Tax fraud syndicate exposed as URA digs in
Posted Sunday, June 17 2012 at 00:00
A syndicate of traders, middlemen and some URA staff has beaten the system and dodged tax payment over the last couple of years thus affecting the country’s revenue collections, our investigation now reveals.
The tax evasion has been mainly through falsification of documents especially of imported goods and under declaration of imports which is done hacking into URA’s data system. The syndicate involves middle men in Uganda and Kenya on one hand, and the revenue officials from the two countries on the other. Most times, according to our findings, imports that attract higher tax are falsified into items that attract less tax like raw materials. For instance, if one imports shoes, by the time the container arrives in Kampala, it will pay tax as calcium carbonate.
For vehicle imports, the fraudsters destroy the history of the car importation from Japan if it’s a car that attracts higher tax like Toyota Land cruisers. On arrival in Kampala, they register it as a smaller car. This means a car that was to pay Shs80m tax, only pays Shs7m.
How it works
When goods leave China, for instance, they are codenamed C63 by customs at Mombasa meaning they are on transit entry to Uganda, so Kenya treats them as exports thus no focus. From Mombasa, the goods are destined to either Malaba or Busia border posts. If the importer chooses to pay taxes at Malaba, so they can offload the goods and sell, they are coded IM4. Those on transit to Kampala for tax payment are coded IM8.
From Malaba to Kampala, URA processes a transit document called T1 which the track driver carries. And on arrival in Kampala, the goods go to any URA registered bonded warehouse.
From the warehouse, the goods are discharged electronically meaning that the owner can proceed to pay the taxes and later remove the goods. The tax is paid through green channel, yellow channel or red channel. If goods go through green channel it means the goods are not physically checked by URA officials because they are either raw materials that attract less tax or the importer has a good track record.
When its yellow, URA only verifies the documents or if the goods are to be physically checked, it would arise from what the documents say. Vehicles fall under this category.
If it’s red, it implies the goods are of higher risk and must be physically checked before the tax process is completed and goods released. Goods classified under higher risk include garments, spirits, cigarettes, hardware and electronics among others. Goods can also be declared of higher risks depending on their source or the nature of importer. They can also be put under red category if other agencies like security have interest. Pharmaceuticals and foods fall under this category.
Aware that URA and Kenya Revenue Authority are connected to a digital data exchange that allows URA to access information declared in Kenya about goods destined to Uganda, the fraudsters went to work.
In some of the cases whose documents we have obtained copies, the importers would declare goods as shoes on arrival in Mombasa but by the time they arrive in Nairobi, the goods turned into Calcium carbonate originating from Kenya to Uganda. Goods from Kenya to Uganda do not attract import tax—only VAT of 18 per cent and withholding tax of 6 per cent.
For instance, in July last year, a Kampala based firm, Twesi Company Ltd, imported a container of shoes from Xuchang Foreign Trade Co Ltd in China. It was container No MSKU8726470 STC 912 with bags of ladies slippers. Kenyan authorities received the goods in Mombasa.
By the time the goods arrived in Nairobi, the goods with the same container number had become exports from Doricliff Prime Enterprises based in Nairobi. The consignee changed from Twesi Company to Mac Limited, also in Kampala. The description changes from ladies plastic slippers to 26 tonnes of calcium carbonate but the number of the container that arrived in Mombasa carrying shoes remained the same as the container that carried calcium carbonate to Kampala from Nairobi.
On arrival at the bond, sources in URA say the importer or agent colludes with either URA staff or the tax body’s former employees to hack into the system to register that the said goods have arrived in Kampala, therefore; tax payment starts. Once URA system captures the goods as having entered into the bond, the process of payment begins automatically. The importer then processed payment of tax for calcium carbonate when it’s the shoes that were imported.
URA swings into action.
Apparently, this fraud is done by the middleman without the knowledge of the importer. In Twezi’s case, for instance, his agent Igga Abdul Huudu, asked for taxes worth Shs23.3m to clear the shoes. On July 12, 2011, Mr Igga had already paid URA tax of Sh1.8m for “calcium carbonate” but on July 26, 2011, Twezi deposited Shs23.2m into Mr Igga’s account at Barclays Bank, Mbarara branch to clear tax for the “shoes”.
After noticing the anomaly, URA Custom’s officials tightened the clearing process. They impounded several trucks in Busitema last year forcing the drivers to go on strike alleging harassment. On further scrutiny, URA discovered that at least 113 shoe importers had been falsifying imports. This newspaper has a list of the affected importers. URA found that at least Sh2.8b in taxes had been lost and a further Shs2.5b in penalties.