The Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority is investigating two shipping companies and agents who connived to falsify information on trade documents to pay less duties and taxes to the state.
The process involves the misdescription of goods to obtain priority clearance and avoid payment of full taxes due to the state.
Alhaji Seidu Iddrisu Iddisah, the Commissioner of the Customs Division, who disclosed this in an interview said the Division, acting on intelligence on the two companies and importers, discovered that they had falsified their bills of lading in clearing goods from Tema Port.
He said the goods were targetted and intercepted for physical examination, and the results indicated that descriptions of goods on the Bill of Entry (BoE) were different from physical goods found in the container.
“The consignment’s actual description was footwear, bags, belts, underwear, galvanised pipes etc., as against the entered description of Knapsack Sprayer,” he said.
Alhaji Iddisah said after the revelation, management tasked Internal Audit as well as the Post Clearance Audit (PCA) Department to conduct an audit on the identified agents and importers, in accordance with sections 7 and 9 of the Customs Act 2015 (Act 891) and World Customs Organisation Revised Kyoto Convention.
The audit found that 23 Bills of Entry (BoEs), with 22 belonging to one shipping line, had their entries dotted; and some of the imports declared by the identified companies were properly described and misclassified as well as undervalued for purposes of paying lower Customs duties and taxes.
He said an audit of just one of the Bills of Entry showed a tax evasion of GH¢10.15million.
The audit also showed that some agents processed Customs declarations with inaccurate particulars with the aim of paying lower Customs duties and taxes, while providing cloned Customs declarations containing actual descriptions of the goods, the actual Customs value and duty rates, and collected amounts payable from the importer.
“So, it means they’re cheating both the importers and government; when you go to the importer he will show you a Customs declaration that they gave to him, but that is not what he submits to us,” he said.
Alhaji Iddisah said during the investigation both companies admitted that their officers had falsified the actual description of goods that was submitted from the ship to them, adding that investigations are still ongoing to find out the level of collaboration with importers.
“We want all those involved, and we want to give a warning to everybody that you cannot hide. Whatever happens it will come up, and those who are into that practice can own up,” he added.
It was additionally revealed that Bills of Lading from the shipping lines and invoices declared to Customs were falsified by the local shipping line.
Alhaji Iddisah said following discovery of the discrepancies, management had decided to expand investigations back over the past six years to find out if other companies engaged in the negative practice.
He said while management is not ruling out connivance by Customs officers, investigations are yet to actually establish their involvement – adding that the initial intelligence came from the officers.
Alhaji Iddisah said demand notices have been issued for retrieving the taxes and penalties lost to the state, and investigations are ongoing which might lead to prosecution.
To further improve monitoring, Alhaji Iddisah said the Division is shifting monitoring away from ports to the headquarters so as to ensure effective supervision – adding that while trying to facilitate speedy clearance via the green channel, Customs has now created a holding area that allows officers to go through the screening properly and call for re-examination if necessary.
“In fact, since we introduces it a lot of containers that are passed through the green channel have been reexamined at the port, and the differences have been critical – and so we’ve given them penalties,” he added.