Top Officials Attempt To Clear Illegal Vehicle Assembly Plant
by Nirmala Kannangara
- Top government official had attempted to stop the police from raiding the vehicles assembling plant at Minuwangoda
- Vehicles Lanka had got 62 vehicles assembled, which led to a colossal loss of revenue amounting to billions of rupees to the national coffers
- Justice S. Sriskandarajah had said that the petitioner is not entitled to import the 2,250 vehicle parts
- Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal had given very clear orders that Vehicles Lanka cannot import vehicle spare parts
An attempt has been made to influence the police to stop a raid that was launched on an illegal vehicle assembling plant in Minuwangoda on January 31.
The Sunday Leader learns a top government official had attempted to stop the police from raiding the vehicles assembling plant at Minuwangoda alleging that the owner is a friend of his. However, ignoring his directives, the police had carried out the raid and had taken the illegally assembled vehicles into custody.
Meanwhile, former Director General of Customs Dr. Neville Gunawardena has been accused of admonishing one of the Customs Directors whilst the raid was going on, for sending an investigation team in support of the police to raid the said illegal assembling plant.
Information has come to light as to how Vehicles Lanka (Pvt) Ltd was assisted by some government officials to violate customs regulations openly, depriving the country billions of rupees in way of customs excise duty.
However with all these obstacles, the Walana Anti-Corruption Unit of the Police Department and the Customs investigation team carried out the raid on Vehicles Lanka (Pvt) Ltd assembling plant on Tuesday January 31 on a tip off, and had taken 26 illegally assembled luxury vehicles into custody.
According to documents that are now in our possession, 62 vehicles had been assembled at this plant but we have recovered only 26 and the rest could have been sold. If the rest of these vehicles have been sold, the buyers will not be able to get them registered as customs duties had not been paid for the imported spare parts,” customs sources said.
Although all imported consignments of used vehicle parts are subjected to full examination in one of the customs yards as per the customs regulations, The Sunday Leader is in possession of documents to prove as to how Gunawardena had given written instructions to customs officials to allow Vehicles Lanka to remove the consignments to their yard at Minuwangoda and to carry out the examinations there. “When the custom decides to examine certain suspected cargo, they are examined at one of the customs yards but not at importers’ own premises. All consignments of used vehicle spare parts are subjected to full examination and that has to be done in any of the designated customs examination yards but not at the importers yards. But disregarding the customs regulations, Dr. Nevil Gunawardena gave written instructions to our officials to examine the consignments in the Minuwangoda yard,” highly reliable customs sources said.
According to the sources who wished to remain anonymous, it is from these released consignments, Vehicles Lanka had got 62 vehicles assembled, which led to a colossal loss of revenue amounting to billions of rupees to the national coffers.
“Although the owner of this plant had given an undertaking to the Customs Department that these vehicle parts would not be used until the investigations are concluded, by assembling vehicles with the parts which are still under investigation has not only violated customs regulations but had purposely made a loss to the country,” sources claimed.
Meanwhile when contacted Dr. Nevil Gunwardena to find out as to why he made such a request from one of the Customs Directors and what his interest was in regard to this illegal project, Dr. Gunwardena said that he does not want to make any comment to this reporter. “I don’t want to get involved in any conversation with you, as last time after talking to me you wrote a detrimental article. Let the customs officials do their work and level any allegation they want,” Dr. Gunawardena said.
Customs sources meanwhile accused the present Director General Customs (DGC) Chulananda Perera, for extending his support to Vehicles Lanka by preventing the customs officials from raiding the same plant last year. “When our team raided this same plant last year, our DGC got the investigation team to withdraw from the raid. Hence they had to come back empty handed. If not for the court order obtained by the Walana Anti-Corruption Unit for the raid and to take the vehicles into custody, this time too, the investigation could have been crippled with the intervention of powerful Ministers and high ranking state officials in this government,” sources said.
Meanwhile Director General Customs (DGC) Chulananda Perera on the request of his superiors two weeks before, had directed his officials to release the detained eight containers of used vehicle spare parts imported by the same fraudulent company and to waive off any demurrage payable on the containers, despite of two court orders that states the importer- is not entitled to import spare parts to the country to assemble vehicles.
However following the Walana Anti-corruption Unit raid launched on Vehicles Lanka assembling plant on January 31, the DGC has taken few steps backward and had temporarily stopped releasing the containers.
According to the letter the DGC has received to release the eight containers, the Cabinet Sub Committee chaired by Minister of Transport and Civil Aviation Nimal Siripala de Silva, having considered the Judgment of the Supreme Court FR Application No: 304/ 2011 dated September 13, 2012 and the opinion given by the Attorney General had recommended to the Cabinet of Ministers to give effect to the judgment of the said court case. The letter further states as thus, ‘Accordingly, the cabinet of ministers has, among other things, granted their approval to release the eight suspended containers with motor vehicle spare parts imported from Japan by, M/s Vehicles Lanka (Pvt) Ltd and also to waive off any demurrage payable on the above eight containers’.
