The seizure of a brand new Rolls Royce worth Tk27 crore in Dhaka has raised the eyebrows of many in the business community as the importer of the vehicle has all the legal documents.
The Z&Z Intimates Limited – a strategic business unit of the Ananta Group, imported the vehicle from the United Kingdom some two and a half months ago.
Customs intelligence on Wednesday said the car was illegally hidden in the garage of the residence of the company's managing director in Baridhara, violating the provisions of the Customs Act.
The taxation process is usually completed within 24 hours for the imported goods of any company listed with the Bangladesh Export Processing Zones Authority (Bepza).
In the case of this vehicle, the Customs officials did complete the physical assessment but no certificate was issued.
The question then is, why could the Chittagong Customs House not complete the taxation process in two and a half months?
After reviewing the Customs information, The Business Standard found that the car was imported against a valid import permit issued by Bepza, citing the engine capacity and model.
After physically assessing the vehicle, the Chattogram Customs officials verbally informed the importer that the assessment notice and release order would be issued within a week. But that did not happen.
As per the details mentioned in the import permit, the bill of entry of the car was registered on 27 April, and the physical examination was completed on 12 June.
TBS found that the car, which was imported in compliance with the import rules and with the permission of Bepza, is supposed to get a duty-free facility under the National Board of Revenue's (NBR) Customs Act.
The importer, however, violated the law by moving the car from the EPZ without a release order from the Customs Department.
M Fakhrul Alam, commissioner of Chittagong Customs House, told TBS that the importer's documents were valid.
According to the existing rules of the Customs Act, the owner of an EPZ-listed company can import sedans up to 2,000cc. And if it is a sports utility vehicle (SUV), then the CC measurement is not specified in the law, he said.
Highlighting the legal provisions, he said, "In case of EPZ-listed organisations, if all the goods in an imported container belong to the same company, the container is allowed to be taken to its own bonded warehouse at EPZ instead of being processed at the port."
Later, the Customs officials visit the EPZ for assessing the goods (such as vehicles) and issuing an assessment notice stating whether the goods would be subject to duty or not, Fakrul Alam said.
"Upon completion of these activities, the Customs Department issues a release order. In this case, all the goods in the container, including the car, belonged to Z&Z Intimates," he said.
The vehicle was imported according to the import permit issued by Bepza on 27 April and taken to the Chattogram EPZ. After the physical assessment, the Customs officials, however, did not issue an assessment notice and release order yet, the commissioner said.
When asked about the delay, the commissioner told TBS that the permit should have been tested thoroughly but the information was not available in time as it was not online.
"Aadi Towel was founded in 2007 and it was bought by Z&Z Intimates in 2017," he said.
"According to the existing order of the Customs Department (statutory regulatory order/SRO), the factory established by EPZ before 2009 will get a duty-free facility for importing a certain number of vehicles up to a certain CC limit," the commissioner said.
Since the company was transferred after 2009 (in 2017), the ownership and name also changed, so whether they would get duty-free access to imported cars was also an issue, he said.
"We sent a letter to the NBR in this regard but the revenue authority did not respond yet," he said.
"If necessary, there could be a logical delay. In such cases, the importers have to apply for provisional assessment or inform the higher authorities for releasing goods. Instead, they [importer] moved the car in their custody from the EPZ, which is illegal," the commissioner said.
"Sharif Zahir, managing director of Ananta Group, met me on Wednesday and explained that it was a mistake to remove the car before the Customs procedures were completed," he added.
On condition of anonymity, a source close to the importer told TBS, "Although the ownership has changed, the entity has not changed, and remains as Aadi Towel. The bond license is still in the name of Aadi Towel.
"Bepza has provided the company with an import permit after thorough scrutiny. Thus, this car deserves a duty-free facility and this process should not take so long to complete."
Lutfor Rahman, a former NBR member, who also served as the commissioner of Chittagong Customs House, told TBS, "The importer should get duty free facility if the SRO facility is in effect at present and details are mentioned in the Bepza IP. Under a 2006 SRO, lawmakers can still avail tax-free benefits for importing cars."
He, however, mentioned that the vehicle was illegally transferred without a pass or release order from the authorities concerned.
A former official of the NBR's Customs Department also questioned the rationale for making such a fuss over the issue, especially for the Customs Intelligence to step in to convict someone of tax evasion.
According to officials concerned, the importer will be fined a lump sum amount for illegally removing the vehicle from the EPZ. At present, the car has been kept in the custody of Dhaka Customs House.
Meanwhile, NBR sources said they received a letter about the Rolls Royce vehicle from Chittagong Customs House on Thursday, which was sent to NBR on 5 June.
A senior NBR official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told TBS that the importer could have got the duty-free facility legally from the Chittagong Customs House.
"But the question is how did the car get out without permission? We will investigate if anyone [a custom-house official] is involved," he added.
Currently, the import duty on a vehicle above 4500cc is 825%. As such, if the price of a Rolls Royce car is around Tk3 crore or so, then its duty will be around Tk24 crore and the price of the car will be around Tk27 crore.