Tuesday, 19 June 2012 02:30
By caribarena news
Antigua St. John’s - The Customs officer implicated in an internal alleged fraud investigation ongoing at the Customs and Excise Department has been suspended.
The officer received the pause order on Monday morning, following what Caribarena understands to be an upper management meeting at the head office.
"With immediate effect the Customs officer involved in the investigation has been suspended. He was served with a letter today.
This is important to the integrity of the process and to send a message to other officers,” said Senior Officer and Public Relations Officer Milton Aska.
In an impromptu press conference called after that meeting, it was also confirmed that the Customs broker involved has also been barred from doing business with the department pending the outcome of the investigation.
Attending Monday’s engagement with the media was at least one Deputy Comptroller of Customs, a public relations team and other senior officials.
Aska confirmed that the investigations are into allegations surrounding a container that was removed from the Port without proper authorisation. But he declined to say the size or contents of the shipment.
Caribarena broke the story on Saturday after talks with Comptroller of Customs Raju Boddu.
The evidence uncovered in the investigation so far, the department said, is sufficient to warrant steps taken.
"We are investigating the alleged improprieties that took place at the port. We have the full co-operation of the parties being investigated. We do not want to prejudice the investigation so we are reserved at this time,” Aska said.
He went on to note, however, that the department would share relevant information coming from the investigation with the media as part of efforts to enable a "transparent and expeditious" process.
So far, the department said the importer involved has already turned over all requested documents and the Port manager in the process of compiling a set of his own, as bidden.
"We are presently analysing documents received from the importer involved, who is very co-operative," Aska said.
He disclosed that the department’s new “zero tolerance” approach plays a vital role in this process, and explained that since the case has the potential to land before a judge it is within the department’s right to withhold certain details if it believes the information could prejudice that stage.
"There are speculations. We have come to you to let you know that there is an ongoing investigation. But we cannot divulge certain information because of the nature of investigation. When the case is closed we will withhold no findings. No one in Customs has been given permission to speak on the matter (outside of the press conference). We would not sit on the information as it comes in it would be fed in whatever shape or form," Aska said.
He added that as part of the "new dispensation", there is no more ad-hoc way of going forward with matters like these as the department is now engaging its officers and policies before customers and brokers.
Moreover, Aska has said that the department managed to implement “most” of its announced changes with the exception of minor “tweaking” to facilitate flexibility and ease of implementation.
He said, too, that these changes have received mixed responses from the public and that this continues to engage the attention of the Comptroller.