined by the unit. It also lamented the lack of a functioning security camera at CTA, which is “essential because of the fact that the non-operation of the cameras made it impossible to determine who paid customs duties and taxes on behalf of Fidelity”.
While a string of serious disclosures was made in the report, stretching from customs declaration forms that had numerous discrepancies to data being tampered with after being inputted into GRA’s TRIPS system, the task force report also focused on a critical part of the investigations, which were the taxes that were allegedly evaded by Fidelity; customs duties totalling $321.5M were said to have been evaded during the scam. It was recommended that custom duties and taxes be calculated on the polar beer found at Fidelity and, any other fine as prescribed by the Customs Act and or any other relevant legislation against the importer [Fidelity].
The task force disclosed that Fidelity also submitted false documents during the investigations, and therefore recommended that the relevant charges be instituted against the importer for producing false documents to the task force with the intention of misleading them.
Based on other recommendations in the report some fourteen custom officers could end up before the courts facing criminal charges for their role in the fraud. The officers were interviewed by the task force and their stories later checked out as false since many claimed to have seen assorted aerated beverages in the containers cleared by Fidelity while the company insisted that it never imported any such beverages.
The investigation was initiated at a special meeting convened by President Jagdeo on April 7, 2008 where he stated that there was a scheme to systematically defraud the Customs and Trade Adminis-tration of revenue and he wanted to get to the bottom of it.
On January 15, 2008 a team of customs officers had raided Fidelity and found in excess of 73,000 cases of polar beer for which no import documents could be produced.
It was then claimed by Fidelity that the broker had substituted invoices for polar beer with invoices for mixed flavours aerated beverages – the duty rate being vastly different for the two.
The Internal Affairs Department of the GRA then conducted its own investigation and arrived at the following conclusions on March 28, 2008:
The polar beer had been smuggled into the country;
Some of the beer was smuggled via trawlers and discharged at a Parika landing;
The rest of the beer was illegally brought in at the rear of containers which were declared to contain only aerated beverages.
The report said it was at this point that Fidelity’s Head Joshua Safeek went to president Jagdeo to relate his concerns and the President proceeded to set up the task force.
In July, Safeek had accused the GRA of victimizing him over the shipment of beer.
The report was signed by Deodat Sharma, Auditor General (ag) and Head of the Task Force, Paul Wintz, Inspector Police and Abdool Rahim, Representative of the Ministry of Finance.