A clearing and forwarding (C&F) agent took delivery of nine consignments of various goods from Chattogram’s Shah Amanat International Airport in December last year allegedly using forged documents.
The agent -- Water Ways Shipping Agencies Limited -- had the goods released against fake documents, including passport details, flight numbers and arrival dates, of nine Bangladeshi expatriates, customs officials said in an investigation report submitted to Customs Commissioner Mohammad Fakhrul Alam on May 11.
Besides, although the customs register and the airport warehouse delivery register show that the goods have already been delivered, the server of the National Board of Revenue still shows them as unreleased, the report said.
The NBR server also shows that no taxes were paid for the release, the report said, adding that the C&F agent received the consignments with release letters signed by customs officials.
The goods include cosmetics items, clothes and dry foods.
According to the “Passenger (non-tourist) Baggage (Import) Rules-2016”, a Bangladeshi expatriate can bring in maximum 65kgs of finished goods in cargo flights (not for commercial purposes). The passenger will have to take the delivery through an C&F agent and by paying tax against the goods.
The tax can be paid either through bank accounts or pay-orders. If an agent selects account payment in the online form at the customs server, money will be automatically deducted from its bank account. In case of payment by pay-order, the money has to be paid separately.
Customs sources said Ctg-based Water Ways Shipping Agencies Limited selected pay-order option in the online form, but in the release letter it said it paid the money through account payment.
The customs authorities learnt about the matter recently and on June 16 formed a three-member probe committee to find out the actual number of consignments released from the airport through this way.
The committee, which is also trying to identify the customs officials involved in the fraud, was given 10 working days to submit its report, said customs officials.
Additional Commissioner Kazi Mohammad Ziauddin, head of the probe committee, told The Daily Star the initial investigation found that all the documents submitted by the C&F agent were fake.
“It is not possible to do such irregularities without the help of any customs official. Those involved in the forgery will be tracked down and punished,” he said, adding similar cases might surface after further investigation.
Talking to The Daily Star, the customs commissioner said they had detected many incidents of tax dodging in the past, but taking delivery of goods without paying taxes was new.
“We suspended the licence of the C&F agent soon after getting evidence against it. We may cancel its licence as well,” Mohammad Fakhrul Alam said.
Contacted, Mohammad Faruqe, director of Water Ways Shipping Agencies Limited, however, said everything happened for a “technical glitch”. He said they wanted to pay tax through account payment, but the option of pay-order got selected in the customs server “mistakenly”.
“It might have happened due to a technical glitch. We are ready to pay all the taxes against the invoices. If they [customs] fine us for any wrongdoing, we are willing to pay for that as well,” he added.
Asked about using fake documents, he claimed that those were “genuine”.