GRA seeking taxes lost from Van West-Charles-linked fuel import firm

The Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) is seeking to recover taxes lost from Atlantic Fuel Inc, which it alleges undervalued fuel it imported last year.

Documents seen by Stabroek News show that the company imported 639,000 litres of Grade 2-D2 fuel from Century Maritime LLC through a spot contract. The export company is registered in Brookfield, Massachusetts, in the United States but the fuel originated in Curacao.

However, while the company said it purchased the fuel for US 25 cents per litre, the purchasing documents show that it paid US$2.33 per US gallon (1 US gallon is equivalent to 3.785 litres). The total was pegged at US$379,100 on Century Maritime’s invoice but when documents were submitted here, that cost was listed as US$159,750.

Sources told Stabroek News that recently, Atlantic Fuel Inc – which counts among its directors the Managing Director of Guyana Water Inc Dr Richard Van West-Charles – was ordered to pay the difference in cost.

This newspaper reached out to Van West-Charles for comment but he informed that he was filing court proceedings with regards to the matter and was instructed by his attorney not to comment until that action was filed. He promised that he would discuss his side of the story when that “court writ” is filed.

While the GRA cannot dispute an importer’s bill, it can use World Trade Organization (WTO) transaction value or ‘Spot Pricing’ to have the dealer pay an estimated value based on world market prices. The rules set out by the WTO and World Customs Organization are what Guyana’s tax agency relies on when it is of the opinion that there is under-invoicing.

Smuggling and under-invoicing of fuel continues to plague the revenue agency resulting in significant revenue loss every year.

Last year, a vessel owned by businessman Anand Sanasie was seized by the GRA and was only released after $36 million in taxes for 200,000 gallons of fuel it had not declared, had been paid.

GRA Commissioner General Godfrey Statia had explained that the fuel was brought here on a licence from a company named Lynwil. It was not the first breach for the company as, in 2017, it had arranged for the delivery of fuel offshore.

That deal ended up in a legal wrangle that saw a $10 million settlement between the captain of the vessel and the GRA, and a separate fallout and court battle between the local importers of the fuel and the purchasers of the fuel.

The GRA, most times, has opted to have those caught undervaluing their imports repay the difference instead of filing criminal charges as in the past, many cases were dismissed because of lost case jackets.

“I would like to prosecute them under the law for filing false invoices,” Statia had told Stabroek News when contacted on the issue of prosecutions. He had said that fuel smuggling and under invoicing remains a challenge for the agency but it has amped up oversight.

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