The Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP) has indicted two senior officials of the Customs for aiding Labianca Company Limited, owned by a member of the Council of State and heavy financier of the governing New Patriotic Party (NPP), Eunice Jacqueline Buah Asomah-Hinneh to dodge the payment of import duties to the tune of GH¢1.074 million.
The Custom officers, include Joseph Adu Kyei, a Deputy Commissioner of Customs in charge of Operations and his boss, Colonel Kwadwo Damoah (rtd), the Commissioner of the Customs Division.
Four years ago, The Herald reported on the activities of Eunice Jacqueline Buah Asomah-Hinneh at Tema Port.
Interestingly, custom officials, politicians, journalists among others, though aware of her ways and means, refused to take action. The GH¢1.074 million she was surcharged with, might just be a tip of the iceberg.
But more shocking are reports that, a tax force in the Office of The President, regularly extorts money from Eunice Jacqueline Buah Asomah-Hinneh.
There was an instance, where a whopping GH¢2.5 million was withdrawn from the National Investment Bank (NIB) and driven in a bullion van to the Flagstaff House on the claim that she evaded tax.
The OSP indicted Mr Adu Kyei, for issuing what it described as unlawful customs advance ruling which reduced the benchmark values of the frozen foods imported by Labianca Limited, thereby reducing the company’s tax obligations to the state.
“The OSP finds, that Mr. Adu Kyei’s decision to issue customs advance ruling to the applicants, resulted in a short collection of or shortfall in revenue in the amount of One Million Seventy-Four Thousand cedis Six Hundred and Twenty-Seven cedis Fifteeen pesewas (GHC1,074,627.15) from a total of five hundred and thirty-one (531) declarations in respect of Labianca. Therefore, it lies ill in Mr Adu Kyei’s mouth to claim that he saved the Republic financial loss by his conduct; and his claimed bases for his decision are unsupportable afterthought.
Customs advance rulings, can affect the classification, origin, benchmark values of goods, tariffs or any other activity that falls within the purview of customs laws.
The amount represents a shortfall in import duties the frozen foods company has since been paid to the state on March 31, 2022.
In the case of Col Damoah, the OSP found that, even though he was not directly responsible for the unlawful customs advance ruling, he could not be “absolved of the ultimate responsibility for the apparently contrived decision” because he gave approval to Mr Kyei’s action.
These were contained in an investigative report on Labianca Group of Companies aided by officials of the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA).
The document signed by the Special Prosecutor, Kissi Agyebeng, noted that Mr Kyei’s action, coupled with Col Damoah’s approval, was a clear warning of institutionalised disregard to curb impropriety at the Customs Division, a situation which it said “indicates a high propensity to engender corruption and corruption related activities Customs advance ruling Per Section 12 of the Customs Act, 2015 (Act 891), following an application by an entity, the Customs Division of the GRA can issue a customs advance ruling which gives an interpretation or application of the customs laws or regulation in relation to a transaction by that entity.
“The OSP finds that though Colonel (Rtd.) Damoah sought to distance himself from Mr. Adu Kyei’s decision during his interview on 16 February 2022, he gave his tacit approval to the decision and the determination stood to the benefit of the applicants. Indeed, Mr. Adu Kyei’s decision would not have passed muster but for Colonel (Rtd.) Damoah’s apparent approval. The halfhearted seeming recantation is unhappily belated and does not absolve Colonel (Rtd.) Damoah of ultimate responsibility for the apparently contrived decision”.
“The OSP finds that there is strong evidence to suggest that Mr. Adu Kyei’s decision to issue a customs advance ruling for the applicants was procured through influence peddling or trading of influence by Ms. Asomah-Hinneh by employing her position as a member of the Council of State and a member of the Board of Directors of Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority.
“The OSP further finds that the conduct of Mr. Adu Kyei and the placid coddling by Colonel (Rtd.) Damoah portends an institutionalised culture of lighthearted unconcern regarding impropriety of action at the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority – which indicates a high propensity to engender corruption and corruption-related activities.
The investigative report, dated August 3, 2022, is titled: “Report of Investigation into Alleged Commission of Corruption and Corruption Related Offences involving Labianca Group of Companies and the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority.
“On 21 March 2022 the Special Prosecutor issued an interim directive to Labianca Company Limited to pay an amount of One Million Seventy-Four Thousand cedis Six Hundred and Twenty-Seven cedis Fifteen pesewas (GHC1,074,627.15), representing the short collection or shortfall of revenue arising from the issuance of the unlawful customs advance ruling by the Deputy Commissioner for Customs in charge of operations, Mr. Joseph Adu Kyei into the Asset Recovery Account of the Office of the Special Prosecutor.
“Labianca Company Limited complied with the directive on 31 March 2022.
“The Special Prosecutor directs the Commissioner-General of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) to submit, on or before 31 December 2022, an Integrity Plan to the Office of the Special Prosecutor designed with the aim of preventing the corruption of the exercise of discretion by officials of the Customs Division, especially in respect of the rendering of rulings, to assure the effective operation of the Customs Act, 2015 (Act 891) and the Revenue Administration Act, 2016 (Act 915).
On the basis of the findings, the Special Prosecutor, directs the opening of a wider investigation in respect of the issuance of customs advance rulings and markdown of benchmark values between July 2017 and December 2021.
The complainant, Frank Asare, had alleged ongoing corrupt, illegal and questionable dealings between Labianca and the Customs Division, resulting in unlawful markdown or reduction of benchmark values of frozen food products imported by Labianca under the guise of customs advance rulings.
According to the complainant, the unlawful markdowns or reductions of benchmark values were procured and being procured chiefly because the beneficial owner and Chief Executive of Labianca, Ms. Eunice Jacqueline Buah Asomah-Hinneh engages in influence peddling through her positions as a member of the Council of State and a member of the Board of Directors of Ghana Ports and Harbours Authority.
The complainant contended that Labianca has gained undue competitive market advantage in the frozen foods industry by reason of the alleged corrupt and other unlawful dealings. It was also alleged that the same undue competitive market advantage had been secured for supposed subsidiaries of Labianca – Rafano Frozen Foods Company Limited and Yoba Capital Limited.