THE Nigeria Customs Service, NCS, has claimed that powerful and well connected Nigerians use religious houses and government agencies to evade payment of duty on imported items.

The Service said some persons related to religious houses and government agencies present fake documents and signatures to get such goods released.

Coordinator of Zone A, Assistant Comptroller General, ACG Katherine Ekekezie, who disclosed this in Lagos, said that activities of these individuals is costing the Federal Government huge financial loss as well as having negative effect on the nation’s economy.

According to her, “On fraudulent identification of intending beneficiaries of such items, they even faked a Catholic church; they made the Cardinal himself to sign. I went to his office and he told me that he signed but that he did not know what he signed for.”

“These were telephone calls, very high powered. What happened was that they were operating in Lagos but the officer said it is my uncle that is supposed to be signing this, let me call my uncle and the agent ran away and never came back. They resurfaced in Abuja; I think they did the first one and they were successful. When they came again for the second one, we said no; something fishy was going on and we followed up.”

“What we found out, if I tell you, were the faking was coming from where you would not believe it. Very high powered people are behind it.”

Giving another instance, she said, “We keep on seeing many waivers that are purported to come from an organisation that are actually registered; some persons also have a way of beating around them.

“When I was in Tariff and Trade, in-fact I was desk officer. We had to call the signatory; I asked him one day, sir, are you actually the one signing all these documents we are seeing?  For instance, how will you feel that a lot of money has been waived for bitumen which can be picked from Ondo. He said he did not sign that document.

“So I told him I am sending everything I have worked on between January and December. He should study it and send it to me and we discovered that out of the 15 documents, guess what; only three were signed by him. So the truth is that people working in that office were involved. A level 14 officer was affected because Customs police went and made arrest,” she noted.

Contrary to claims that the Service demand for Form “M” for the clearance of charity items, the Customs boss said “It is out of our procedure to ask for Form “M” for donated items. Officers must account for every import into the country.

If such goods must be released, if they are not released based on duty payment, then they are released based on waivers,” she concluded.

@ Vanguard Newspaper

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