The Customs Division of the Ghana Revenue Authority (GRA) has made known that between March and May this year alone, about 500 vehicles have been confiscated, while about 200 more were seized in the ongoing exercise dubbed ‘anti-car smuggling operations’.
The latest confiscation, effected from June 26 to July 25 involved expensive cars, such as cross country vehicles, four wheel drives were seized from their owners at the various customs points across the country; reason being duties were not paid on them by their owners or importers.
Out of the 200 vehicles, officials of the Customs Division at the headquarters in Accra impounded 55 cars, while customs officials in Sunyani confiscated 45.
In Kumasi, 22 smuggled cars impounded, while the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority (DVLA) in Accra and the Customs sector commands in Tema, Takoradi, Ho, Bolgatanga and Tamale confiscated about 10 cars each.
In an interview in Accra on Thursday, the Assistant Commissioner, Preventive Sector Commander of the Customs Division, Mr Czas N. Sabblah, said the anti-car smuggling exercise was embarked on after the Division realized that revenues in relation to vehicle imports were dwindling.
Data at the Customs Division indicates that 21 per cent of the 45 per cent tax revenue collected by the Customs Division is generated from vehicle imports.
“From intelligence, we gathered that vehicles were being routed into the country by road and that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Protocol was being abused,” he said.
The ECOWAS Protocol allows citizens of member countries of the sub-regional body to temporarily cross over to other countries with vehicles for temporary use for a period of 90 days.
On arrival in the country, the vehicles must be registered with the Customs Division. Where there is the need to extend the period, the owners are expected to notify Customs officials for the necessary procedure.
Mr Sabblah said investigations showed that a number of car importers were importing vehicles from Ghana’s neighboring countries where they managed to register and obtained documents to cover them.
However, when the vehicles arrive in Ghana, the importers use dubious means to obtain false Ghanaian car number plates and then resell them or keep them for personal use.
“Those in the car smuggling business patronize the services of some unscrupulous persons at the DVLA who are able to generate documents such as road worthy certificates and car registration plates for the smuggled cars,” Mr Sabblah said.
According to him, other smugglers also buys overage vehicles from Lome, Togo, which has a duty free port.
“They do not verify the tax liability of the vehicles they purchase, as old cars attract higher taxes. They then register them with Togolese number plates and process them for temporary importation into Ghana, but they later change the number plates and sell them to unsuspecting people,” he said.
He said because the cars from Togo are overage, the importers usually tampered with their chassis numbers to correspond with the forged customs documents before selling them.
Expatiating on the anti-car smuggling operation, Mr Sabblah said the operation has been categorized into three phases and that the second phase would focus on trucks, while the third phase would dwell on saloon cars.
“We gave a public notice that from June 26, 2014, we would be going after smuggled cars and alert all sector commanders and substations to ensure the exercise took place simultaneously throughout the country,” he said.
He said since the commencement of the exercise, “we have intelligence that some people intend to move their cars out of the country and we have asked our officials to check the tax status of every vehicle and also verify the authenticity of all their customs documents”.
The minimum penalty for defaulters is 100 per cent of the tax evaded.
He said the division had started auctioning some of the vehicles impounded to recover the revenue, dispose of the vehicles before they deteriorate and “also create space for the new cars we are confiscating”.
Mr Sabblah said during the operation, customs officials carried laptops to enable them to link up to the database of the vehicles.
Vehicles suspected to have been smuggled were initially detained for 30 days, during which the owners were expected to produce the necessary documents and assist in investigations, and depending on the outcome the vehicles are released to the owners, he stated.
According to him, when the 30 day grace period expires, the vehicles are then classified as seized cars and the owners has 30 days to appeal, after which the vehicles are put up for auction.
“At this stage, it is only the Commissioner of the GRA who can release a seized car,” he explained.
Mr Sabblah, therefore, appealed to potential car buyers to approach the nearest Customs office to verify the tax liability and the authenticity of customs documents covering the car and also for examination of the chassis number to determine the right age.