One month after probe started no charges laid
April 26, 2004
It has been more than a month since the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) released a preliminary report on the remigrant scam, which strongly recommended that, based on conclusive findings, the persons implicated "be subject to criminal prosecution with immediate effect."
But there has been nothing to suggest that the persons engaging the attention of the police include any of the implicated officials from either the Ministry of Finance or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
And since the end of the amnesty from prosecution on March 22 there has been no word from the GRA about the next step it would take against the persons named in the report as being defaulters under the Customs Act and the Consumption Tax Act. GRA Commissioner-General Khurshid Sattaur had announced the amnesty from March 15 during which, he said, persons would have been allowed to pay the outstanding duties for the vehicles. But numerous calls to Sattaur as recently as Friday have been futile.
There has been no word on the status of the expanded investigation prior to August 2003, as ordered through a directive from President Bharrat Jagdeo.
Stabroek News understands that the three employees of the Ministry of Finance sent home to facilitate the investigation are still off the job.
Secretary to the Treasury in the Ministry of Finance Neermal Rekha who had been sent on leave since March 15, following the President's directive, told Stabroek News recently that he was considering legal action over his being sent on leave, but he declined to comment further.
The report said Rekha affixed his signature to documents, which were photocopied and not original. The report said too that some of the letters of approval that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued were either not sent to the Minister of Foreign Affairs for approval or were backdated "so that the duty-free concession could be granted by the Ministry of Finance instead of the Guyana Revenue Authority." The report does not rule out the possibility of a "very corrupt ring [existing] in the granting of duty-free concessions".
Four cases with falsified or altered signatures and evidence of them being backdated or received after September 1 were listed in the report.
Sattaur had told Stabroek News earlier that despite the end of the amnesty, he was still allowing persons to come in and state their cases. One of those persons told Stabroek News that he straightened out everything with the GRA.
Police say the investigation is still ongoing; persons named in the report are being questioned and information is being garnered. The police, who have also interviewed several persons in connection with the vehicles, have so far taken only one of the vehicles identified in the report into custody.
Stabroek News understands that the Fraud Squad of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) is spearheading the police investigation. This newspaper was unable to make contact with the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) on its role in the matter.
Of 86 remigrant letters that the Ministry of Finance issued in August 2003, only 31 of them were found to be properly granted. While 83 of those files were made available to investigators, three of them were not found. Since then, 55 vehicles were subject to investigation.
As a result of the passage of the Fiscal Enactments (Amendment) Act in August last year, from September 1 last year all duty-free concessions once issued by the Ministry of Finance are now being processed by the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) which issues a new Commissioner-General letter to the Customs and Trade Administration (CTA). However, the Ministry of Finance is still entrusted with the task of preparing a note of approval which is sent to the GRA before the GRA issues the final letter used to clear the items duty free.