Detained vessel has to pay $36m in taxes for undeclared fuel – GRA

-captain may be liable to $20m fine

The Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) has detained a fuel boat pending the payment of some $36M in taxes, Commissioner General Godfrey Statia yesterday said while informing that the 200, 000 gallons of petroleum that was aboard was undeclared and checks are now being made to ascertain if it was being smuggled into the country.

“We have boarded the vessel until such time as the taxes have been paid. What happened is that we recognized that the fuel was not declared and if it was not declared well then that is our remit so we boarded”, he informed when asked about the matter during a press conference held at his Camp Street office.

It is unclear when the vessel, MT Jubilee was detained, where it was coming from and how many persons were aboard.

Statia informed that when the GRA seized such a vessel last year the captain was fined $20M.

Stabroek News was informed that MT Jubilee and the fuel it was transporting are linked to a prominent attorney at law and a well-known sports official.

Given that it was reported in the media that the vessel was transporting smuggled fuel, Stabroek News made contact with the Guyana Energy Agency (GEA) on the matter. In responding to questions forwarded to the agency, the Public Communications Officer, Taiwo Wilson-Williams said that the vessel is presently in the custody of the GRA.

While informing that the GEA is currently “reviewing” this matter, Wilson-Williams said that the entity’s officers were made aware of the presence of the MT Jubilee in Port Georgetown and were advised that the GRA had detained the vessel.

“Further, it was indicated that the vessel would be held pending the payment of the required taxes to GRA. The consignee of the fuel has since made contact with the GEA and indicated their intention to pay all required taxes”, she said. She did not name the consignee.

She indicated too that the GEA is awaiting advice from the GRA “before deciding on the next course of action”.

Yesterday, Statia revealed that since the interception, GRA picked up some faults in its operations and later discovered that efforts were made to conceal them.

“Emanating from that we have found that there are some shortcomings on our end especially at the boathouse and we are trying to fix that particular end of it. We found that persons were trying to put the entry in after the boat was boarded…days after the fuel was not marked”, he said.

According to the GRA head, in addition to looking at the maritime records to see the frequency with which this boat would’ve been coming into Port Georgetown, checks are being made with the Demerara Harbour Bridge to see the “frequency with which these boats have been passing through the Harbour Bridge and based on the information we garnered from Maritime and from the Demerara Harbour Bridge we would then be in a position to determine whether this was actually a hiccup in the system or the person was trying to smuggle the (fuel)”, he said.

Statia acknowledged that fuel smuggling is a problem and he stressed on the authority’s efforts to curb this practice.

“We know for sure that smuggling is alive and well and we are trying to thwart that but it is a question of resources and it is a question of trying to fit all of those persons that have been granted import licences”, he noted.

He stressed that the number of persons now importing fuel has grown tremendously over the years.

“Gone are the days when you only had 5 or 6 persons importing fuel. Now close to a 100 persons have been granted licence to import fuel”, he said.

He informed that GRA now has a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the GEA which will ensure collaboration. “There is no use for GEA to grant import licence for fuel and GRA doesn’t know or things are not in place for us to actually check the fuel”, he said.

According to Statia, the GRA is aware that “there has been exempt fuel destined for interior areas such as Mabaruma trickling its way down to Georgetown, so we have to be extremely vigilant of that”.

He said too that the existence of cheap fuel at border locations continues to be a challenge to the ongoing efforts to cripple the smuggling industry.

“It will always happen as long as there is cheap fuel at our borders people will buy that fuel and bring it down”, he noted.

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