Liberia Revenue Authority Busts Major Tax Evasion Scheme for 15 Containers of Imported Flour
MONROVIA – The Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) has locked up the warehouse of Sabaru Enterprise for bringing into the country 15 containers of flour under fictitious bill of lading indicating the flour as medical supplies belonging to UNICEF.
Report by Lennart Dodoo, [email protected]
The Deputy Commissioner of Customs at the LRA, Mr. Saah Saamoi told FrontPageAfrica that it has launched an investigation into the matter and was questioning the custom broker, Safeway Cargo.
As part of efforts to provide leverage for locally produced flour on the local market, the government has placed a surcharge on imported flour. This surcharge which is determined by the quantity and quality of the flour imported is an extra charge to the taxes.
However, Sabaru Enterprise which is said to be located in the commercial district of Redlight, Paynesville obtained IPD from the Ministry of Commerce for the importation of flour. It is, however, not clear who Sabaru obtained the import document when they have no business registration. The company is reportedly owned by one Mamadu Mustafa.
FrontPageAfrica’s investigation found that Sabaru, apparently working with some cohorts, maneuvered to delete their manifest from BIVAC tracking system, hence, giving them the opportunity to perform their tricks on the LRA. FrontPageAfrica obtained a copy of the original manifest indicating the 15 containers of flour totaling 7,500 bags. The containers came by Safmarine shipping line on vessel MONEMVASIA, voyage No. 1911. The consignment arrived in the country on August 30, 2019.
The fictitious manifest reportedly created by the shipping line, Safmarine, also obtained by FrontPageAfrica bears the same vessel name and voyage number as the initial manifest. It also bears the container numbers (all 15) as on the original manifest. However, the new manifest indicates the consignee as UNICEF and the consignment as medical supplies under duty-free arrangement.
The name of the customs broker on the fabricated manifest is Mustapha B. Paasewe.
Sabaru’s alleged tax invasion comes at a time when the country’s economy has been consistently moving downtrend and local businesses struggling to beat all odds to stay above water. Should they have succeeded in bypassing taxes on all 15 containers, putting 7,500 bags of low-cost flour on the local market would have destabilized the market for local producers.
The owner of the company, however, has distanced himself from the allegation of tax invasion, claiming he was duped by the broker.
Mamadu Mustapha: “I gave the money to go and do the payment. After like two days, the containers were out. I requested for the original document so I can know my total expenditure to determine what the flour price will be like, but the custom brokers kept telling me that he was putting the documents together to submit it to my office. Up to yesterday, Friday, September 13. I called him to ask why he has not yet come with the document, he told me in the morning he was going to bring it. To my utmost surprise, I woke up in the morning and saw the information on the FrontPageAfrica headline [online] that certain goods were brought in illegally and immediately, I called him and told him about the information and immediately he turned the phone off. Up to present his phone is off.”
Contrary to what is on the manifest, Mustapha named the custom brokers as Mathew Wonder and Layee Massalay, alleging that they duped him.
He expressed his willingness to corporate with the LRA to pay the taxes, surcharge and fine.
“They have to determine how to be paid and we will make the payment. I regret the situation, because, certainly I have lost in the process. The guy already took my money, close to US$50,000 and now it’s realized that it’s a fraudulent act. Whatsoever LRA comes up with will be paid for the 15 containers. We all should learn from this as business people and those custom brokers that are licensed should be transparent in their businesses,” he lamented.
FrontPageAfrica gathered that Safmarine would also be fined for issuing a false bill of lading.
In January this year, the Minister of Commerce, Prof. Wilson Tarpeh, disclosed that through an intensive investigation, the ministry discovered an active and illegal practice involving the illicit issuance and/or manipulation of Import Permit Declaration (IPDs) by local importers, which is seriously reducing GoL’s revenues and undermining the visibility of local manufacturing companies.
According to Minister Tarpeh, these illegal IPDs have resulted in the flooding of goods on the local market with low quality, thereby impacting flour, nails, eggs, biscuits and other essential commodities; goods with under-declared value as well as smuggled flour, all of which are depriving the government of legal revenue.
He noted that many of the imported flour are also being illegally brought in with expired IPDs.
“As part of the determination to protect government’s revenue and support job creation in the country, local enterprises, in this case the two local flour milling corporations, as well as other local manufacturers of nails, biscuits, candies, insecticides and detergents, and the public are informed that all outstanding flour IPDs, both expired and unexpired, should be returned to the ministry for renewal and re-authenticated where appropriate,” Minister Tarpeh said at the time.
He said inspectors from the ministry will begin a thorough inspection of all import and other documents relating to the flour importation as well as nails and other locally-manufactured items.