Despite vehement denials by senior officials at Sri Lanka Customs, the furor over the alleged large scale vehicle fraud amounting to over Rs.1 billion shows no sign of abating, with an official complaint being lodged with the Financial Crimes Investigation Division (FCID).

Representatives from the All Ceylon Customs Service Union (ACCSU) lodged a complaint with the FCID on Friday (December 18) regarding an alleged large scale customs fraud amounting to Rs.1.262 billion payable as import duty levies on 212 Toyota Land Cruiser Prado TRJ150W vehicles. On Thursday, the Customs union wrote to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe urging him to invalidate an order given by the Customs Director General to release the vehicles after payment of a lower import duty. They further alleged that the Customs DG had given the order on instructions from Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake.

However, at a media briefing held at Customs Headquarters on Friday, Director General of Customs, Chulananda Perera vehemently denied all allegations, and insisted that there would be no loss of revenue to the State.

Perera said 189 vehicles had been detained by the Custom’s Central Investigation Division at Hambantota port on suspicion that the actual transaction values were not reflected in the commercial invoices submitted to Customs by the importers of these vehicles. All vehicles had been imported on concessionary permits given by the Government and many of the consignees were government servants, he claimed. However, since investigations would take a long period of time, it was decided to recover additional duties (approximately Rs.1.6 million per vehicle) through additional Customs declarations, the Customs DG said. He also said none of the vehicles had been released to importers thus far.

However, a highly-placed source at Customs scoffed at the DG’s claims and said officials were already being pressured to authorize the release of the vehicles in question before the probe was concluded. The source also pointed out that under permits provided to government servants, only vehicles below US$35,000 could be imported. “However, these vehicles cost well over US$50,000 and as such, the vehicles could either be confiscated by the State or a fine amounting to three times the vehicle’s value should be imposed for submitting bogus purchase invoices,” the source said.

The source also insisted none of the 189 vehicles that were being investigated by Customs belonged to the original holders of the permits. “This is a racket being carried out by some importers,” the source noted.