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World Bank, ILO, UNDP caught up in customs crackdown on car imports

  • Published at 01:23 am April 18th, 2017
  • Last updated at 03:28 am April 18th, 2017
World Bank, ILO, UNDP caught up in customs crackdown on car imports
The Customs Intelligence and Investigation Directorate (CIID) is probing several high-ranking officials of foreign embassies and international organisations over the alleged misuse of duty-free facilities to import luxury motor vehicles into Bangladesh. In the past two years, 57 cars were confiscated as their importers either evaded taxes or falsified papers, CIID Director General Dr Moinul Khan has said. The World Bank, International Labour Organisation (ILO) and UNDP are among the organisations caught up in the crackdown. A CIID official seeking anonymity told the Dhaka Tribune that they were examining the imports of around 600 cars by officials of different international organisations and development partners through two mechanisms: The Carnet de Passages facility and the Privileged Persons (Customs Procedure) Rule 2003. Carnet de Passages is an international customs facility which allows tourists to temporarily import their private vehicles without paying any duty for a limited period on condition of exporting them at the end of their stay. The National Board of Revenue (NBR) moved against this in 2013, after it found some unscrupulous car importers were using this facility to import and sell cars by evading import tax. The Privileged Persons (Customs Procedure) Rule 2003 is mainly for diplomats who are entitled to import free of customs duties a motor car/vehicle for their personal use if their stay in Bangladesh is expected to be not less than one year. The rule stipulates that in that case, the vehicle shall be imported within six months from the date of the privileged persons first arrival in Bangladesh. However, the rule is sometimes not strictly followed, prompting the CIID to crack down on some international organisations. Of the 57 vehicles confiscated since 2015, all were in violation of one of these laws and many were luxury vehicles such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Rolls Royce. CIID director general Dr Moinul Khan told the Dhaka Tribune on Monday that foreign nationals are required to seek permission from the authorities concerned and pay taxes for using their cars. “But many of them evade tax while some depart the country without informing the authorities, so their tax arrears remain unpaid,” he said. In a major development, the CIID director general also said they had completed their investigation into the allegations against former UNDP country director in Bangladesh, Stefan Priesner, for selling his duty-free car to one of his colleagues without completing the duty-related formalities. Priesner, who served as the UNDP chief in Bangladesh between 2008 and 2012 and is now UNDP resident representative in Uzbekistan, sold his car before his departure to Ashikul Hasib Tarik, a mid-level official of UNDP. The investigation report will be filed to the NBR seeking a further course of action. “The authorities may file a case or recommend disciplinary action against the official through UNDP headquarters, once approved by the NBR head office,” said the CIID boss. In February, CIID asked the World Bank in Dhaka to submit documents of 16 cars including two brought in by two of its former officials: Mirva Tuulia from Finland and Mridula Singh from India. CIID officials claimed that although Singh and Tuulia left Bangladesh after fulfilling their assignments in 2014 and 2016 respectively, they did not hand over their passbooks and other documents to CIID before their departures. The World Bank responded to questions about the CIID claims in an email to the Dhaka Tribune, saying it takes compliance with national laws seriously. “We are working closely with the National Board of Revenues (NBR) and Customs Intelligence & Investigation Directorate (CIID) to address the issue of some outstanding passbooks,” the World Bank wrote. “In response to the CIID’s letter dated 15.2.2017, we have provided detailed information to CIID on 16 passbooks; shared vehicle transfer documents for 12 vehicles, including NBR’s permission and custom clearance to transfer a vehicle to another privileged person; and sought clarification on one name, which is not in our staff directory. “We have arranged returning of three vehicles, whose transfer is under process after the respective World Bank Group staff left the country. Since December 2016, the World Bank returned a total of 38 passbooks, including three passbooks for the three respective returned vehicles.” The ILO also responded to the Dhaka Tribune about the three cases involving the organisation. “In the first case an ILO staff member completed his tenure of service. As a privileged person the owner was expected to either transfer the car to another privileged person or surrender the vehicle. The owner tried to sell it but when the sale fell through the ILO informed NBR to take possession of the vehicle, which subsequently NBR did,” the ILO said. “In the second case the official was working for UNDP and transferred to ILO. He continued to use the car however there was a delay in the transfer of the vehicle. It should be noted that there has been no violation of tax regulations as the owner continued to be a privileged person, has not left the country and has not sold the car. ILO subsequently approached NBR to request their advice how to transfer the vehicle to the new passbook. “In the third case, the staff member transferred from the country on short notice. Before leaving she came to an understanding to transfer the vehicle to a third person working with another international organization. However when that fact that the potential buyer did not have diplomatic privileges was brought to ILO’s attention, NBR was informed accordingly to take possession of the car. “ILO is fully committed to respect all laws and regulations of Bangladesh and will do all it can to ensure that its staff fully comply with these. ILO is also working closely with NBR officials to resolve these matters.”
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