(Trinidad Express) Two senior officials at the Caricom Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (Impacs), earlier this year were part of an illegal plan to evade taxes and duties in relation to the purchase of an almost TT$700,000 Toyota Prado SUV.
The plan was discovered in an investigation conducted by the Sunday Express, which first highlighted allegations of corruption, mismanagement of funds and improper hiring practices at the agency.
A diagnostic audit has been ordered at the agency.
Two other senior staff members could face charges under the Customs and Excise Act for making a false declaration and attempting to evade taxes and duties with regard to the purchase of the vehicle.
The Sunday Express investigation showed that both officials knowingly submitted falsified information to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Customs and Excise Division, in order to secure duty-free concessions in relation to the purchase of the TT$700,000 vehicle.
Contacted last week on this latest development at the agency, National Security Minister Brigadier John Sandy said he preferred to await the outcome of a diagnostic audit taking place at the agency before the police are called in to conduct any probe at Impacs.
Sandy also disclosed that the agency had been stripped of immunity from prosecution after this country made an official request to other Caricom Member States.
“Once the investigation unearths that (wrongdoing occurred), the diagnostic audit which is taking place at this time, before the forensic audit, then the police will be called in to take the necessary action,” Sandy told the Sunday Express.
Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, who has expressed concern over allegations of corruption levelled at the agency, had recently said that such a move to waive immunity from prosecution was to ensure that anyone found culpable of any criminal offences at the agency, is brought to justice.
The agency has declined comment on the allegations regarding the purchase of the Prado SUV saying that it preferred to await the outcome of an audit which was started by Ernst and Young.
On February 3, one of the Impacs officials got an invoice for a dark coloured 3R Prado, from Toyota Trinidad Ltd at its Seventh Street, Barataria office.
According to the invoice, a copy of which was obtained by the Sunday Express, the model price for the vehicle was listed at TT$698,000.
The vehicle was being sold to the official at the price of TT$354,875.
Sources told the Sunday Express that the senior official at Impacs paid a TT$100,000 deposit on the SUV.
Even though Caricom Impacs, an agency which is cash-strapped, was listed as the customer on the invoice, the vehicle was being purchased for the senior official, investigations showed.
The individual, a source at the agency told the Sunday Express, was the only senior member of staff who accepted an offer to purchase a duty-free vehicle of choice, after a decision was taken to return several rental cars as a cost-cutting measure.
The senior staff were subsequently paid US$400 monthly as a conveyance grant after their vehicles were returned.
The senior staff member who is at the centre of the alleged conspiracy, was granted duty-free privileges, which he was not entitled to, under the Headquarters Agreement between the agency and this country.
That agreement states that nationals are not entitled to tax-free concessions.
Only foreign nationals employed at the agency are entitled to such concessions.
Staff members at the agency, who found out about the transaction sometime later, expressed concern over the incident.
The purchase of the vehicle was cancelled mere days after the Sunday Express contacted the agency seeking to get a comment regarding the transaction.
Foreign Affairs Minister Dr Suruj Rambachan, during a brief telephone interview with the Sunday Express last week, confirmed that his ministry received correspondence from Impacs on July 8, which cancelled the purchase and reversed the duty free concessions.
Sales supervisor at Toyota Nigel Woodyear when contacted by the Sunday Express two weeks ago, regarding the purchase of the Prado, said he could not disclose customers’ personal information.
After Toyota was informed of the cancellation of the purchase, via telephone by the Impacs senior official who intended to purchase the vehicle, the company contacted the agency saying that it needed to get a letter cancelling the purchase.
Toyota wanted to sell the vehicle to another customer but needed to get the duty-free concessions reversed since the paperwork for the sale of the vehicle had already gone through the process, the Sunday Express was informed.