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The alleged massive tax evasion uncovered by the Presidential Task Force in the warehousing fraud saga might only be the tip of the iceberg and a possible travesty of the real issues of leakages in the tax net.
Beneath the reported warehouse fraud is a simmering elbowing for control of state revenue by interest groups, which are either covering up the real leakages, or protecting their own to create, loot and share.
The Presidential Task Force, in its recent report, cited over 280 companies for allegedly evading taxes to the tune of $367 million over a seven year period.
Initial reports gathered by The Chronicle indicate that the report by the Task Force on the quantum of monies lost to the state could only be an understatement of the real issues, and not likely to cover very essential features of the warehousing fraud, if it was not based on a forensic audit of the Automated System provided by GCNet.
This argument was based on the fact that a management member of GCNet, Mr. Elliot Ansah, in September 2010, on the eve of his resignation from the company, manipulated the GCNet's system data to under-declare the value of goods belonging to a company called Ezal.
Information gathered by The Chronicle from GCNet indicates that Mr. Elliot Ansah, now a fugitive in the United Kingdom, took advantage of his position as a privileged user with unlimited access to the GCNet server, to perpetrate the act and then absconded that same night on board a British airline to the UK, without even handing over the company's items, as is the usual case.
Mr. Emmanuel Darko, Deputy General Manager of GCNet, told The Chronicle that the illegal entry was detected by a feature of the system, which was noticed by a warehousing officer, but insisted that there was no revenue lost to the state, as a result of the data manipulation.
“Although no revenue was lost, Customs deemed it necessary to undertake an investigation.”
The Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority then instituted an investigation into the matter, and issued a report and called for follow-up measures, which included, among others, a formal request by the Commissioner to Interpol to extradite Mr. Elliot Ansah to ascertain any revenue loss, and the recovery of any loss arising from the manipulation.
The report also directed that there should be stocktaking of all goods, and a post clearance audit of the transactions, stored in the Ezal warehouse, where the data manipulation was carried.
But, almost three years after the Customs investigations, Mr. Ansah is still cooling off with his wife in the UK, and the people indicted in the investigations walking free.
Sources close to The Chronicle say the report of the Presidential Task Force was not only a reproduction of the Customs investigations, but a likely cover-up of the states' inability to bring in Mr. Ansah and prosecute those found culpable in the report.
“The real extent of the loss can only be determined by a total forensic audit of the GCNet Customs Management System's logs and data,' the source told The Chronicle.
But the management of GCNet says none of the numerous investigations conducted by state agencies on its systems after the incident found any loss of revenue to the state.
However, sources close to The Chronicle say the warehousing fraud saga, if properly interrogated, could open up a can of worms, which could pass as the warehousing scandal of the century and a likely cover-up of the real issues on the ground.
So far, most of the companies cited in the Presidential Task Force fraud saga have vehemently contested the report, and have denied evading tax.
The United Steel Company, Electricity Company of Ghana, and Tema Oil Refinery Company Limited (TOR), all named in the warehouse report, have denied defrauding the state through an alleged evasion of tax payments on the use of Custom bonded warehouses.
The management of United Steel Company Limited has vehemently refuted claims that the company had evaded tax to the tune of $86,059,463.
The management of the company says a thorough check of its records, and which has been verified by the Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority, indicates that all that the company had utilised from the bonded warehouse had been duly paid for, and stressed that the company was one of the highest tax paying companies to the GRA.
Documents sighted by The Chronicle indicated that the task force's calculations, that led to its conclusion that an amount $360 million was lost to the state in the ware house fraud, indicate that their calculations were flawed, as there were repetitions in the declarations considered.
For example, declarations on United Steel Company indicate that there were either double or triple counts of a single declaration, whereas three of the declaration belonged to another steel company called Steel Ghana, with only 55 of the 61 declarations belonging to United steel Company.
Also, Customs memos on the operations of the Task Force cited by The Chronicle indicate 'misconduct' of some operatives, and warned that it had the tendency to 'bring the reputation of the Office of the President into serious disrepute, and also cast a slur on the integrity of the Customs Division.'
The Chronicle can confirm a legal tussle currently ongoing between a so-called whistleblower, whose tip off led to the Customs investigations, and the GRA, in which the whistleblower is seeking redress for the GRA's refusal to pay him his monetary award.
In the case Joe Onyame v GCNet, GRA, MOFEP and Attorney-General, which is currently at the commercial court, Joe Onyame is praying the court to order an independent forensic audit of the GCNet, so that his entitlements can be correctly calculated.
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