“How can the Cabinet Sub Committee or the Attorney General recommend implementing the Supreme Court FR Application No: 304/ 2011 judgment when there are two subsequent judgments delivered by the Supreme Court (SC. SPC. LA. No. 76/ 2013) and Court of Appeal (CA/ WRIT/ 446/2014) that the petitioner (Vehicles Lanka) is not entitled to import 2250 vehicle parts in terms of the said settlement in SC FR 304/2011 as the petitioner has misrepresented facts to the controller of Imports and Exports and had got the said license for importation of 2250 vehicle body parts.
Director General Customs will have to face charges for contempt of court in the event the detained eight containers are released despite of the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal orders delivered on March 15, 2013 and February 12, 2016 respectively which clearly states that the importer is not entitled to import vehicle parts. Customs Spokesman Dharmasena Kahandawa when contacted said that the DGC is not aware of the subsequent court orders. “If there are such court orders that Vehicles Lanka is not entitled to import vehicle spare parts, the documents should be with our legal department. I will inform the DGC and come back to you,” Kahandawa told this newspaper.
However after the police raid on the said plant in Minuwangoda, Kahandawa said that the DGC has taken a temporary decision not to go ahead with his instructions and to hold back the eight containers.
First respondent is DCG
However questions have been raised as to why the DGC is pretending that he was not aware of the two court orders as in both Supreme Court and Court of Appeal cases the first respondent was none other than the Director General of Customs.
Meanwhile former Superintendent of Customs G.J. Fernando who detained the eight containers few years ago has written a letter to the DGC on January 27, 2017 that if these consignments are released without respecting the two court orders, he will file a case against those who are behind this illegal for contempt of court. Fernando has forwarded copies of his letter to Attorney General Jayantha Jaysuriya, Treasury Secretary R.H.S. Samaratunge and Auditor General H.M. Gamini Wijesinghe as well.
“There is a reason for the Customs Preventive Division to detain these eight containers long time before. Before giving instructions to his officials to release them immediately, the DGC could have got instructions from the legal department. Had he asked the legal department about these containers they would have informed him about the two court orders. In order to please higher officials in the government, the DGC gave instructions to his officers and if they are released he could be charged for contempt of court,” sources added.
After the containers were examined at the Minuwangoda yard and whilst further investigations were going on, the then Treasury Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundera by letter dated February 28, 2013 to the DGC instructed not to release the consignments imported by Vehicles Lanka (Pvt) Ltd as the importer had misled the court and had obtained license to import vehicle parts to the country.
Supreme Court rejects application
Following the Treasury Secretary’s letter, Vehicles Lanka once again went to Supreme Court (SC. SPL.LA. No: 76/ 2013) against the Treasury Secretary’s order citing the DGC, Treasury Secretary and Cabinet of Ministers as respondents seeking a directive to the Director General Customs and the Treasury Secretary to allow the petitioner to clear the goods he has imported. It was then revealed as to how the petitioner after obtaining the earlier court order (SC/ FR/304/2011) misled the Controller Imports and Exports by submitting an application on October 10, 2012 and obtained an import license to import a consignment of 750 units of vehicle bodies per year for three years totaling to 2250 units of vehicle bodies.
Delivering the order on March 15, 2013, Justice S. Sriskandarajah had said that the petitioner is not entitled to import the 2250 vehicle parts. The order further states as thus, ‘Therefore the petitioner is not entitled to import 2250 vehicle parts in terms of the SC/ FR/ 304/ 2011 settlement and hence the petitioner has misrepresented facts to the Controller of Imports and Exports and had got the said license to import the 2250 vehicle body parts.
The consignment that is subject matter of this application was imported under the said license. As the petitioner, has not come to this Court with clean hands, this Court decline to issue notice on the respondents. Notice refused’. He then filed an appeal against this ruling in Court of Appeal (CA (Writ) 57/2013) and the three member bench presided by the then Chief Justice Mohan Peiris in his judgment said that they see no basis to grant special leave and dismissed the application. The importer once again made an application to Court of Appeal (CA/Writ/ 446/2014) citing DCG, Treasury Secretary and Cabinet of Ministers seeking notice to get the imported goods released, President of the Court of Appeal Justice Vijith K. Malalgoda delivering the order on February 12, 2016 (exactly one year ago) has said that he (Justice Malalgoda) is of the view that the decision in CA/Writ/57/2013 is a final and conclusive decision as the said decision is considered with the facts of the present’s case. The order further states thus, ‘In a prerogative writ, this court is not inclined to re-consider the same issues which were considered once by this court.
It is trite law that there needs to be finality to litigation and therefore parties stopped from bringing multiple suits on the same issue resulting in over burdening the court. Therefore this court is not inclined to issue notice on the respondents as moved by the petitioners’.
“When both Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal had given very clear orders that Vehicles Lanka cannot import vehicle spare parts, either the owner of this company had hoodwinked the Cabinet of Ministers, members of the Cabinet Sub- Committee and the Attorney General by pretending that the Customs Department is not obeying the SC order, or the powerful politicians in this government wants to allow this company to assemble vehicles for the local market for their personal benefits knowing very well that there are two court orders that Vehicles Lanka is not entitled to import vehicle spare parts. In the event if these containers are released the loss to the government from assembling 2250 vehicles is calculated as more than Rs.6 billion and those who gave order for the release and those who implemented the directives will have to face charges for contempt of court once the (Rtd) Superintendent of Customs who detained these eight containers files legal action,” sources said.