Appalling details of a daylight robbery committed by a group of Customs Officers under the blessings of the Customs Chief Jagath Wijeweera, where two suspects were coerced into paying a ransom worth Rs. 120 million to prevent being detained in remand custody, has now come to light, Colombo Telegraph can exclusively reveal today.
The Colombo Chief Magistrate was informed that DGC Wijeweera has permitted the said group of officers to by-pass the Director of Customs in charge of the ICT Directorate to which, the said group of officers in question are attached and the Additional Director General of Customs under whose purview lies the ICT Directorate, to abuse the Customs law as they please to claim Rs. 40 million of misappropriate money among each of them. These officers have been permitted to claim this ill-gotten wealth through a ransom worth Rs. 120 million paid by two suspects in remand custody, who had been threatened with an extension of their duration in remand prison if they failed to make the demanded payment.
It has been reported to the Magistrate that the DGC has colluded with these officers to deceive the Colombo Chief Magistrate in order to keep the two suspects in the remand custody with a plan to induce them to pay the said sum of Rs. 120 million as a penalty.
This case has now been reported to the Bribery and Corruption Commission to be investigated as the officers involved have abused the law to misappropriate about Rs. 40 million each – which should have been credited to the revenue according to the law – thereby committing a violation of Secction 70 of the Bribery Act.
According to the facts submitted in the relevant customs case (ICT/INV/014/2015) two suspects named M H H Anwar and M I A Siddick of Janatha Garments have been produced before the Chief Magistrate Court by the Customs Officers on 13th March 2015. They have alleged that the company in question has abused BOI concessions to import a large volume of fabric (over Rs. 100 million during the first three months of 2015 alone) and released them to the local market, evading the payment of customs levies. The officers have therefore sought Court’s permission to keep the suspects in the remand custody to conduct a ‘proper investigation’.
However, later it had been revealed in Court that the process adopted by the said group of officers was absolutely unlawful and the relevant Customs Regulation issued by the Director General of Customs (DGC) with the concurrence of the Attorney General was produced before the Chief Magistrate. The said Directive issued under Section 127A of the Customs Ordinance (the law that permits suspects to be kept in remand Custody) makes it mandatory for the Head of the respective Directorate to furnish an explicit report to the DGC, who himself should form an opinion and inform the Magistrate, relating on the nature of offence and the involvement of the persons requested to be kept in the remand custody for ‘proper investigation’.
However it has now been revealed that this legal requirement has been completely defied by the officers in question, under the full knowledge of DGC Wijeweera, who has permitted the officers themselves- who also have a financial interest in the case due to the cash reward they are eyeing – to abuse the law as they please and to keep the suspects in the remand custody for the ‘improper purpose of demanding a ransom of Rs. 120 million. This gross abuse has now been reported to the Chief Magistrate, seeking strong case against the Customs Officers for abuse of legal process to facilitate the collection of ransom. It has also been reported to the Corruption Commission for proper investigation.
According to the report sent to the Corruption Commission, suspects involved in this case have been produced before the Court on 13th March 2015 with a request made by the officers themselves (not by the DGC as law required) to keep them in the remand Custody for ‘proper investigation’. Then, on 19th March 2015, in response to a request made by the officers, Court has directed the Prison authorities to produce the two suspects before the Customs ‘for the purpose of recording further statements’.
However, it is reported that the head of the Customs Investigations team, Deputy Director of Customs, A Lankadeva, has abused the law that permitted Customs to keep the two suspects in the remand custody, to coerce the suspects to pay a penalty of Rs. 60 million within a month and thereafter to pay another Rs. 60 million if the suspects wish to be released from the remand custody. Then he himself has conducted the formal customs inquiry against the two suspects on 19th March 2015, which is forbidden by law. Thereafter both suspects have been returned to the custody of the Colombo remand prison.
The following day (20th March 2015) these officers have filed another false report before the Colombo Magistrate Court, informing the ‘customs investigation has been completed and therefore to release the suspects’, which is another absolutely false statement. This report has not mentioned anything concerning the formal customs inquiry conducted by the head of the investigations A Lankadeva, whilst the two suspects were kept in the remand custody, which is completely forbidden by law. In the report sent to Corruption Commission, it is also noted that conducting of a formal Customs Inquiry by the officer who conducted the investigation is also an improper act, which is not permitted by law. In the report it is also alleged that the said officer himself share one third of the penalty recovered from the suspects as ‘cash rewards’ with the other officers, whereas the law requires that in all cases where there is an evasion of payment of fiscal levies, to recover the fiscal levy element unpaid in the first place and to credit the same to the revenue.