Detectives in the dark | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 29, 2019 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:06 AM, March 29, 2019

Detectives in the dark

Customs yet to figure out contents of 22 consignments released illegally

Customs detectives are yet to figure out the types of goods that were in the 22 consignments fraudsters made way with by stealing log-in credentials of revenue officials.

Investigators at the Customs Intelligence and Investigation Directorate (CIID) however suspect that the goods were those that face high supplementary duty (SD). 

At present, high SD is applicable on wines and cigarettes, which attract 350 percent SDs on imports.

“There was declaration of steel products. As we could not see the goods and examine the consignments, it is not possible to say what types of goods were in those consignments,” said Md Abdul Hakim, additional director general of the CIID, at a press briefing yesterday.

Apart from this, the importers declared tyres, tubes, rubber, safety pins and stationary goods, the duties for which range from 25 percent to 40 percent.

Most of the consignments came from China and India, according to documents submitted by importers at the port.

The CIID in January found that a gang consisting of clearing and forwarding (C&F) agents and importers had logged in to the National Board of Revenue's integrated customs management system -- Automated System for Customs Data (ASYCUDA) World -- by using IDs and passwords of two revenue officials who were posted at the Chattogram Customs House (CCH) from 2013 to 2016.

As per rule, the log-in credentials of officials should be disabled once he/she leaves the customs office. In this case, the IDs and passwords remained live even though one went into retirement and another was transferred.

Using the passwords, the fraudsters unlocked the consignments from the ASYCUDA and released them from the port.

As per rule, if any container is locked in the ASYCUDA systems it must be physically examined.

The CIID found that fraudsters logged in the ASYCUDA system 3,777 times on several occasions and managed to get the 22 containers freed without physical examination.

The consignments were brought in to Bangladesh between May and December last year by 14 importers and facilitated by 7 C&F agents. They were taken out of the port between September and December last year.

The CIID said it had information that the import consignments contained falsely declared items, so it had requested the CCH to release the goods only after thorough physical examinations. The Central Intelligence Cell (CIC) of the NBR also made the same request to the CCH.

“We kept the consignments locked for physical examination. But when we went to asses the goods we found the consignments were gone,” said CIID Director General Shahidul Islam.

Some individuals who are working at the port and CCH might be involved, he added.

Following the detection, CIID filed a case at Ramna Police station in January this year and the NBR formed three committees, including one at the CIID to investigate the anomaly.

Criminal Investigation Department (CID) is also investigating the matter after the CIID filed the case, said officials.

The CIID also requested the passport and immigration authorities to keep owners of two C&F agents, MS Chaklader Service and MR Trade International, from going abroad.

The probe team has made a lot of progress and has been able to identify almost all the people involved in it, Islam said, adding that the report would be finalised soon.

“This is a very big incident. We will be able to know what actually took place once we come to the end of the investigation.”

But it is clear that the items they declared in the import documents were not cleared. They could have cleared the goods legally had they imported the items in line with their declaration.

“There might be undesirable products in the consignments,” Islam added.

Importers paid customs duty in line with their declarations in the import documents, said HM Shariful Hasan, joint commissioner of CCH.

Asked if they have been able to figure out the vehicles in which the containers were taken away, he answered in the positive.

“But it would not be possible to find the goods even after tracking down the vehicles,” he added.

Some officials involved in the investigations said fraudsters showed scanning reports but those were unsigned by customs officials who were on duty at the gates.

One investigator said they were informed that they were fake scanning reports.

It is mandatory for a consignment to cross at least three steps before it gets released from the port, as per customs rules.

An importer can release goods from ports after testing of samples, checking the relevant documents and physical examination of goods by the duty officer.

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