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Customs CG signs MoU in Benin, reveals seizures at Apapa

STAN OKENWA

The Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) and  its Beninoire  counterpart,  have reviewed progress made so far,  in the implementation of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on interconnectivity and transit facility for better operations in both nations.
A communiqué made available to Daily Champion in Lagos weekend , said the MoU was a fall out of a working visit by the Comptroller General of Customs, Hameed Ali to Cotonou where the heads of Customs of  both nations  jointly reviewed progress made so far.
Participants included Charge d’Affaires of the Nigerian Embassy in Cotonou and experts from both Customs administrations.
The Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS),  Col. Hameed Ali  (rtd) and the Director-General of Customs, Indirect Taxes of the Republic of Benin, Col. Pierre-Claver Tossou, said  the working session, held in Cotonou on Aug. 4, was yielding progress.
According to the communiqué, new actions were identified by both administrations in meeting the objectives for firming of relations between the two countries.
In addition to the assessment of the implementation of protocols, both parties agreed to commence action on formal interconnectivity project through the setting up an ICT working group.
At  the  Apapa Customs Command  en route Nigeria,  the Customs  boss  frowned at the abuses on fast- track clearance policy at the port, saying the window may be closed over breaches of trust.
Ali,  at the briefing in Apapa on the discovery of 16 containers of new tyres wrongly declared as paper boards and machine parts , said the containers which were supposed to exit the port without examination, were stopped upon discovery through intelligence by men of the Command.
He said the importer made a wrong declaration deliberately to evade payment of complete duty for the importation.
Ali said the discovery had  affected the integrity of the beneficiaries and would  compel  the Customs to consider effecting 100 per cent physical examination henceforth.
While admitting that such examinations would  cause delays and increase cost of doing business at the ports, Ali argued that the development  had  forced  the Customs to begin full physical examination on all imports.
The  Customs Area Controller Apapa, Willy Egbudin, named an Ikeja -based  the importer (names withheld ),  as the culprit. He said  command got a tip off on July 26, 2016 that 16 containers laden with tyres at the port were falsely declared as paper board and industrial machinery and were about to be moved. He immediately gave out order that the containers be impounded. On Friday , July 29,  the containers were intercepted at the gate. They were taken to enforcement while the clearing agent took off.
The CAC said the agent later came back and when investigation was done by the Customs it was discovered that all the consignments were car tyres. The command then profiled the importer and discovered that the total number of the containers was 26, and the company had taken delivery of 10 falsely declared. The agent was thereby detained while efforts are on to track the importer.
Egdudin said that by that false declaration a total amount N116, 284.740.00 duty was lost by the Customs.
Findings by our correspondent showed  that tyres attract a duty rate of 35per cent  and additional levy of 35per cent  totaling 70per cent  while the paper board and machine parts attracts a paltry rate of about 5per cent  duty.
Accordingly, the CGC directed that false declaration of imports would  now be liable to outright seizures without the option of paying the shortfall after issuance of Demand Notice (DN).
He warned that customs officers should cease issuance of DN on imports falsely declared and that officers found wanting will be sanctioned.
Ali also disclosed that the infraction will be thoroughly investigated while customs officers found to have compromised their positions in the matter will be made to face a 5 year jail term.
He  said :  ‘’Out of 26 containers by the same importer, we have seized 16 but 10 had  miraculously moved out of the port. This issue is being investigated and all those involved when discovered will not be handled with kid gloves’.
‘’False declaration by fast track beneficiaries is a breach of trust. This privilege was granted for easy clearing of their raw materials and save them from the burden of paying heavy demurrage’’
‘’When we grant certain reprieve to some of our stakeholders and they abuse it, we will have no choice than to subject imports to hundred percent examination. We know it will cause delay and increase in the cost of doing business ‘’ he said.
Fast track imports placed on what is called Blue Lane in customs parlance is reserved for importers whose integrity has been rated as worthy to clear their goods from the ports without examination to save time. Examinations are later conducted at the importers designated warehouse.
Before now, many manufacturers on this blue lane have taken advantage of it to get their raw materials out from the ports to ease quicker production and decongest port environment.
While giving the warning on fraudulent practices, the Customs CG said “anybody caught in this crime will be brought to book. Once you falsely declare and we discover it, it is automatic seizure. Whoever is involved will face the law and if there is any officer that connived with the importer , he will be prosecuted and the minimum jail term is 5 years.”

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