As Free Zones Board Bares Teeth
By Alfred K Dogbey
Documents available to The Herald indicates that, the two Indian nationals, currently facing trial for defrauding the state through tax evasion, have quietly coughed up a whopping Five Hundred and Ninety-Nine Thousand, Seventy-Five Ghana Cedis, Fifty-Eight Pesewas (GH¢ 599,075.58), approximately 6 billion old cedis, into the Government chest.
The amount, which include 200 per cent pecuniary penalty and duty liability on smuggled products was paid to the Customs Divisions of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) last Friday, May 9 at the James Town Branch of the Ecobank by the officials of Top Industries Limited.
The payment, according to The Herald’s information was actively facilitated by the Ghana Free Zones Board (GFZB), who like the Presidential Taskforce, setup by President John Mahama and led by Chief of Staff Prosper Douglas Bani were equally unhappy with the Top Industries Limited for flouting the Free Zones Law, Act 504.
According to the documents and receipts retrieved from the GRA by The Herald, the payment covered taxes on “Import Duty, Import VAT, Ecowas Levy, Export Development Levy, Customs Penalty, Network Charge, NET Charge VAT, Ghana Shippers Council SNF Fee, Import NHIL, NET Charge and Special Import Levy.
The money was paid by the management of Top Industries Limited, using seven Access Bank cheques dated May 7, 2014 and signed by two separate Managers of the company.
The Herald has also gathered that the Free Zones Board, would make a decision at its impending Board meeting to determine the fate of the embattled company concerning what punitive action should be taken against Top Industries Ltd for flouting the Board’s regulations.
Additional receipts intercept by The Herald and signed by an officer of Customs, Excise and Preventive Service, George Agbenyegah confirmed that Top Industries Limited has really paid.
Prior to this payment, the Assistant Commissioner, Intelligence of the GRA, Mark Logo, wrote a letter dated April 25, 2014 to the Managing Director of Top Industries Ltd, asking the company to refund the evaded tax, as well as “200 per cent pecuniary penalty” within a period of “thirty (30) days from the date of service of this notice”.
Mr. Logo’s letter, charged the company to pay the sum of 200 per cent as pecuniary penalty cost, which was given as GH¢399,383.72, whilst duty liability cost was GH¢199, 691.86, which summed up to GH¢599,075.58.
The letter, copied to the Commissioner/Customs Division, Board Secretariat and Legal Affairs said, “Investigation conducted on the smuggling of alcohol from your factory located in the Free Zones Enclave in Tema to a private warehouse in Accra have been concluded”.
According to GRA, “within an undetermined period, you [Top Industries Ltd] smuggled a total of 558 drums of alcohol from your factory into the warehouse. Your action is in contravention of the Section 251 of the Customs, Excise and Preventive Service (Management) Law, PNDCL 330”.
It said, “you are hereby entreated to pay a total of Five Hundred And Ninety-Nine Thousand And Seventy –Five Ghana Cedis, Fifty-Eight Pesewas (GH¢ 599,075.58) being duty liability on smuggled products and 200% as pecuniary penalty imposed to mark the offence”.
The GRA, however, cautioned Management of Top Industries Ltd that “failure to effect the full payment within the stipulated period [30days] shall compel the authority to initiate appropriate sanctions against your company without further recourse to you”.
Meanwhile, the two officials of Top industries and Excellence Limited, Anil Lakhiani and Sundeep Dhawan Sonu, respectively, who were finally granted bail in the matter by Human Rights Court, would reappear in Court today, May 12, 2014.
The two, were slapped with four counts of charges, including, smuggling after they were discovered to have evaded Ghana’s tax laws, Contrary to Section 40 of the Free Zones Act, 1995, Act 504 and Section 317 (1) of the Criminal Offences Act, 1960, Act 29.
The visibly shaken company officials, were in court with their lawyers, Christopher Amanortey and Nana Owusu Bonus from the Akosombo Chambers at Labone who respectively demanded bail for them.
Narrating the fact of the case, the Prosecuting Officer, ASP A.A Annor said, Anil Lakhiani, is the Managing Director of Top Industries, a company registered as a Freezone Company under the Free zones Act, 1995, Act 504 located in the Free zones Enclave near Tema Industrial Area.
Sundeep Sonu Dhawan is an India businessman based in Ghana and working with XLNC Company Limited as its Managing Director. While, Sundeep Sonu Dhawan’s company imports alcohol into Ghana, Anil Lakhiani’s company is into the manufacturing of poly-sack and some rubber products.
With respect to Anil Lakhiani’s case, ASP Annor told the court that, “for their production, they require very limited quantity of substance [alcohol] to be used in diluting paints to print various descriptions on the poly-sacks. For this purpose the accused is allowed to import quantities of Isopropyl Alcohol as raw material for this printing purpose only”.
However, under the Free zones Act, raw materials imported for the manufacturing by companies register and operating in the Free Zones Enclave are cleared at the port without import duties. Based on this, all raw materials imported by Top Industries including, the Isopropyl Alcohol are imported duty free.
The Prosecutor said that intelligence gathered over the period revealed that, the volume of alcohol imported by Anil Lakhiani’s company over the period were very high and suspicious. For the year 2013, the accused imported six thousand, one hundred and sixty-four (6,164) drums of the Isopropyl Alcohol in twelve (12) consignments and cleared same duty free into the country.
He said, investigations revealed that the accused was engaged in the smuggling of the alcohol out of the free zones enclave for sale by the second accused in the open market. The second accused who owned a wholesale at South Industrial Area is the recipient of the smuggled alcohol which he stores in his warehouse and sell to the public.
According to ASP Annor, in the last week of March, 2014, the first accused sold five hundred drums of the isopropyl alcohol to the second accused.
On April 2, 2014, while conveying another sixty drums in the night, an intelligence team from the Custom Division of GRA caught up with the transporter.
He said, the two accused persons and other persons connected to the smuggling were subsequently arrested. The four hundred and sixty (460) drums together with another ninety (90) drums found in the warehouses of the second accused were impounded.
The Prosecutor explained to the Court that, the accused, Anil Lakhiani confessed to the crime and claimed that, his company has gone low on production, hence he smuggled the alcohol to sell to make some money.
He noted that the accused, Sundeep Sonu Dhawan, also admitted he was aware the alcohol was imported duty free into the free zones enclave by the first accused. After the investigations, the two accused were charged with the offence.
The two officials have, therefore, been implicated in exploiting the incentives provided under the Free Zones law to evade taxes close to 94,000 cedis.
Anil Lakhiani’s, first charge is the smuggling of four hundred drums of Isoprophl alcohol valued at 380, 0000 cedis from the Freezones enclave last month (March).
Anil Lakhiani in the second charge is also accused of smuggling sixty drums of Isoprophl alcohol valued at 57,000 cedis from the free zones enclave on April 2. His conduct is said to be contrary to section 40 of the free zones Act, 1995, Act 504.
The second accused, Sundeep Sonu Dhawan’s, is accused of purchasing four hundred drums of Isoprophl alcohol valued at 380,000 cedis from Anil Lakhiani, knowing very well it was uncustomed goods last month (March).
Sundeep Sonu Dhawan is again accused of purchasing 60 drums of Isoprophl alcohol valued at 57,000 cedis from Anil Lakhiani, again knowing it was uncustomed goods on April 2, 2014. The second accused conduct is also contrary to section 317(1) of the Criminal Offences Act, 1960, Act 29.