After being alerted on the possible existence of bribery and extortion by customs officials and loaders while importing goods through the Mini-Dry-Pot (MDP) and other designated areas in Phuentsholing, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) started their investigation sometime in June 2021.
The investigation revealed prevalence of bribery and extortion practices involving customs officials at MDP.
The investigations a few months ago revealed that of the few suspected involvement of custom officials, one of them is one Senior Custom Inspector who was arrested on 8 October 2021, wherein he had been receiving illicit payments from multiple parties in relation to import of goods.
The findings have revealed that he concealed these bribes using the bank accounts of other private individuals, which was his modus operandi.
In connection to the case, ACC has revealed the involvement of a few business entities in the case, for which the ACC has suspended all their business licenses.
The ACC investigation, in recent times, has revealed that the M/S Ajay Enterprise at Lower Market, Phuentsholing was engaged in bribery. It was learnt that the proprietor made several unexplained transfers, either directly or indirectly, to the Customs Inspectors of RRCO while they were on duty at MDP.
The payments were made to the public officials in order to enable under-declarations or/and non-declarations of goods to Bhutan by the importer, ACC further added.
Likewise, ACC said, “The investigation revealed that the proprietor of the M/S Sonam Dolma Enterprise at Lower Market, Phuensum Lam, Phuentsholing firm has bribed Customs Inspectors for tax evasion. It was also found out that the firm was involved in multiple instances of tax evasion and non-declaration of consignments at the point of entry.”
The said enterprise deals in all kinds of school stationeries, hardware, electrical and plumbing items. In addition, the enterprise also deals with printer toner and cartridges based on the supply order placed by various government and corporate offices of Bhutan.
The investigation also revealed that the Bhutanese Importer M/S Elite Enterprise had bribed a Customs Inspector for clearing goods of third country imports from the MDP. The goods imported were all taxable (Sales Tax & Custom Duty) but the importer intentionally evaded possible taxes, ACC added.
“M/S Gopal Tshongkhang and M/S Powdel Tshongkhang not only imported betel nuts and leaves but also cleared taxes and made Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGS) payments on behalf of their customers who are basically the actual importers,” stated ACC.
In doing so, ACC added that they forged invoices, bribed one customs official and one RBP personnel to evade sales tax. The duo also bribed a customs official for importing the restricted item and plastic packing materials.
ACC earlier said that one importer dealing in supply of betel nuts and leaves sought to establish a link with custom officials as it was unpredictably and risky for him to bring undervalued or illegal consignments without established setting with customs.
Evidence shows that the importer arranged with a supplier across the border to undervalue their invoice by 50 percent for declaration at the customs check post. Half of the tax evaded, sometimes even more, went to the customs officials, whereas the remaining half remained as a benefit to the importer, ACC found.
In connection to the MDP case, ACC has detained custom officials, businessmen and loaders for investigation.
Meanwhile, the investigation by ACC was launched at a time when there was heightened concern about the unrelenting surge in COVID-19 cases in Phuentsholing despite being under a strict lockdown.
It was learnt that the importers and traders in the country have faced various challenges in order to import their consignment, from damages to delays, and having to pay illegal extra charges or commission to bring in their consignment from Phuentsholing on time.