An official of the Customs, Excise and Preventive Service (CEPS), George Bansah, has bolted after allegedly conniving with others, including clearing agents, to clear 10 containers of cargo imported from Canada without paying duties estimated at more than 1.2 billion cedis.
The cargo was cleared under a Free Zones concession in the name of Edward Snell Company but it was intercepted and impounded after the trucks carrying it bypassed the said company and headed towards the Spintex Road.
One of the accomplices, Emmanuel Kwame Mainoo, the Ghanaian representative of Punga Trading of South Africa, who is also responsible for the South Africa Company's business operations in West Africa, is on a 4 billion cedis self-recognisance bail for his alleged role in clearing the 40-foot containers.
The rest of the suspects are being investigated to determine their level of involvement or otherwise to ascertain the circumstances under which the CEPS officials, the Ghanaian representative of the South African company, some clearing agents and an employee of a free Zones company in Tema managed to clear the cargo from the Tema Port.
A source at a shipping company in Tema who tipped off the Daily Graphic about the unlawful clearance of the consignment, using Free Zones documents and transactions, claimed that investigation into the affair was slow because of the involvement of several customs officials, but the assistant commissioner in charge of CEPS in Tema flatly denied the claim at the weekend.
The Assistant Commissioner, Mr Sam Yankyera, said on the contrary, CEPS was determined to pursue the case to its logical conclusion.
He said it was CEPS which uncovered the fraudulent clearing of the containers, which held a total of 1,500 drums of ethyl alcohol. Each drum had a capacity of 250 litres.
Mr Yankyera said the plan hatched by the suspects to import and sell the commodity in Ghana, without paying duties on the consignment, initially worked to perfection until a senior customs official at the Export Free Zones area in Tema expressed doubt about the authenticity of the cargo declaration and the company.
He, however, admitted that George Bansah, the CEPS official who was believed to have helped to facilitate the fraudulent clearing of the shipment of alcohol, had gone AWOL (absence without leave) and was being sought for by the security agencies.
Mr Yankyera said that on March 14, 2006, an official of CEPS at the Free Zones areas informed his office that she doubted the authenticity of a signature on a Free Zones Form 9 which had been completed, purportedly to enable Edward Snell Company to clear a shipment under Free Zones concession.
The CEPS officials at the Free Zones then made enquiries at the Free Zones Board, where the officials there said they shared her doubts regarding the authenticity of the signature on the Free Zones Form 9 which was to be used to clear the consignment as cargo imported by the Free Zones Company.
Apart from a 100 per cent exemption from the payment of taxes on their profits for a period of 10 years from the year of commencement of business operations, Free Zones companies in the country also enjoy a 100 per cent exemption from the payment of duties.