I received calls to release casino vessel: Goa customs commissioner

February 26th, 2009 - 8:14 pm ICT by IANS  

Panaji, Feb 26 (IANS) Goa’s customs and central excise commissioner admitted Thursday he had received calls from Goa chief secretary and the chief minister’s office to quickly release an offshore casino vessel being probed by his department.
“Requests did come from the state chief secretary (J.P. Singh) and the Goa chief minister’s office, although I cannot recall the name of the official who called me in the latter case,” C. Mathur told a press conference at the Customs and Central Excise House here Thursday.

Mathur also said that requests for favours from such high offices were unprecedented. “I have not received such requests in the past,” Mathur said.

Mathur’s press conference follows the release of an inter-departmental note issued by him to his subordinates, copies of which were distributed to the media by the leader of Opposition Manohar Parrikar.

“The chief secretary as well as officers from chief minister’s office, Goa government have telephoned me requesting early release of the vessel as permitted under law,” reads the contents of a note issued by Mathur to his subordinate additional commissioner P. V.N. Suresh Babu, instructing him to release the vessel M V Casino Royale and follow an expeditious release time table devised by Mathur himself.

“The action for release should be immediate and I direct that the provisional assessment formalities be completed by 4:30 p.m. today and the vessel released provisionally under all circumstances by 6 p.m. (on the same day),” the note further read.

The vessel M V Casino Royale owned by High Street Cruises Pvt Ltd was later released on the same day Nov 11 2008 and was operational the following week.

The MV Casino Royale which is a foreign ship sailing under Comoros Island flag was being probed by the Goa customs for allegedly leaving a customs bonded shipyard without their permission.

While the M V Casino Royale, was being probed by the Customs department, the Commissioner in the note has asked his subordinates to release the vessel on a ‘provisional basis’, citing phone calls from the chief secretary and the chief minister’s office as the reason.

When asked if such calls or requests were a part of the protocol, Mathur said that he “was not sure whether such a call was in accordance with the protocol involving interaction between state and central government agencies”.

“I am not an expert on protocol. I am not sure. But I have never received such requests in the past,” Mathur said.

The opposition Wednesday had claimed that crores of rupees had changed hands between casino operators and the top politicians and bureaucrats in the state for granting licences and quick clearances given to offshore casino vesssels.

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