Customs official released Goa casino ship despite evidence: Report

March 21st, 2009 - 6:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Panaji, March 21 (IANS) An internal report by a customs superintendent has said that several norms were violated by the Goa customs top brass while releasing the ship MV Casino Royale. The ship, used as an offshore casino, had been seized because its owners were suspected of forgery and duty evasion.
The enquiry report dated Oct 20, 2008 said that the superintendent of customs in charge of the private bonded warehouse of the M/s Waterways Shipyard Pvt Ltd in Goa had repeatedly advised against releasing the vessel citing various improprieties. IANS has a copy of the report.

It points out an alleged forgery committed in order to evade duty on imported equipment fitted on the vessel. The report states that the imported equipment costing about Rs.20.47 crore (Rs.204.7 million), included a “heli-deck pancake”, which was to be used as a helicopter landing facility on the vessel.

However, a spokesman of the Goa customs and central excise department told IANS: “The heli-deck pancake was a duty paid item and there is no duty liable in this case.”

The department was still probing the MV Casino Royale case, the spokesman said. “The enquiry will be completed within one month,” he said.

He also took on the superintendent’s report, calling it a case of “jurisdictional excess”. “The bond superintendent is only concerned with material available in the bonded area,” the spokesman said.

The report had stated that the seals of the customs bonded shipyard had been forged on the documents, which in turn had raised suspicion of alleged duty evasion on imported equipment worth Rs.20 crore (Rs.200 million).

Ignoring the report, Goa Commissioner of Customs and Central Excise Chandrahas Mathur in a subsequent communication dated Nov 3, 2008, had ordered the swift release of the vessel “citing financial hardships of the buyer” as one of the reasons.

Mathur had also stated that officials attached to the chief minister’s office and the chief secretary had telephoned him seeking early release of the offshore casino vessel.

“Financial constraints of the importer are not to be considered as adequate ground for granting extension of warehousing period under section 61 of the Customs Act, 1962,” the enquiry report had earlier cautioned.

“It is evident that due to jurisdictional limitations I could not bring all the improprieties on record, which could only be ascertained in a thorough investigation,” the author of the report had written.

The enquiry report endorses to an extent accusations made by leader of opposition Manohar Parrikar, who had said that customs officials had been pressurised by officials attached to the chief minister’s office to quickly release the offshore casino vessel, even when it was being probed for duty evasion. Parrikar had pegged the resultant loss of revenue at Rs.4 crore (Rs.40 million).

He had also alleged that millions of rupees had been offered as bribes to officials attached to the chief minister’s office and senior bureaucrats to pressurise the customs department into releasing the vessel.

The opposition has had the Congress-led coalition government in Goa squirming over allegations of illegalities by offshore casinos.

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