Who is driving tax evasion Lexuses?

As a blanket of secrecy continues to cover the deal struck to drop a multi-million dollar tax evasion case against Kaieteur News owner Glenn Lall, his wife Bhena and a remigrant couple, it is unclear who has possession of the two luxury vehicles that were at the centre of the probe.

Stabroek News was told that as part of the deal struck between the charged parties and the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA), the two vehicles were returned to the overseas-based Guyanese couple Narootandeo and Gharbassi Brijnanan. There is no official word, however, on this. The couple had imported the two vehicles under the remigrant scheme, allowing them a significant tax exemption.

The GRA had charged that the Brijnanans had imported the vehicles for the Lalls but used the remigrant scheme to avoid having to pay taxes. The revenue body had alleged too that the Lalls were themselves using the vehicles.

Lall is currently abroad and this newspaper has been unable to ascertain where the couple who originate from Berbice are or to make contact with them. Since the investigation began last year, the remigrant couple has been in and out of the country.

After months of investigations, the GRA last October charged the Lalls and the remigrant couple.

The Lalls of Lindley Avenue, Nandy Park, East Bank Demerara were jointly accused of two counts of having knowingly dealt with goods, with intent to defraud the revenue of duties, while they along Brijnanans faced two counts of being knowingly concerned in the fraudulent evasion of import duties of Customs.

The charges stated that the two couples between June 18, 2013 and September 21, 2013 together with others unknown at Lot 200-201 Camp Street (GRA’s headquarters) were knowingly concerned, aided and abetted each other in the fraudulent evasion of the import duties of customs due and payable to the GRA on the two vehicles.

As it relates to the Lalls, the charges stated that between June 18, 2013 and August 30, 2014 at Lot 110 Regent Street and at Lot 24 Saffon Street, both Georgetown addresses they knowingly dealt with goods with intent to defraud the revenue of duties for two Lexus vehicles with registration numbers PRR 8399 and PRR 8398 contrary to Section 218 (d) of the Customs Act Chapter 82:01.

Prior to the vehicles being seized there was a showdown between GRA officials and the remigrant couple’s son Navin Sankar who is also an employee of the GRA. Nothing has been heard about any action being taken against him in relation to this incident.

It was subsequent to this that the GRA disclosed that the seizing of the vehicles was part of a wider investigation which involved the abuse of the duty-free concessions under the remigrant scheme. An unsuccessful court action was then filed to secure the release of the vehicles.

It would appear that red flags were raised after a flood of luxury vehicles was noticed on the country’s roadways. At the start of last year the Auditor General’s office began investigating the use of some 600 vehicles imported over the past three years by remigrants.

Commissioner-General Khurshid Sattaur had insisted that the seizing of the two vehicles was part of a wider investigation into the use of vehicles imported by remigrants. There has been no further word on these investigations or evidence that charges had been brought against anyone else.

Lall however had contended that the seizure was in retaliation for his newspaper’s exposés of wrongdoings by the government. He insisted that he was involved in no wrongdoing and that the couple was very close family friends.

On February 4, GRA prosecutor Sandil Kissoon attempted to have the charges withdrawn, saying that a resolution had been reached. This was two days before the scheduled court hearing. However, Magistrate Judy Latchman stated that after considering the application and the level of publicity which the matters had attracted, it was in the public’s interest for it to be called and dealt with on the original court date. When charges were later withdrawn following an application from Kissoon, no details about the settlement or the whereabouts of the vehicles were mentioned in court even though the charge was then a public criminal matter.

Sattaur has since declined to give information on the case saying that people’s tax affairs are private.

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