The Chattogram Custom House found evidence of corruption against six of its officials who allegedly helped an importer dodge taxes on consignments released from the Chattogram airport earlier this month.
Although the licence of the clearing and forwarding agent was cancelled, only showcase letters were issued against the officials involved.
This is not an isolated incident of such impunity. An investigation officer said corruption had been increasing among the customs officials as punitive actions were not being taken as per the recommendation of the probe committees, adding that in many of such incidents no probe committee was being formed.
The Chattogram Custom House (CCH) has been mired in irregularities. Between 2016-18, it transferred 48 customs officials, who helped importers dodge duties.
No punitive action, however, was taken against them.
They were only transferred to different sections, often in the same warehouse, in violation of the Government Servants (Discipline and Appeal) Rules 2018.
The rules say if proof of anyone’s involvement in irregularities is found, the official will be demoted to a lower grade or lower wage scale, be forcefully removed or suspended based on the level of indiscretions.
According to customs sources, 10 probe committees were formed between 2016 and 2018 by the NBR and the CCH to investigate allegations of irregularities.
After completion of their probe, six of the committees recommended departmental action against the officials involved in the corruption, while three are yet to submit their reports.
The probes found that the 48 officials forged or hid documents and even manipulated physical examination reports, allegedly due to underhanded deals with the C&F agents.
CCH Commissioner Fakhrul Alam told The Daily Star in June, “I don’t know why punitive measures were not taken despite the irregularities of the officials being proved.
“Transfer from one section to another is not a punishment. I have been treating this issue with importance since office joining last week. Departmental action against the officials will be taken very soon,” he added.
The irregularities uncovered by the probes varied in nature.
A seven-member committee formed at the end of 2015, led by Hossain Ahmad, the then commissioner of Pangaon Customs House, revealed that Tk 150 crore duty was dodged on 171 consignments between September 2009 and December 2010 in connivance with 35 officials.
The report submitted in September 2016 also said those officials ignored “data base value” during taxation and submitted fake Clean Report of Findings (CRF).
Another probe committee formed in March 2016 discovered four customs officials hiding the original documents of two consignments of cigarettes worth Tk 12 crore, by misinvoicing it as fabrics to avail duty free facility.
Revenue Officer Mahbuba Begum, one of the four officials accused, said “I was not involved in the irregularities. On the day of the incident, I was in additional charge of the section. Someone may have removed the relevant documents afterwards.”
Another 2016 investigative committee found evidence against three customs officials of forging bank documents to release five consignments of cosmetics goods, levying only 34 percent duty instead of the stipulated 105 percent.
In 2018, yet another probe committee found two officials falsely declaring a consignment to be 14 tonnes of synthetic fabrics though the importer declared it to be four tonnes in documents.
Assistant Revenue Officer Rafiqul Islam Amin, one of the two officials, told The Daily Star he had found irregularities during physical examination but his reporting boss Saiful Rahman forced him to sign the report as per the declaration.
The Daily Star tried to reach Deputy Commissioner Saiful Rahman, however, his phone was found switched off.
A DROP IN THE WATER
The latest of the corruptions came to light after a report on the tax-dodging was submitted by a probe committee on July 10. The committee, headed by Kazi Ziauddin, additional commissioner of customs, was formed to look into discrepancies in the delivery of the 16 consignments between the books of the Customs Register and the Airport Warehouse Delivery Register and those of the National Board of Revenue (NBR).
The report said the customs and the airport warehouse showed that the consignments were released from the airport, but those were marked as undelivered in the server of the NBR.
The CCH Commissioner said they would “issue a notice” against the officials soon, adding steps would be taken after they replied.
Asked why the issue took so long, he said the matter was being reviewed.
He had earlier told The Daily Star that although they had detected many incidents of tax dodging earlier, this was the first time someone had taken delivery of goods without paying taxes.
The probe into the matter began in the last week of June to investigate the incident.
The report concluded that six customs officials and one of its employees helped the C&F of Water Ways Shipping Agencies Limited dodge taxes.
The accused are revenue officers Mashiur Rahman, Fazlur Rahman; asst revenue officers Imran Hossain, Nurul Mostafa, Karunamoy Chakma; and radio operator Swapan Mazumdar.
Mashiur Rahman, one of the accused, denied the allegation. “It happened due to some mistake. We had no connection with this,” he said.
Commissioner Fakhrul said, “We have temporarily suspended the licence of the C&F agent and will cancel it if they are found guilty after investigation.
“We will also take legal action against the six officials involved if needed.”