Sunday, July 13, 2008

Polar beer row...GRA to sue Safeek over ‘reckless statements’ -Fidelity stands firm

Polar beer row...GRA to sue Safeek over ‘reckless statements’ -Fidelity stands firm
Friday, 11 July 2008 00:25 Guyana Times

Commissioner General of the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) Khurshid Sattaur is to bring legal action against Fidelity Investment Inc’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Joshua Safeek for statements made that could bring into disrepute the GRA and its head. Sattaur confirmed this in a conversation with the Guyana Times yesterday.

This is in the midst of a war of words between the GRA and the company over charges filed for false declaration in the importation of Polar Beer form Venezuela. Safeek appeared before the courts yesterday on the falsification charges, and was granted bail in the sum of $2M.

Fidelity’s offending statement was issued on Wednesday in response to an article that appeared in this newspaper on the charges to be laid against the company and its principal officer, Safeek. In it he said that the GRA was trying to tarnish Fidelity’s reputation and accused Sattaur of trying to cover up for “corrupt” customs officers involved in the polar beer scam.

In a statement issued to the media yesterday Sattaur said he was forced to respond to what he said were the outrageous allegations made against the GRA that the agency was victimizing the touted ‘Polar Beer Franchise holder.’ He said GRA stood resolute in its position against corruption and will continue to maintain extreme vigilance to ensure that efforts to defraud the government of revenues are thwarted. But Fidelity Investment hit back last evening with a statement of its own, saying that it too stands resolutely with the GRA to clean out corruption within its fold, and asserted that it was ready to defend itself from all attacks from Sattaur.

Fidelity Investments and the GRA have been at odds since earlier this year when the revenue body uncovered a multi-million dollar scam involving custom officers and Fidelity over the importation of polar beers. The revelation resulted in a shake-up at GRA, and Fidelity, Safeek, and Kong Inc had been charged for evasion of duties in excess of $350 million stemming from a GRA raid on Fidelity’s bond at Broad Street Charlestown where some 73,000 cases of Polar beer were seized.

Yesterday GRA moved to the court for the second time this year to file fresh charges under the Customs Act against Fidelity Investments for making false declarations to the Customs and Trade Administration for the shipment of Polar Beer. Responding to statements made by Joshua Safeek, CEO of Fidelity at a press conference held on Wednesday, Sattaur said in his statement that the allegations raised by the CEO were a brazen but transparent attempt to divert attention away from the real issues and to mislead the general public.

Safeek had accused the GRA at the press conference of trying to tarnish his company’s name in an attempt to cover for corrupt customs officers involved in the polar beer scam. He also charged that the GRA had failed to move against major businesses for engaging in illegal trading activities. Sattaur said if Fidelity was in possession of such information he should lay them before the GRA or the Multi-Agency Task Force that is presently engaged in carrying out a major investigation into the operations of the GRA, particularly, the Customs and Trade Administration.

He said once there is sufficient evidence against perpetrators, the GRA will act within its power to stem the illegal practice and charge such offenders as has been done over the years. Noting that he did not intend for this matter to be replicated, Sattaur said Fidelity Investment once again succeeded in what appears to be a malicious and persistent effort to defraud the government and people of Guyana of revenues by forging documents at the Customs and Trade Administration.

He said however that he was pleased that the matter was detected early and is confident that the court has the capacity to deal objectively with the matter and to ensure that justice prevails. Meanwhile, Sattaur also cleared the air on allegations made by Fidelity that he is trying to influence the ongoing Multi-Agency Task Force investigation, which stemmed from an earlier scam involving Fidelity Investment, by being part of the team.

Sattaur said the GRA is not represented on the team of investigators but that he is tasked with facilitating the investigation by releasing the necessary documents and personnel as required by the Task Force. He believes therefore that Safeek’s statement is “reckless and untimely” since the charges made by the GRA have full merit and the matter is now engaging the attention of the court.

Fidelity last evening challenged the GRA to make available to the public the amount of revenues it claims the company had defrauded the government of as a result of forging documents of the recent shipment of beer from Venezuela, noting that the administration had collected $8.7M in revenue from the shipment.

“Fidelity stands firm in its commitment to submit for assessment by customs, the transaction value of the products it imports, and not to submit what Sattaur decides as the transaction value,” the statement said. It added that Safeek’s statement to the press on Wednesday was not careless or untimely as was the July 9, 2008 issue of the Guyana Times report about the charges which were laid yesterday.

Fidelity believes that it was an attempt to smear the company and as such it had to set the records straight. Two weeks ago, Customs seized two containers of Polar Beer after it found that the value of the commodity was under-invoiced and documentation submitted was falsified.

Earlier this year, the company was implicated in a major corruption probe after the company imported over 50 containers using false documents. The SAFECO Group owned by Safeek comprises of Fidelity Investments Ltd., National Co-operative Credit Union, Caricom Insurance formerly GUYFLAG Insurance and the Commodities Store. GRA is being represented by Special Prosecutor, Attorney at Law Mr. Gino Persaud.

No comments: