Corporate Antigua accused of defrauding Customs

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Prime Minister Gaston Browne is accusing members of the corporate community of sponsoring the 2019 Carnival Festivities with the expectation of concessions at the Port, worth as much as 10 times the value of their contribution.

“We saw a situation in which a particular company,” outlined Prime Minister Browne, “gave the Festivals Commission a $100,000 contribution. And, in turn, they brought in $3 million worth of goods, that attracted duties and taxes to the value of $1.1 million.

“I’ve written to the Comptroller of Customs. I’ve said to him to give them a credit for the $100,000 that they sponsored Carnival and kindly collect the government’s $1 million.”

Browne, who is also the country’s finance minister, levied accusations at companies he referred to as the “mail order operations” – merchants that allow buyers places an order for the desired products typically online (through sites such as eBay, Amazon etc.).

“Many of the owners are collecting people’s taxes, ostensibly saying that they are paying over the taxes to Customs, and they [in turn] hold on to the taxes.”

Browne continued on the mail order firms saying, “We’ve seen forgeries in which they prepare warrants as duty free warrants, forging signatures including my signature.”

The finance minister indicated that many of these applications for waivers, in many instances, violated policies on granting waivers for resale items.

Last week, the Cabinet made revelations of ongoing fraud scam by brokers at the Customs and Excise Division said to be over $3 million in unpaid port costs.

Cabinet spokesman Melford Nicholas said at the time that the losses at Customs came during the first quarter of this year. Prime Minister Browne made further disclosures attributing most of those losses to one broker he wished not to name.

“One particular broker is responsible for over $3 million in losses. That is what we have uncovered so far,” Browne said.

The prime minister went on to allege collusion between Customs officers, brokers and the corporate entities he outlined.

Browne did not speak in specifics but said that, “There will be consequences for these individuals.”

He went further to warn consumers as well: “I want to send a signal, especially to individuals who are bringing goods into the country and they have these brokers and these mail order people… Make sure they pay your taxes into Customs, because if they don’t, you will become liable.”

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